Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Stop abusing Psalm 37:4

"...and he will give you the desires of your heart."
Psalm 37:4b

Mr and Mrs Jones come up to the pastor on a Sunday morning, their 6 year old girl Susie in tow. "Pastor", Mrs Jones says, "Susie has a question about Heaven that we couldn't answer".

"What's your question, Susie?" the pastor asks.

"When I go to heaven will my dog Fido be there? I love my dog and I want to be in heaven with him."

The pastor answers, "Well, I do know the Bible promises that God "will give you the desires of your heart", so if you desire Fido, then God will make sure he is in Heaven with you.

Now listen. I'm not mocking the question. This little girl clearly loves her dog and we can all understand how important the question is to a 6 year old. Also, I'm certainly not mocking the principle that God will richly bless us in Heaven. What I am addressing is the complete and under disregard for the meaning of Psalm 37:4. This is one of a handful of Bible passages that we treat as if it were a giant spiritual blank check and by doing so act as if the Trinity is the cosmic version of the "Make a Wish Foundation" and as if Jesus were Santa Clause.

Once when I was discussing this verse with a fellow Christian, after saying something similar to what I've said above, I was curtly interrupted with a question: "So you're denying that God is making us a promise?" The question was asked with obvious resentment. "Well, I for one believe that God means what he said and always keeps his promises."

So do I. The question is what has God promised? Has he really promised to give us anything we desire?

The problem with quoting half a verse is that you only quote half a verse. Look at what the entire verse actually says:
"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."
This verse is indeed promising something. God will give you your heart's desire if your heart desires God. This promise isn't a spiritual blank check which will allow you to get an Xbox, new friends, an attractive spouse, or the guarantee of a beloved pet for all of eternity. It is not the promise of a better paying job, or reconciliation with a family member who remains bitter towards you, or a better health care package that will cover your spouse's cancer treatments.

No, it is something far, far, far better.

It is the promise of the presence of God. The reason this is so important is because God's presence changes everything. Both Moses and Joshua tried to show Israel that God's presence brings strength and courage.  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9; see Deut 31:6). The apostle Paul clung to this promise so tenaciously that he wrote "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

The coming of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the promise God made in Psalm 37:4. As the Old Testament saints delighted in God, he gave them their desire by sending Jesus Christ. For this reason, Jesus was first called Immanuel, which means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). This promise is realized anew in the heart of everyone who calls upon the name of Jesus Christ.

If you desire God, he will give you himself. Richly, freely, and without restraint. That is a promise he always keeps.


  1. Used on Sharper Iron here. Thank you for your throughtful article.

  2. This is the verse that caused me to get engaged. I found that the more I delighted in the Lord, the more He gave me a desire to live out that delight with Tonya.