The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
Behind John 3:16, this is likely the second most memorized verse in the Bible. If not, it’s at least one of the most popular. Just go to Google and type in “Psalm” and see which Psalm is suggested to you first. (Spoiler: it’s this one.)
But if you would indulge me, I’d like you to consider how two words, appropriately affixed to this verse, can alter the way that we think about “wanting.” Consider how your perspective changes when you read the verse like this:
If the LORD is my shepherd,
Then I shall not want.
If, in our mind’s eye, we allow this verse to become a conditional statement, it may challenge us to consider the relationship between our connection to God, and our desire for…desire.
Let me explain how this came about for me.
Last night I was laying on my couch, watching the news out of the corner of my eye, aimlessly fiddling with my cell phone, sitting next to my wife, and I slowly realized that I wanted something. Food? No, I had just eaten recently. Water? No, I wasn’t thirsty. Did I have to go to the bathroom? No, I just went. Did I need to say something to my wife? No, we had already debriefed our days with one another and were now winding down for the evening. So what was it? What did I want? I looked at the TV, I looked at my phone, I looked at my wife, and it occurred to me that I was waiting for each of them to tell me what I wanted. That’s what I wanted; something new to want.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. Consider the annual announcement of the newest iPhone. (By the way, I don’t own a single Apple product, something that has on occasion called into question my eligibility to youth pastorship. But I digress.) Every year bloggers, news sources, and technophiles speculate and prophecy about the upgrades and updates that will come along with the next “revolutionary” device. For those of you not paying attention, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S are…pretty much the same thing.
Nevertheless, every year the press line up to get a glimpse of the latest piece of hardware. But why? There’s usually a considerable delay between the announcement and the actual release, so it’s not as if anyone is going to walk out of there with a new iPhone in hand. It seems as if people aren’t lining up to get what they want as much as they’re lining up to be told what to want. The desire is no longer the desire for something, but a desire for desire itself. Perhaps the best business model in the world is not to create a great product, but to create a great desire. (On a side note, I find it highly bizarre that the late Steve Jobs was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, which teaches that the desire for material things leads to suffering. Ok, I’m done ripping on Apple now, I promise.)
It’s Pavlovian in a sense. We like to hear the bell because we know that it means food is on the way. But unlike dogs, we soon find ourselves more enamored with the sound of the bell than with the food itself.
But lest you think I’m unfairly critical of Apple fans, I readily and shamefully admit to my own ever insatiable maw of want. So I as I’m laying on my couch analyzing the desire for desire I sense inside, I begin to question my standing before the LORD. Is He my shepherd? If He is, then why do I so often find myself wanting something new to want? Why do I make it a part of my daily ritual to check certain blogs and websites that try to sell me the idea that I need something? Why do I watch the Superbowl on mute only to turn the volume up when the commercials come on? Why does my heart race during the “Coming Attractions” before a film? Why do I wander aimlessly around Best Buy looking for something that I didn’t even know existed so that I can hope to own it? Am I addicted to desire?
Lest my rejection of desire sound too spiritually “Eastern,” I want to pause to recognize the importance that desire plays in the Christian faith. Understanding God’s desire for us is paramount to any type of Christ-centered spirituality. And our desire for Him is central to a theology of worship. Human desire for relationship is a key component to Christian community. Other examples could be given as well, but these shall suffice to show that desire is not wholly evil.
But western culture at large is hardly in danger of eschewing desire to the point of calling these truths into question. Quite the opposite. We are in love with our desire. We celebrate it at every turn. We allow it to dictate our identity. So what is the call to the Christ-follower in a culture oversaturated with manufactured need?
The call, as I see it stated in Psalm 23, is to allow our desire for desire to set off a warning signal that we may be wandering just beyond our Shepherd’s immediate reach. He is making us lay in green pastures and leading us beside quiet waters (which, in keeping with the shepherd/sheep motif leads invariably to a full belly!) If we are near Him, what else is there for us to want?
If the LORD is our shepherd, then I suspect that we will find ourselves wanting less. And as we walk with our Shepherd, we will find our needs largely met (always spiritually, and often materially) and we will certainly find that we have a decreasing desire to desire desire or want want.
So let us frequently fast from our desires long enough to discern what desires lead us in the way of our Shepherd and which lead us to more meaningless wanting. And may we find that desire has a role in our spirituality; but it is not as central a role as our culture might have us believe.