I used to believe Jesus responded to our prayers like a genie in a bottle; if I was good enough or said all the right words, then poof! all my wishes would be granted. I even believed I knew a Bible verse that could back up that notion: “…and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I didn’t bother to remember the beginning of that verse, certain that the final half was the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I desperately wanted that promotion. Not only a better job with increased pay, this career move would surely bring a sense of purpose, utilizing my unique skill set. I prayed fervently, prepped my resume, and practiced interviewing. Immediately after the actual interview, a friend in the department called to tell me I had nailed it! This promotion was a sure thing! Until it wasn’t. I was beyond disappointed, jaded even, when I prayed for my greatest longings with all my might, and God failed to give me everything I asked from Him.
Turns out the other half of the verse makes all the difference.
“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, NIV).
Delight. It sounds simple enough. But what does delight really look like? Can it be summed up by the emotion-depicting words that might be found in a dictionary—to be highly pleased, excited, and happy? For me, the word delight evokes feelings of peace, serenity, and relaxation. But this holy, spiritual inclination of taking delight in the Lord goes much deeper than emotion and feeling. In fact, the word translated here as “delight” literally means to be made soft or pliable.
I must admit, soft and pliable have not always been how one might describe me. Flexibility has never been my strong suit. I am firm, rigid even. I am a task-oriented rule-follower, driven by my to-do list. I have spent many hours creating schedules and making plans. I have also spent plenty of time prayerfully asking God to bless my plans, preferably on my terms and in my timing. But God calls us to delight in Him, to be moldable in His hands and transformed into the image of His Son.
Not only is the first half of Psalm 37:4 crucial to what it means to surrender and have a closer walk with Jesus, but the context of this verse gives even more insight into what it looks like to live out delight.
Surrounding the command to “Take delight in the Lord,” are these words:
“Trust in the Lord” (Psalm 37:3, NIV).
“Commit your way to the Lord” (Psalm 37:5, NIV).
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7, NIV).
To take delight in the Lord means to wholeheartedly embrace a lifestyle of ‘Your will be done,’ and to submit to His perfect timing. Those words flow from my mouth easily enough. Meanwhile, I hold a white-knuckled grip on my dreams and my plans. Delight means to completely surrender, to implicitly trust. Delight requires me to pry open my tight fists and release the grip on my plans, fully believing that His plans are better. Not just better—His plans are the best plans. He sees far beyond the current circumstances that have so long fueled my desires. I want what seems best at the moment because I can’t see past the end of the week. But our Father knows the beginning from the end. He is the only One who knows how to work it all together for my good, and He does just that in a way that I could never comprehend.
Long before my son was ever born, I knew I wanted to homeschool him. When kindergarten rolled around, it simply wasn’t a good time for me to quit working. Still, I never stopped hoping we could do it someday, and for several years we revisited the idea. In the summer between his third and fourth-grade years, we decided it was the right time for me to quit my job so we could begin homeschooling. This happened to be just a few short months after not getting that promotion I thought I wanted so badly. I never would have considered quitting so soon after starting a new job, and the contract may have prevented it. When God said “no” to that position, He was making room for me to say “yes” to something I had always wanted and that was ultimately best for my family.
God has been slowly teaching me the disposition of taking delight in Him. I say slowly, not because He is a slow teacher, but because I am a slow learner. Honestly, there is nothing quick about learning to delight.
Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet you, LORD are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God knows the exact vessel He wants to form me into—He is changing me to be more like Jesus. He does not force the process; He remains always patient while waiting and persuading me to be ever more pliable in His hands. The longer I resist His shaping, the longer the forming will take. I guess the whole concept of delight could be summed up in this: I need to hand over the entire unusable lump of clay to the Potter, to be pliable in His hands, so He can mold me into a usable vessel. Delight means relinquishing control and recognizing the truth that I never was never in control anyway.
Does learning to delight mean that now, finally, I can bring out my wishlist and God will dole out everything I could ask of Him? Not exactly.
You see, the promise in Psalm 37:4 says God will “give you the desires of your heart,” not that He guarantees to grant all of our wishes. The word “give” used in this verse means that He will place or plant desires in our hearts. God will instill within us desires that are in alignment with His desires. Matthew Henry puts it this way, “He has not promised to gratify the appetites of the body, but the desires of a renewed, sanctified soul.” As we delight in Him, our desires will be transformed to be not truly our own, but those given to us by our loving Father.
Delight changes everything. When we are self-absorbed, focused on the things of the world, our desires are in alignment with the world’s system of value. We seek things that are futile, fleeting, and fading. But when we delight in Him, when we are made pliable in the hands of the Potter, His will becomes our own. Everything we do and say flows from the sincere longing to bring Him glory.
Three years ago, my husband’s job location closed its doors. His company offered him a new position that would require relocation. I prayed for God to provide a local job so we would not have to move. This time, I surrendered my will and prayed, “Your will be done.” I desperately wanted to remain in the place I had always lived, near to the people I love. But even more so, I had developed a desire to follow wherever my Father would lead. After months of looking for other opportunities, it was clear we would have to move. It was not easy to leave my family and friends behind. Even though God had not answered my prayer in the way I had hoped, I had peace, trusting in His perfect plan.
As I have been allowing God to mold and shape me—to look more and more like Jesus—I have seen my own desires shift. There is nothing wrong with setting goals, making plans, and getting things done. However, I am learning to become a totally dependent, fully-surrendered participant in His plans instead of asking Him to bless my plans. The things I once thought I so desperately wanted, needed even, don’t seem to matter as much anymore. My craving for the temporary, material pleasures of this world, is starting to fade. As I become content in Him, I yearn for the eternal. My aspirations to do something and be somebody are being eclipsed by the longing to bring glory to God alone. My delighted heart desires the will of God.
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