A few days ago, a beautiful friend messaged me, saying that she had been pondering Psalm 37:4, and wondering what exactly it means, and maybe I would be able to help. I was delighted to be asked, and sent of a quick reply with what I could remember off the top of my head. The next day I did a bit of digging around to check my ideas and get more detailed information, and sent off another message. Then, as I was writing this post, I ran into a few tough bits, and decided to go talk to my Dad about it. Well, turns out that the ideas I had sent my friend didn't really explain the true meaning of the verse. So, I've re-written this post to align with truth. Why am I telling you this? Because it shows (once again) how imperfect I am. I stuff up my analysis and ideas. I have to go back basically to the drawing board. I am wrong sometimes! (*Gasp!!*)
Now for the actual post...
In case you aren't familiar with it, Psalm 37:4 says this:
"Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart."
and he will give you the desires of your heart."
With just a quick read, we tend to see that and think, "Goody, it's saying God will give me what I want if I delight in Him." But then if we start looking at it in a bit more depth, and relating that verse to real life, we start to think, "Hang on, something's not quite what it seems here..."
So, what does it actually mean? Well, as I said I talked to my very theological-truth-minded Dad, and he helped me grasp what it's actually saying. So, here goes my explanation.
- Our desire for God. Think about the verse for a second. If we are delighting ourselves in the Lord, what will be the main desire that we have? God!!! We will want Him! And that is what God promises to grant us - Himself, and more and more of Himself. "Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible" says, "He has not promised to gratify all the appetites of the body and the humours of the fancy, but to grant all the desires of the heart, all the cravings of the renewed, sanctified soul. What is the desire of the heart of a good man? It is this: to know, and love, and live [for] God, to please him and to be pleased in him." This is the foundation of the verse. This is the key thing it means by the "desires" that God promises to grant.
Take King David for an example. (After all, he's the one who wrote the Psalm!) His first and foremost desire was God. He wanted to worship and serve God, and delight in Him. This desire was granted.
- Our righteous intents and desires. The second 'category' of desires that God promises to grant is the righteous desires and intents of our heart. In our example, King David also desired to make God's name great in Israel and even amongst the nations. He wanted God to be honoured above everything, and he wanted all Israel to worship God. These desires (that naturally follow from delighting in God) were also granted - although in a different way than David imagined (we'll talk about that in a second.) God's name was made great through David. Israel followed and worshipped God, and God was glorified.
- The out-workings of our righteous intents and desires. This is the third category of desires. These are the ways we think or want the desires of category 2 to be fulfilled. But the important thing to realises about these desires is, they may not be fulfilled. For example, King David wanted to build the temple as a way to make God's name great and help Israel worship him. He had his righteous desires, and thought of a way to fulfil them. God, however, had a different plan. Solomon was to build the temple. So, God did not grant David his desire in this category. He didn't get to build the temple. BUT, remember that David's desires in category 1 and 2 were fulfilled! And they are the ones that really matter. Although it didn't quite work out how David planned, God's name was made great and Israel worshipped Him.
Also, it's important to realise the general context of the entire passage. David is addressing the frustration we might feel regarding wicked people who always seem to have success. He's saying "don't worry about them, they will soon wither and God will eventually carry out His judgement on them. And don't turn to their ways because you think it will bring more success and pleasure! Instead, turn to God, follow Him and delight in Him, and He will give you what is better." Verse 18 says "the blameless spend their days under the Lord's care, and their inheritance will endure forever." Read the entire psalm: there are many other verses like that, that promise hope and peace and true happiness through God for those that follow Him wholeheartedly.
Hopefully this helps you gain some perspective on what this verse really means.
*I have stated all this as fact because it's what I firmly believe at the moment. I would like to mention, however, that it is a possibility that both my dad and I are wrong.