Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart. ~ Psalm 37:4 (NASB)
It’s been cross-stitched, painted, sung, and posted to Instagram over top of pretty pictures of mountains and baby feet. It’s one of the most quoted – and misquoted – verses in the Bible, and we should probably take a quick look at it, just in case we’ve been missing the point all of these years…
There are some words in this verse that often trip people up, so we’ll start by taking a look at them:
- Delight: The Hebrew word used here is עָנַג (anag), and it’s actually a root word meaning “to be soft or pliable”, “delicate”, and in this case “to have delight”. It’s used again in verse 11.
- Desires: This Hebrew word is מִשְׁאָלָה (mishala), and translates exactly as you’d think it would: desires or requests. This word is only used one other place in the Bible: at the end of Psalm 20:5.
The second thing we need to do is read verse 4 in the context of the entire Psalm. Go ahead, we’ll wait for you. :) We also need to read Psalm 37 (and really, any Scripture) within the context of the Bible as a whole. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to go read the whole thing right now!)
So let’s put these pieces together and see what we have…
This oft abused verse is NOT saying that God will give you whatever you want, whenever you want it, no matter how much you enjoy Him or “delight” in Him. We know that because that goes against other teachings in the Bible, and even Jesus’ own words (see, for example, John 16:33. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find myself asking God to give me tribulation very often, and yet…)
So if that’s what it’s not saying, what IS it saying?
First, this verse reminds us to love God with everything in us (Deuteronomy 6:5). When we love someone or something, we take delight in it, we take delight in spending time with it. Just ask spouses, parents, and foodies about their love for the objects of their deepest affections. So we take delight in God by loving Him, genuinely desiring Him above everything else, and therefore, staying in step with Him as we walk. And, remember that the root word is referencing something that is soft and pliable. In other words, not hard, stubborn or demanding our own way.
It gets a bit harder when we move to the second part of the verse, but here’s where that context thing comes in. We know from the rest of the Psalm that David is encouraging the people to trust and obey God (v.3), to rest in Him and wait on Him (v.7), and to humble ourselves before Him (vv.11-16). None of these things come naturally to us as human beings, so David is telling the people, again, to stay in step with God as they walk.
Taking all of this together, we find a more likely interpretation of this verse than that God is our Heavenly Santa Claus:
When we love, obey and trust God with all we have, staying in step with Him, His desires become our desires. (Note, please, that it’s that HIS desires become our desires, not the other way around! If that were the case, we would be God instead…)
So how do we get God to give us what we want? We need to humble ourselves before Him, love Him, trust Him, obey Him, and allow His desires to become our desires. Only then can we make requests of God that will be for our good, for His glory, and will be things He gives as good gifts.
How have you seen the truth of this verse play out in your life as you’ve walked with God?