I’ve used my Scripture Meditation Plan for decades. It begins with a psalm of the day, and last Thursday’s was Psalm 37. It is best known for this one sentence: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (And this isn’t coming from a used car salesman.)
A friend from University quoted that verse every day. His father was infamous for being one of those combative, blitzkrieg lawyers, quick to sue on your behalf and equally quick to defend you with offensive tactics; an ambulance chaser with a bazooka.
His father treated his mom with the same aggressive style. When she threatened divorce, he took the initiative, divorced her, and managed to keep custody of all the kids, more through intimidation than any logic or law. He treated his children with equal antagonism.
My college friend both loathed his father and longed for his approval. He studied non-stop, to get into an Ivy League law school, to hear dad’s praise, to feel loved. That was his heart’s desire. So he quoted Psalm 37 all the time. It fueled his mind for those all-night study sessions.
After graduation, I did mission work for a few years. When I returned, my friend had flunked out of law school and abandoned Christianity. He said, “God failed me, and Scripture lies.”
My college friend was not unique. Everyone loves that verse, but it’s probably patently clear what I’m about to write. I’ve heard that promise preached and counseled scores of times, especially in times of desperation, but the interpretation people use twists God’s words.
If I “delight myself in the Lord” in order to become a lawyer, then my real delight is anything associated with that law degree, be it money, respect, or a father’s approval. My delight isn’t God. He is just a one more rung on the ladder to my truest delight.
It is spiritually impossible to “delight myself in the Lord” for the sake of any other desire of my heart, even if it is for the greatest good: world peace or the end of the sex trade industry. The forgotten spiritual principle is that our plans for good are often enemies of what God knows is best. Our “good” plans for kids, spouses, or friends frequently conflict with his great plans.
When Peter heard Jesus predict his own crucifixion, Peter’s desire for good made him tell Jesus to shut up. Jesus replied, “Get behind me Satan! You don’t have God’s concerns in mind. You look at the world merely from a human perspective.”
We commit the same mistake all the time. Because we also misunderstand the next verse.
When God Acts
The very next words (after God promises to grant us the desires of our hearts) are these:
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
The verse is preached this way: “Give your dreams to God, trust he will fulfill them, and watch him do it.” But that is a perversion from a snake-oil-preacher (a twin brother of the used car salesman). God doesn’t say he “will do exactly what you want,” he only says he “will act.”
When we “give our dreams to God” (or “commit your way to the Lord”), we are giving him permission to do whatever he plans. Giving to God requires the humility to admit that our surface desires may be very, very wrong, even after all our prayerful considerations.
When my friend flunked out of law school, his father was initially harsh, but a year later, something softened that hostile lawyer’s heart and he gave his life to the Lord. He repented to his former wife and children, and he tried to help my friend figure out a career that fit my friend’s own personality.
He and his father worked together and realized he was more analytical than argumentative. My friend became a software engineer, a career he loved because he delighted in the activities themselves not a career he pursued as a steppingstone to search for daddy’s approval.
My friend saw God heal a relationship with his father, and he saw God give him the “career-desires-of-his-heart.” Both solutions were vastly better than his own plans. The meaning of that psalm is simple: “Delight yourself in the Lord … and watch him act in ways we cannot control.”
He’s not a tame lion.