The following passage from Psalms 37:4 has troubled a lot of people. They feel that it makes a promise to them that God has ignored. For instance, they might feel that this verse promises them that God will give them a marriage partner and a family. This is their desire and they feel that they are meeting the caveat.
Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
But is this what God is really saying in this verse? Is this a blank check that you can cash anytime you feel like it? Can you actually force God to give you whatever you want?
It is important to consider the context of a verse before we base a strong conclusion on it. When we isolate a verse from its context, it is easy to make it say anything we want it to say. So note the following statements also found in this Psalm.
- Trust in the Lord, and do good
- Commit your way to the Lord
- Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him
- Do not fret
- Cease from anger
In fact the first eight verses of Psalms 37 list behavior patterns God expects of us. The rest of the Psalm then goes on to clarify the promises in the first part. When you read the verses carefully, you will notice that the promises are actually future ones. While God is free to give us these things anytime that He wants, He might wait until we get to heaven to do this.
Compare Other Verses…
I’m troubled by the number of people who try to coerce God into doing what they want. Some feel that He promises us wealth and power. Others try to claim marriage partners under this promise. Some go so far as to blame God for being unfaithful to His promises if he doesn’t do this.
In the New Testament, Paul faced a similar situation in his life. He had a thorn in the flesh and he felt that it was hindering God’s work. But God viewed it from a different perspective.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)
What is Your Desire?
In the passage above, we have a clear example of a time when God’s will conflicted with a Christian’s desire. So does this mean that this contradicts the verse in Psalms 37?
I don’t think so. It just clarifies it. Since God doesn’t contradict himself we need to understand that in a situation like this we need to understand the two passages in a way that they complement each other. There are several ways we can do this.
In the first place, God understood Paul’s desire better than Paul did. Paul felt that he could serve God better if God would heal him. So his real desire was to be able to serve God better. God knew him better than he knew himself, and told him that he would be a stronger witness with the thorn in his life than he would without. In fact, if God removed Paul’s thorn, it would lead to people glorifying Paul rather than God.
Paul did want to glorify God, from the bottom of his heart. So he was willing to praise God for his weakness and accept God’s verdict. So did God fulfill His promise? I think Paul would have said that He did.
God’s Will, Not Mine
Jesus faced this same situation in the garden before His crucifixion.
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:39)
Sometimes we simply need to lay down our desires at the feet of God and say, “You know best, Lord.” If Jesus needed to do that, how can we expect anything else?
This means that we might need to give up…
- our job
- having a spouse and family
- wealth and possessions
God told Paul that, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” If we want to serve Christ from the bottom of our heart, then isn’t it our deepest desire to have His strength made perfect within us? This means that we must be willing to lay our personal desires on the altar at His feet. God doesn’t refuse to honor His promise. He just changes our desires so that He can honor them.
Read the book Hinds Feet in High Places for a wonderful illustration of this.