[This article previously appeared in the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail on February 5th, 2017.]
Psalms 37:4 (ESV)
“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
So all I have to do is work up an enthusiasm for the Almighty, sing wholeheartedly, post
those Instagram shots of me, my Bible and a coffee and wait for the good times to come rolling in? (Just so long as I REALLY want those good times, obviously. If I don’t want them enough then I won’t get them.)
The heresy sees God’s main function as to make life on earth comfortable, fun and prosperous for us, despite numerous Biblical references suggesting that the opposite is more likely.
One side of the heresy says: donate lots of money to the church (especially when they make a special request for it) and God will give you…loads more money, fix your debt, secure your promotion etc.
The other side says: do things that look Christian (e.g. going to church, singing enthusiastically, posting Bible verses on social media), and the Almighty will repay you in whatever way you choose.
THE GRAIN OF TRUTH
So what does it mean?
The clue is in the…well, it’s in the words – particularly the first phrase.
If you are delighting yourself in the Lord, what is the desire of your heart?
Nothing wrong with any of those things of course, but the point is, if your delight is in the Lord, then the Lord is the desire of your heart. The verse is saying the same thing twice – ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you what you delight in, i.e. the Lord’.
WHY IT DOESN’T MEAN WHAT PEOPLE WANT IT TO MEAN
Tragically for many people, the opposite is also true: if we delight ourselves in stuff, or indeed in anything else more than we delight in God himself, then he may well give us those things. Not as a reward, but as a punishment. Eventually God gives people over to their evil desires (Romans 1:28), which includes desires for good things that become idolatrous – i.e. we want them more than we want God.
That contradicts a lot of what you might be used to hearing from people who claim that receiving money or wealth is proof of God’s blessing. Never mind that Jesus was poor, the disciples were poor, the apostles were poor, most of the early church was crushingly poor. Never mind that there are precisely ZERO prayers in the New Testament from any poor people asking God to give them wealth. Yet somehow people still see wealth as a sign of God’s blessing In fact, in the entire Bible there’s just one prayer from someone asking for wealth: the (in)famous prayer of Jabez. God gave credit to Solomon precisely because he DIDN’T ask for wealth. Of course, God then gave him wealth too, but as it turns out that did him no good at all even though it was intended by God as a blessing.
I’ve said previously in this column that the job of a Bible teacher or preacher is not to give you something new from God. The Bible tells us that he’s already given us all the information we need in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:14-16). We need understand of the Bible and we need wisdom – that’s what Bible teachers and preachers are supposed to be doing.
WHY THE TRUTH IS BETTER THAN THE LIE
What do you want? I mean REALLY? At the very core of your being, what is most important to you? Not what would you like to want the most, or think that you’re supposed to want the most. But if I told you that you could have one thing or person, and only that thing or person, what or who would it be?
Think about marriage. The only way that works so that both partners are truly happy, is when the both treat the other one as the most important person in the world. Anything else leads to an OK, tolerable marriage or a bad one. You might meet each other’s low expectations with that kind of relationship, but true marital joy is only found when both of you are committed to each other above everyone else – even above your children.
Imagine the verse read like this: ‘Delight yourself in your wife, and you will receive the desires of your heart’.
What would you think it meant then? Delight yourself in your wife, and you will receive a promotion at work? Of course not, when we think of it in that context it’s obviously that the latter clause refers directly to the former.
So again, what do you REALLY want?
Because if you want God more than anything else and you seek him in the way that he has instructed, with humility, confession, and a sincere plea for his forgiveness…then that’s exactly what you’ll get. You were designed to be in close relationship with God – that’s how you can be most fulfilled in this life and the next, so it makes sense that desiring him more than anything and anyone else is the most fulfilling way to live life.
And when you get that bit right, then mysteriously (but not surprisingly) you’ll find the other pieces of your life make more sense. Jesus said to seek God first and then you will receive everything else that you need. Not everything you might want, but everything that you need in order to continue a life full of joy – and that means that as long as you want God more than anything, he will never leave you. And if God never leaves you, you will never be unsatisfied.
This all makes sense when you look at how the Bible describes heaven, or the eternal reward.
Back in Ezekiel in the Old Testament, the name of the heavenly city in prophecy is ‘The Lord is there’. The great promise Jesus makes to his disciples is that he will never leave them. The afterlife for Christians is described as God’s house. The greatest longings of the psalmist were for the presence of God (e.g. “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you”; Psalm 42:1). God’s greatest punishment was when he told his people that he was no longer their God – the attacks by the Philistines weren’t the worst punishment – they were warnings from God of the worst punishment: his absence.
Finally, what was it that Jesus cried out about when he was dying on the cross. The ripping of his hands? The tearing of his feet? No, the absence of his Father.
The Bible is all about God bringing his people into close relationship with him so that they will know complete joy for ever. Anything else you enjoy – no matter how great it is – is nothing more than pale imitation.
Delight yourself in GOD. Receive GOD.
And don’t give in to the lies of those who want you to aim lower.
One thought on “Misunderstood Bible Verses: Psalm 37:4”
Yes – God gives us those things we desire when our delight is in him, so what we desire is those things that are pleasing to him.
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