I was reading Psalm 37 this morning and came across that oft quoted phrase from verse 4, “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This is one of those verses I think that people tend to cling to as a sort of “reward” verse. I think many of us read this verse and understand it to mean that if we “take delight” in the Lord, we will get the desires of our hearts. If – then. Kind of like if I pick the right numbers in Powerball, then I will win the jackpot — spiritually thinking of course! So we do our best to figure out what it means exactly to “take delight in the Lord.” And we often land on things that are in a negative direction.
By that I mean that we often see faithfulness to God or delighting in God related to the things we don’t do. Like giving things up during Lent (which can be a helpful discipline, but can also feed our pride and move us in the direction of showing God how faithful we are — the “if”). And of course once we do that, we look for the “then.” Then the desires of our hearts will be fulfilled. Man that sounds good, doesn’t it? All the things I want will come my way. There are some very popular preachers out there on TV who would tell us this is exactly what God is promising.
But that’s not how I read this verse. It’s a much better promise than me getting what I want! What I believe the Psalmist is suggesting, or at least is at the root of the message for us today, is that we “delight in the Lord,” as we learn — day by day — season by season — year by year — to appreciate and celebrate the essential goodness of God. As we see the true character of God revealed in Christ, lived wholly in Jesus, we long to have those characteristics alive in us. So the words of the Psalmist become more and more about transformation rather than acquisition.
As we delight in God, God puts within us the desires of our hearts. The closer we walk with God, the more our desires are shifted from self-centered focus to living out God’s love in the world. The desires of our hearts are transformed into a love for the disenfranchised, a longing to see everyone living in Shalom. A broken heart for those caught up in destructive behavior rather than a judgmental comparison of how much better we are than they are. A full-orbed understanding of the depth of grace we have received and a longing to offer that grace to all.
I have a long way to go until that way of life fills my being and represents the core of my desires. I am still moving on to perfection to be sure! But I’m grateful for this promise that God is working in me to reshape my desires into God’s. My prayer for all of us is that we might continue to cooperate with the Spirit, more and more, to live out God’s love in the world.