“Wow! God gave you the desires of your heart!”
As the story goes, God truly had. I didn’t understand what I knew was right to do back in August, the why behind it all, and I couldn’t see far enough ahead to have even the slightest hope. Unfortunately even in that, the many ebenezers I have set in place, even as marks upon my body to help me to remember have not been strong enough to offset pride and discontent: I had over and over again forgotten. On the very day I thought would be my last in the foreseeable future of teaching through God’s Word, I got the email that I would start my PhD program running with the clear to work on my research proposal. With tears in my eyes, I was able to see that I wasn’t yet done teaching; there was much more to be done. I can not tell you enough how thankful I am that the Lord has been so kind and generous with me.
Yet, in just about every study I have taught, I always begin by asking how many times scripture out of context, bent and molded to fit their interpretation, has been used to hurt them. With timid smiles, just about every hand gets raised.
This is not to make a mockery at the saying above, the clear celebration of what God has done and continues to do in my life, but a check. I have heard this Psalm flippantly thrown out at people, “take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires (Psalm 37:4),” as something that can be both beautiful and also entirely harmful. Had someone said this to me in the midst of struggling through the desert of “no,” I might have started a fire.
I still remember four years ago at a large women’s conference hearing this said as a way to get women to simply move on what might be on their heart. While we were grouped together to discuss what we were dreaming about, I asked the question, “has there ever been a time you thought God was calling you to something and it completely failed?” Stories of adoption unable to be processed, miscarriage, friendships lost, even divorce showed their ugly heads as bright, starry eyes turned into puddles.
These words have also been used as an equation of sorts, given to those who are looking for something in particular as they long and wait, that if they just give more time to God and find joy in it, then he might just give you what you want. Only transactional.
Also, when it comes to matters of the heart, the other supplemental verse that comes to mind through years of memorizing my little heart out in AWANA club is Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Although reciting that faster than anyone else in our small region in the thumb of Michigan to win awards and brownie points at my baptist church, it didn’t fully sink in until later on in my life, beginning to become more and more aware of the many ways in which my ways didn’t line up with His. What this began is a constant anxiety of questioning myself, which in some ways was incredibly helpful for coming to terms with my helplessness apart from Jesus, but also unhelpful: I assumed that God cared only about that which was what I thought “more spiritual” than anything material.
This last drought pulled the thread that unraveled the entire proverbial sweater. The desires of my heart were not happening, and they seemed pure enough. Even in that, whenever the door seemed to open for those dreams to begin happening, as soon as they let a breath through that crack in the entryway, they slammed shut. Instead of questioning my circumstances and my heart, I questioned God. Instead of resting in His providence, I mistrusted His character.
In the context of the Psalm, this song of wisdom in not only comparing and contrasting the wicked and righteous, but calling us to what is good, we find further hope, and a pronoun shift that should certainly make its way into all of our vocabulary.
Typically, when I hear verse four quoted, the focus is locked in on my heart and what I desire and hope for. In disputing that God doesn’t care about those things, we must remember that the things around us He made good. Absolutely there are good and bad desires, but most times its our neediness and obsession with them above Christ that becomes the issue. It is our worship of those things and circumstances that are out of balance, the gravity of our lives thrown off by placing something other than Him as central. The vast majority of this Psalm as well as the verse we are even lingering in shifts our alignment to upright.
Did God give me the desires of my heart? More than I could have ever asked, planned, plotted, schemed, or wished for myself. He saw me. There was also both death and resurrection involved. The dry, parched journey that I walked was part of a necessary stripping, revelatory in God’s mercy to show me a mirror to myself: not my way, but His way. His grace is abundant. Though I had not eyes for His timing, He showed Himself for who He is, the one who knows best.
In delighting in the Lord, our hearts are molded by His tender grace, changing from one degree of glory to the next, so that we might reveal His glory, not ours. Praise be to God, who is not finished with us yet, calling us back once more that we might find life in Him alone, that He Himself might just be the desire of our ever wandering heart.