Most folks I have encountered in my life have been fond to say, “God will give you the desires of your heart.” What a wonderful promise! As an early teen, I remember starting to question the common phrases and sayings I would hear quite frequently from church and this was one of those sayings that I just had to see if it was actually contained in the Bible. Imagine my shock when, after using my father’s six-inch thick Strong’s Exhaustive Bible Concordance to search for the word delight, I discovered it was in fact recorded in Psalm 37. Even when reading in the King James Version it was right there and simple to understand once you realized the Shakespearean thyself, thee, and thine mean yourself, you, and yours respectively!! However, I also discovered a first part of the verse that rarely got mentioned or brought up at all. Here’s the verse taken from the English Standard Version:
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Do you see it? This wasn’t just a promise that God will give me the desires of my heart like some magic genie. There’s a catch to it. It’s an if/then statement. If I do something, then he will give me the desires of my heart. What do I have to do? According to this verse, I have to delight myself in the Lord. What does that even mean? As a churchboy at that time, it meant daily Bible reading, church attendance every time the doors were open, praying before every meal, no cussing, no smoking, no drinking, not watching R-rated movies or even PG movies and TV shows that contained cussing or sex scenes, and avoiding anything and everything else that had the very appearance of evil lest my “good be evil spoken of!” Surely if I accomplished all this and adhered to all the rules I was delighting myself in the Lord. It seemed to work too. All this delighting took quite a bit of activity and conscious thought on my part. In fact, I was so busy “delighting” that I had little time to actually desire anything. That’s how this particular if/then statement worked. As I delighted in Him, my desires actually changed to want the same thing He wants and it all works as a circle together. The more I looked like a Christian, the more I wanted to look like a Christian. There was only one issue in this whole thing. To delight means to take great joy. As I struggled to maintained the requirements, there was no actual delight or joy in my delighting. In fact, my delighting was nothing more than a list of rules to follow and feel condemned if I didn’t.
In recent years, it seems getting the desires of our heart as stated above has been replaced by a verse penned by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians 3:20 states that our God is “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” The idea contained in that statement is both incredibly humbling and awe-inspiring. There is nothing that you or I will ever think, imagine, or ask that God could not do far more abundantly than. I’ve heard countless sermons on God doing more than we can imagine as found in Ephesians 3:20. It’s used as an encouragement to dream big, ask for great things, push the boundaries of what you seek and desire because God cannot only do those things, He will do more than you even conceive. However, like being told God will give us the desires of our heart, I do not recall any of those sermons or teachings focusing on the words Paul penned just prior to making that declaration. Ephesians 3:16-20 states:
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
Our thirst for getting our own desires and wants has caused us to totally overlook the point of this passage. Paul’s desire for us is not that we imagine the greatest thing we could ever ask for and realize that God can do even more than that. His desire is that we will become so empowered with strength as we trust that Christ lives in us that we experience the fullness of life that comes from the love of our Father. He wants us to become so enamored with God’s love for us as we seek to find it’s full length, width, height, and depth that we realize we will never fully understand it. Paul’s statement in verse 20 is not a promise that God will give us more or do more than we can conceive in our minds. It’s an acknowledgement that God has the power to do so and should serve as a reminder to us of the words of Jesus, “”With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
As with most things of God, at least in my mind because that’s how mine works, I believe there is an order in which things seem to happen. The verses mentioned from Ephesians are the same way. However, I don’t think it’s matter of being a conditional if/then statement as I may have believed in the past. The order found here in Ephesians is as we become more and more aware of the vastness of God’s love the things we never believed or imagined possible begin to seem possible and come to pass. Since my recovery from being a churchboy began, I’ve become more and more aware that there is nothing I could ever do or not do to make God love me any more or any less than He already does and did before I even realized it. I’ve learned that nothing will ever be able to separate from that love. I’ve learned God’s love does not depend on conditional if/then statements. How does this go forward into exceeding my imaginations? It is hard and nearly impossible for me to conceive that God loves the terrorist suicide bomber. It’s difficult to believe that God loves the rapist, serial killer, and child molester with the same love that He loves me. A churchboy would never admit that God not only could love but does love the drunk, the homosexual, the addict, and those who want nothing to do with God as much as myself, but if I truly believe what I profess to believe I have to admit these statements are true. Once again, as Jesus said, “all things are possible.”
In closing, let’s return to Psalm 37:4. Being written before the promise of Christ was fully revealed, I still view this particular verse as an if/then statement. However, my definition of delight has changed greatly and I no longer view it as a list of things I must do and things I cannot do. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines delight as “to take great pleasure.” I take great pleasure in God’s love for me. I take great pleasure in knowing we were set free from sin, condemnation, and a list of rules simply for the sake of experiencing freedom. I take great pleasure in finding rest in the Father who loves me so much he would rather die than live without me.
As I take pleasure in these things, my desire for a life loved, freed, and forgiven is realized requiring absolutely no effort on my part. If I’m loved with no effort, then so are you and so are all those you may consider unloveable as well.