I drive all over New England for my work. A benefit of this is my getting to see a wide range of areas, towns and the culture that inhabits them. One of the things I regularly enjoy doing is looking at the signs of the different churches I drive by. Often they will have a Bible verse, a witty statement or sometimes a convicting statement. In many ways, this little snippet of text on their signs can tell you a lot about the church and the culture of the people in an area. A broad statement, I know, but as I have learned stereotypes and generalizations are what they are for a reason.
A few days ago I passed a church sign with Psalm 23:1 "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing." Caught off guard by this quote I took particular notice. Now if you were like me growing up in a conservative little Christian church as a child, you also memorized a lot of scripture on a regular basis for Sunday School and youth group. As a side note: this is a practice that is sorely lacking in today's youth and messianic/ Hebrew roots movement. But that is for another post.
Back to the story: So there I am somewhat confused by the apparent miss quote of Psalm 23:1. As a kid, I had memorized it as the KJV has it "The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want." At first glance, this may not seem like much of a difference - "I lack nothing" versus "I shall not want." I contend there is a difference and that this difference speaks much to the spiritual, mental and moral state of God's people. Don't get me wrong, I'm not just raining brimstone down on all those that don't use the KJV, but I want us to see the simple changing of the phraseology of a verse is a barometer into the condition of the people. To me "I shall not want" and "I lack nothing" are very different.
"I shall not want," says we as the LORD's sheep are in a content state no matter the circumstances. Because, as we read later in the Psalm, the journey of life is not always peaches and cream and we sometimes are very much lacking. It does not take much reading to see those in the Bible often lacked just like David.
"I lack nothing" has the scent of a prosperity message which seeks to tempt the world to believe the Bible is better than what the world has to offer. But the hard truth of real life reveals believers in the God of the Bible are often lacking. And I would bet believers in the persecuted parts of the world right now would read that church sign seeing our modern opulence and think "in what possible way could they be lacking?." Instead, much of the people and leaders of churches have been lulled into the consumer culture of our country and thereby feel they need to sell the Bible and faith in God to a lost world. We are going about this the wrong way.
What attracts a person to a cause? What makes someone put themselves into harm and discomfort for something they believe? It's not because they think they will get all they need and never lack. No, someone will give all their strength, time and effort, even their lives to a cause if they know it is more significant than them, something right and worthy. I see and read things like that mistranslated verse and prosperity messages and want to throw up in my mouth. It is things challenging, that take tons of time and work like training to hike a big mountain or running a marathon that gives the most satisfaction and fulfillment. Life in the service of God is tons of hard work, self-sacrifice while simultaneously providing the highest sense of achievement and satisfaction. Living to satisfy our never-ending desires leaves us empty, but living to build God's kingdom makes this life worthwhile.
I think what we need to bring the lost world to the Bible and God is tell them the hard truth. Be real with them. People know dishonesty when they see it. They know when the facts are sugar-coated. People are yearning for truth and for a cause to give themselves to, something to know and believe. The word of God is that truth. The word of God is real life in all the gruesome details. That is what is so awesome about it. Everyone can relate to the Bible because it doesn't sugar coat anything. And the leaders of God's people are only doing a disservice by trying to tame and tone down its apparent realities. So let us call the world to the uplifting, encouraging but also harsh realities of the Bible.
Shake off the dust; arise! Isaiah 53:2