I Want

 

A Sermon for Covenant
“I Want”
Psalm 23; John 10:1-10
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
May 11, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.

On a day like Mother’s Day, we are encouraged to give thanks to our mothers and to honor them, to remember those generous women in our lives who have been like mothers to us, and to rest in the extravagant love of a God who scoops us up in his wings like a mother hen.

But Mother’s Day also makes me remember the women—and men too—who desperately want to be parents but suffer miscarriage after miscarriage, who endure doctor after doctor trying to put an end to infertility. I think of people I’ve known whose adoption fell through, and the little one they dreamed of joining their family never came. I think of devoted mothers who positively ache over lost and estranged children, and mothers who want more than anything for a sick kid to get a healthy life or an unhappy one to find their joy and these unanswered prayers hurt them in a way only a parent can hurt. Mother’s Day also makes me think of the adult children I know who desperately want a working relationship with their mother or their father, but they do not or cannot have one. I think of those who have lost their mothers and the mothers who have lost their children and all the folks who ache for family.

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.

How do we say, “I shall not want,” when we do want for things, sometimes with desperation, with passionate intensity, with achy longing? I wondered myself how I could preach, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” when I am all WANT. If I were a verb, want might be a good name for me. The truth is, there is a lot I want and I want it with regularity and fierce desire.

I want a spouse, a partner, a soul mate. I want a family, a child. I want the pain of my divorce to go away. I want everyone who has wounded me to seek my forgiveness. I want the slanderers to say, “We were wrong about you,” and “I’m sorry.”

I want my sermons to matter, and I want to do my job well. I want never to disappoint you, never to let you down. I want the maturity of a seasoned pastor and the youthful energy of a fresh seminary grad. I want an innovative spirit and an aged wisdom. I want to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that women can, in fact, be preachers. I want to quit feeling like I have anything to prove. I want to be intelligent and for that to be apparent, but without ever seeming arrogant while always being humbly open to more learning . . . I want to be attractive and appealing but without having to really try but just by being me. I want. I want. I want. I want the one I love to love me back. I want.

I want this church to grow. I want this church to stay exactly the same. I want stuff to happen. I want stuff to slow down. I want to get healthy. I want to drink another Dr. Pepper.

I know I am not the only one with wants. I can only imagine how often the Beardens have wanted Leanne and their old life back, how they want to relieve their son of hurt. I happen to know the Chappells want all their grandchildren back in Texas. I imagine Cynthia wants her RA back in remission. Every week we share prayer requests, because we want for things, and even then, we may not be voicing out loud what it is that we want the most. We are all wanting for things big and small—wanting for relief or for purpose or for answers or for babies or for health or for love or, or, or . . .

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want. 

Who wrote this psalm? Someone calm? Or someone as half-crazed as you and I? Perhaps this psalm isn’t a description of his inner life or the serene state of his soul. Perhaps this psalm, like so many psalms, is a prayer. This psalmist is wanting. Wanting for green meadows and calm waters and cups overflowing. Wanting for courage to face the death-dark valley. Wanting for assurance of God’s care even in the presence of enemies. Wanting for goodness and mercy to follow him everywhere.

Maybe this is a hopeful, reaching-for-it prayer, not a declaration of how this little lost sheep actually feels.

If you’ve lived the faith long enough, then you’ve probably had green pasture moments, seconds or whole seasons where your cup runneth over, times when you somehow knew peace even in the valley of the shadow of death. And for these, you are grateful.

But if you’ve belonged to the human race long enough, you have also known want, and even with all your gratitude in place, you’ve felt the empty ache for what you miss.

Does a prayer like this mean we are getting it wrong? If only we were faithful enough, we would be satisfied? “We shall not want” as if it were a ten commandment? Detachment from desire a demand on our souls, complete and utter fulfillment in God alone an expectation we must meet, if we dare to call ourselves people of faith?

I don’t know about you, but many of my wants are how I know who I am. I want to preach, I want to do meaningful work, I want to write poetry . . . my wants are what get me out of bed in the morning even though unmet desires are just as likely to make me pull the covers over my head and weep. My wants enliven me and ruin me, all at the same time. They define me. I want this, not that; therefore, I go this way, not that way.

WANT—it is an important part of who we are, how we make decisions, and what drives our living. We get out of sorts when we no longer know what it is that we truly want. When we are too busy meeting expectations to know who we are, too preoccupied pleasing others or pleasing our lesser wants to see what it is we are meant for. Wanting has the capacity to put us in tune with our core, show us where we need to be. Wanting is often why we get to praying.

Not getting what you want doesn’t mean the want is bad or that if only you were more spiritual, the want would go away. Want means you were meant for life abundant, and ill-health and hurting children and unresolved conflict are less than abundant.

I think in the spiritual journey we do learn acceptance over time, and we do experience surprising bouts of contentment, and we do find the capacity to be somewhat still amidst chaos. We do experience God meeting our needs both large and small, and as we mature, some of our lesser wants may get purged away entirely.

But we do not eliminate want.

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.

What we do is turn to our shepherd again and again and again and ask. Ask for either an answer or for the want to go away. Again and again we imagine still waters and ask to be led there. Again and again we face the valley of the shadow of death and we are full of fear but just in the nick of time, we find the courage to face today. Just today. And tomorrow we start again.

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.

This isn’t a command, but a dream we hold onto. It is a faith fantasy that sometimes gets to be real for us and sometimes is an elusive mist. A working imagination is pretty close to having faith, and so we dream that we are sheep and that he carries our tired bodies to restful pastures and our parched thirsty hearts to ever-flowing streams. We imagine a great big table of our enemies and at our place a golden goblet running over with proof that God has accepted us even though they have not. We imagine that even in this dark valley, we are not alone, that even here, goodness and mercy are our rearguard.

It is a dream and it is more than a dream. Jesus came to say, “I am the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” He laid down his life for his sheep.

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall now want.

It is a prayer and it is a prayer with a person for an answer. “I have come that they might life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Sometimes this comforts me and sometimes it makes my wanting all the more agonizing. A Bible story about Jesus my shepherd isn’t always enough to assuage my longings. But I keep coming back to the words anyway, because they are good words for the faint of heart and the lonely, aching, longing wanders have been whispering it to themselves and to each other for ages:

 

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me,
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me.
 

You prepare a table before me
In the presence of my enemies
You anoint my head with oil
My cup runs over
 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
My whole life long.


Amen.

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