Many of you know that I have been having an all out war with my stomach since before Easter. After the first appointment with my gastroenterologist, I was frustrated. I wanted to hear something I didn’t. I wanted to hear “your fears and frustrations are valid…here’s what I can do to fix you right now.” But instead, I got a prescription for very expensive medication. I walked out even more frustrated and I needed something to make me feel better. So, I headed to Dress Barn (which is a women’s clothing store, if you didn’t know) for what I call “retail therapy.” I needed a new dress. I deserved a new dress. And one benefit (or drawback) from my stomach giving me so much trouble is that I am no longer able to handle every emotion the way I normally do: with food. So, I bought a new dress. It made me feel better. It was cute. I wanted it, so I bought it.
I did a little research and found some pretty sobering statistics about how we spend our time and our money. Americans, on average, spend $117 billion dollars on fast food. We spend $18 billion on credit card late fees. We spend $11 billion dollars on coffee (and maybe I think it’s pretty worth it). And, what I found to be pretty shocking, we spend $11 billion dollars on bottled water. (all statistics found here:http://www.deseretnews.com/top/1289/1/Groceries-34-things-Americans-spend-billions-or-millions-of-dollars-on.html)
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” But then I wanted to see how we spent our time. But, this time I wanted to just look at Iowa. We Iowans, on average, get about 8.46 hours of sleep a night. This is obviously not the case in our house. We spend approximately 38 minutes on personal grooming and 33 minutes on housework. 7 and a half hours working, 30 minutes commuting, and an average of 6 minutes on “religious activities.” Yes. 6 minutes. (Those statistics found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/06/20/ten-maps-that-show-how-much-time-americans-spend-grooming-eating-thinking-and-praying/
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I have been dwelling on that sentence all week long. What does it mean for us to proclaim that? I know for several of us that Psalm 23 is a psalm of comfort (as it should be). I find that this is probably one of the most memorized psalms. I want to share something with all of you that I trust will be kept in confidentiality. I have no problem with the idea of the Lord as my shepherd. I really really really struggle with “I shall not want.”
I even looked up different translations of this psalm hoping that it would give me an out. Some translations read “The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.” (CEB) Or “You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.” (CEV). That one really troubled me because I don’t like the word “never.” How about this translation “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” According to Chris this isn’t true. He wants a boat. He doesn’t have a boat. (That’s mainly my fault and has nothing to do with God). “God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing!” (The Message) No matter how hard I looked, nothing would give me an out. Nothing would give me an out from trusting in God.
When I realized that is what I was looking for, I was a little shocked. I had been looking for a way out from trusting in God. When I say it out loud I realize how ridiculous it sounds. See this all is not a reflection on God or God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, or God’s mercy. Rather, it is a very sobering reflection on my faith (or lack thereof). What does it say about my faith if I was looking for a way out of trusting God? I don’t know how many times I need to think I can do it my own way, attempt that way, and then fail miserably. I know how things in my life turn out when I fail to rely on God. I am sure you’ve heard that saying “when you fail to plan you plan to fail.” I think I am going to rewrite this saying to “when you fail to faith, your faith fails.” Now I want to make this abundantly clear: God’s faithfulness to us never, ever waivers. But I think that sometimes we rely too much on ourselves and then when things go wrong, we blame God and we feel like God has failed us. When really, we have failed ourselves.
I said a few weeks back that we should be cautious not to equate faith with stupidity. And when we declare that “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” we are not declaring stupidity. What we are declaring, proclaiming, and even evangelizing is that God provides for us everything we could ever possibly need even when we have screwed up time after time. Remembering though that there is a difference between wants and needs, God provides for everything we may need. What this means is that while it may not look like the vision I have in my head, God will always take care of me. It does not mean that God is going to drop a boat down from the sky for Chris. When I declare that “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” I’m not declaring that I will no longer go to the grocery store because I think the Lord is going to magically put groceries in my fridge.
However, the money used to buy those groceries is a gift. The hands that grew and prepared my groceries is a gift. And the fact that I don’t have to worry about the safety of the food I eat is most certainly a gift from God. The more I spend the money that God has given me and the more I spend the time God has given to me, the more I realize that the Lord really does provide all that I may need. The fact that I don’t always know what that may look like is nerve wracking. I don’t always know how the Lord will provide for my needs; but I do know that he will. And I can tell you from experience, friends, that when you finally stop being stubborn and learn to trust in God, you will find that God’s plans for you are much much better than anything you could have ever planned.
As we bless our seeds and soil today, we do so trusting that God will provide all that we need. God will shepherd the seeds up from the soil producing food and fuel for the things around us. God will provide the rain when we need it (sorry, farmers). And if, for some reason, harvest is not plentiful this year, God will provide. How? I don’t know. But I have learned that when I try and control my own life I screw it up. So, I continue to trust in God. In a society that constantly tempts us to “spend spend spend” and to get more toys than the next guy, it’s a radical thought to rely on God for all of our needs. Then again, our God is pretty radical. God the shepherd, who hung out with prostitutes, lepers, convicts, the outcast, and even us asks us to do one simple thing for abundant life: trust.