Several years ago, I visited Malawi, Africa, on a mission exposure trip with a well-known Canadian charity. On one of our Sunday mornings, the team had the opportunity to visit and worship with an African church community.
We were gathering to praise King Jesus with some of the most impoverished people on the planet. The service took place in a shack with a mud floor, complete with wooden benches and stifling heat. It was a memorable experience. What made it unforgettable was what happened next.
The congregation was singing and dancing and worshipping. The tangible sense of joy and the powerful presence of God was evident for all. The Lord was moving. It was wonderful – then it was different, very different. The back doors of the church opened, and a group of men, the elders, came dancing to the front carrying a fridge freezer. This bright white, shiny, new appliance was paraded in like the Ark of the Covenant.
The people became so emotional, praising God and giving glory to Jesus for this great gift. I was more than a little confused. The church building didn’t have electricity, so this was not for the church kitchen. What was going on? This no doubt ludicrously expensive icebox was a gift for the pastor. This was a gift from the church to show their love to their leader.
This was really hard to get our heads around: people giving financially from their extreme poverty, giving gifts of this magnitude to their leaders. The three pastors I was with were all struggling. This just seemed so wrong. It was soon made worse when we were asked to do the honor of praying a blessing over the freezer!
Context and culture are everything. What was happening was that these Malawian believers were living into an old cultural belief that goes something like this: If our pastor is blessed, we will be blessed too… or if our chief is blessed, or if our King is blessed… you get the idea.
This old tribal way of understanding God’s economy of blessing is helpful for us in understanding the opening line of King David’s most famous song, Psalm 23:1-6.
Psalm 23 begins with the line, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”
The king is saying, It is good with me, so it is good with my people. I lack nothing. But the reality of this statement is that it is less about David and more about Yahweh. Because of who Yahweh is, I lack nothing. I don’t have it all together, I haven’t figured it all out, I am not perfect, holy, righteous, but Yahweh is. God lacks nothing. There is nothing he needs.
One of the hardest things about getting older is that when it comes to birthdays and Christmas, and your wife or kids ask you what you want- it turns out there is nothing you need! Well, you might need some new socks or boxers or deodorant.
God doesn’t need anything. Ever.
At our house, one of our favourite authors is Bob Goff. Bob is a Christian lawyer who has an office in Disneyland and whose house is an honorary consulate for the country of Uganda. The man is amazing. At supper time this week, we were reading a chapter of the Love Does for Kids devotional, and in it, Bob tells a story about his birthday. He decided that instead of getting the socks and boxers and deodorants, what he wanted was to be generous. So for his birthday, he loaded his kids in the car and drove them to Toys R Us. When they arrived, he told his boys he wanted nerf guns, and he told his daughters he wanted new dolls and outfits. His gift was getting to watch his kids enjoy their gifts from him. My kids thought this was an amazing idea!
What I was reminded of in this story is that this is exactly how God engages with us. He doesn’t need anything. In fact, he has everything. The amazing thing about Yahweh, our God, is that he gives in abundance. This is why David can say so confidently, “I lack nothing.”
If lockdown life during COVID-19 has taught me anything, it is that I need to slow down and pay attention to every shopping trip, or grocery delivery, or meal, or conversation, or kind act. Because I lack nothing. In fact, all we are called to do, by David, is respond in thankfulness.
Because the Lord is our shepherd, we lack nothing. The question is: Do we see it? If the Lord, if Yahweh is our shepherd, we lack nothing because he lacks nothing!
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