“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4).
The phrase “Delight yourself” sounds rather self-indulgent, but this verse gives it its proper context. It’s “in the Lord”! Here is the very place where we can truly be delighted, and where we can fully explore the wonder of our own lives! It simply means that to dream wonderful dreams, we must know the wonderful love of God the dream-giver.
John expresses it so well: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! For that is what we are!”(1 John 3:1). There’s a ringing realisation that goes on here, in that last phrase. That is who you are! Loved! Liked! Appreciated! If we don’t believe God has our best interests at heart, we won’t dream big dreams.
It’s difficult to read that verse of John’s without imagining a huge smile on his face, like the smile of a toddler being given an unexpected ice cream. With a chocolate flake.
The joy, the sheer delight in the powerful presence of a God who loves me unconditionally!
Yes, that’s the place to dream. Someone said: “I believe God wants us to dream, and to dream big, because He’s a big God who wants to do big things and He wants to do them through us.” And a more familiar quote of Eleanor Roosevelt comes to mind: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
So the two parts of the verse belong together. That is to say: God wants to grant you the desires of your heart; but He also wants to shape the desires of your heart.
And the shaping comes before the granting.
It would be a foolish father indeed, who simply gave in to every whim of children who don’t know what they need, or even what they should really desire. It’s called “spoiling”.
And, of course, spoilt children grow into spoilt adults, ill-equipped to face life problems. And when a spoiled child becomes an adult he will still act in the same way he used to act as a child but in a form that is more acceptable by society.
A shy child who has been over-indulged and only used to playing alone becomes overly dependent on his own comfort zone when he becomes an adult.
A child who has learnt to cry until getting what he wants will cry for help too as an adult, by complaining, blame-shifting etc. Tantrums are not restricted to toddlers!
And in relationships too, when the spoiled child who becomes an adult discovers that the world isn’t responding to his demands, he may manoeuvre his partner into being a caregiver.
Spoiled children become helpless adults who are not flexible by any means and who expect the world to adjust to suit them instead of trying to adjust their way to suit the world.
And this was Paul’s reaction to the Christians at Corinth. They were spoilt and immature: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly?” (1 Cor 3:1-3)
There’s a real danger when our theology becomes “man centred” rather than “God centred”: it places receiving before giving, and it perverts the Gospel and the mission of the church, creating an immature church that can’t stand up to trials. It folds in on itself.
But the Psalm teaches us that God does grant the desires of our hearts; but only when they have been shaped by a real relationship with Jesus Christ.
So what does that look like? The first few verses of Psalm 37 give us some important descriptors: “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong.” Don’t waste your mental energy – don’t fritter it away!- on non-essentials. Let’s just deal with your own relationship right now! We do so love to sort out the world, don’t we?
And so what do we do? Well, it’s not rocket science: “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Live by faith and walk in kindness. How hard can it be? There’s a lovely line in Peter Pan that comes to mind: “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” That is to say: there’s a real magic in sheer goodness. It changes the world.
The verbs are very important here. It’s like a litany of the simple, godly life. Don’t fuss or argue. Don’t fret or fear. Trust. Do good. Dwell. Be at peace. These are the terms of the relationship to which you are called. It is not onerous or stressful. It is meant to do you good. And live “givingly”, as Jesus said (in Matthew 6): “When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”
And then something wonderful happens: you begin to “Take delight in the Lord.” Here’s how Jesus put it: “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
And “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”
And one more passage from Matthew 6 which blends in so well:
“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. “
This is your Father you are dealing with! He knows what you need.
And slowly, steadily, surely, a new You is being born. It’s a You that looks to Father and trusts that He knows best. It’s a You that looks out on the world and does good, quietly, without any fuss. It’s a You that looks inwards, acknowledging fear and failure but not majoring on it any more.
And God says: “So what do you want?” And you say, “I want what you want. I just want to be here, as simply and as honestly as I can manage.”
And He says. “Sorted.”