Christians have many favorite Bible verses. You can find them on shirts, mugs and office walls. Among the favorites is Psalm 37:4 which says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Is Scripture true? Yes. Is there a context? Yes. Often, this verse is removed from the frame of the Bible, God and man and is used as a formula for acquiring a desire.
Consider first the context of this verse. Just like sentences in a novel, a Bible verse cannot be plucked, pasted, and given isolated meaning. In the first seven of the 40 verses in this chapter, the author asks readers to do four things: trust in the Lord, delight in the Lord, commit to the Lord and be still before the Lord. In verse 34, the author says to wait upon the Lord. This Psalm is about Him and no one else. While it mentions others, its objective is to reveal to readers a God who does not forsake His saints and is worthy of worship. The focus is not on how a believer can improve his or her life and gain blessings, but rather the eternal value of pursuing the Lord in every way.
Also consider the condition of the human heart, a topic the Bible is not silent on:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9
“The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” – Genesis 6:5
“Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” – Ecclesiastes 8:11
To presume that the desires of our heart are right or even God-glorifying, we are choosing to believe the very best about ourselves. While Christians are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, they are still sinners who are capable of evil and self-serving desires. If someone is not in the practice of asking the Lord to examine his heart (Psalm 26:2) and clean out the corners not surrendered to him, how can he trust his desires? In the movie, Bruce Almighty, God grants to Bruce Nolan, a news reporter in Buffalo, many of his powers. Bruce uses the powers of God to grant to people anything they want only to discover his generosity actually makes their lives worse. Why? We do not consider the full impact of a desire granted, only the potential for self-gratification. Woody Allen is famous for saying of his affair with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, “The heart wants what it wants.” He’s right; this does not mean what our hearts want is always good or that we have to pursue it.
Lastly, remember the first part of the verse: “Delight yourself in the Lord…” Typically, readers hurdle over this part so they can hurry up and get their desires. Does this mean that one lists his desires and then decides to take delight in God to get them? Many think so, but this is a flawed plan. While mediating a preschool conflict, telling the child they will get candy if they say they are sorry will always yield an apology, but are they truly sorry? No, they are truly greedy. We are surely wise enough to know this, but if the Lord said to you, “If you delight in me I will give you this…do you delight in me?” what would you say? The Psalmist claimed that if one genuinely delights in the Lord, his heart is positioned so that his desires will be granted by default. Those desires are more of God’s presence, guidance and truth. When our hearts mirror God’s, our heart’s desires are satisfied. By delighting in Him, He gives us more of Him, a desire completely aligned with His will. What does it mean to delight in Him? To take greater enjoyment and pleasure in God than in anything else. No earthly desire can compete with that. If a desire eclipses one’s delight in God, he will never be satisfied with anything.
God’s word is absolutely true. If it says delighting in the Lord will bring about our heart’s desires, it’s true, but we must think about what that means in the context of the Bible, God and man. Otherwise, Christians are left with a shallow view of a God who functions like a crotchety Santa Clause, demanding our affection in return for goods. When we truly delight in Him, the void we had for something else will vanish and be filled with Christ, the only Satisfier.