“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)
I’ve always been vaguely troubled by Psalm 37:4. On the surface, it sounds amazing. God will give you what you most desire! However, I’ve wanted so many things and haven’t gotten them that the promise sounds hollow — it’s so clearly false that we dismiss it as something we can’t even understand.
Of course, God’s children throughout the ages have had the same experience and tried to puzzle it out. I’ve heard several explanations for why it is that we don’t get things we want. One is that you must not be truly delighting yourself in the Lord, because if you were, you wouldn’t want things that are bad for you — and if you don’t have them, they must be bad for you. Another is similar: that when you are truly taking delight in God, only then does he find it “safe” to give you other things you desire, because he knows that you won’t be drawn away from him by having them.
Those kinds of explanations never satisfied me, though. They accuse me of not having enough love or faith to deserve the things I want, which not only makes me feel bad but is the flip side of a very dangerous “name it and claim it” or “prosperity Gospel” philosophy (which could more accurately be labeled a heresy).
This past weekend at Deep Waters, I finally understood the verse in a way that fully satisfies my intellect as well as my heart. We started by defining the word spirituality as our response to the fire of desire that burns in our hearts. Not the object of desire, not what you want, but desire itself is a “holy longing,” a tiny piece of heaven that God gives to every person. The time and place where God puts us, the talents and personalities he gives us, define the object of that desire, and our spirituality is how we pursue it. That could be a whole book by itself*, but the application is what really caught my attention.
If spirituality is our response to desire, and that response can be either formative or destructive, then we need to pay attention to it. In creating Deep Waters, JD Ward recognized that the basic needs and desires of every human are safety, love, autonomy, and purpose**. He further noted that these desires manifest themselves in different ways.
For example, if you don’t get a promotion you were really counting on, you might get angry. Why? Well, because you won’t get that raise, and you were hoping to finally buy a new car. Why? Your old beater is uncomfortable and embarrassing; you want comfort. Why? Well, really, you just need the security of knowing you have enough money in case something goes wrong, so that you won’t be thrown out on the street. Why? Because one of your deepest needs is to feel safe. And that need can be fully met in God.
To the extent that we are in tune with the Spirit, we know that we are safe in his arms, that he knows us fully and loves us completely, that our choices matter, and that we have a purpose greater than ourselves. If we’re looking no more deeply than the desire for consumer goods and comfort, we’re likely to react in ways that hurt people. When we can identify the deepest need behind our emotional reactions, we know how to seek God to meet it.
That’s when I really understood Psalm 37:4. There’s no cop-out. God is ready, willing and able to truly meet the very deepest desires of your heart: safety, love, empowerment (you might even say free will), and purpose. We want lots of other things for many reasons, but the more we know God, the more we recognize that we have everything we need, and the rest is icing on the cake. I would go so far as to rephrase the verse like this: “By delighting yourself in the Lord, you are receiving the deepest desires of your heart.”
We’ll tackle John 14:13-14 later.
*In fact, it is a whole book, namely The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser.
**Ward acknowledges the work of Thomas Keating (The Human Condition) and Marshall Rosenberg, among others, in his choice of these four needs.