"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalms 37:4) This verse is alluring. "He will give you the desires of your heart." It sounds like a "your dreams will come true" line and "someone's going to give you what you want." Who wouldn't want that, if that were the case?
Some have said that "give" doesn't mean "pass on a nice gift" but rather "make a change in you" ("impart" or "assign") as in "give you a new hair color": "give you the kinds of internal desires/attitudes you should have, such as patience and kindness."
Ignoring for the moment what "give" means, it seems clear enough that the thing that causes the giving to happen is delighting yourself in the Lord. So, one of the many things to try to figure out in this verse is what "delight" means. My first inclination is to think it means something like "work harder at serving God in some way." But now I don't think it means that. And if I can grasp its real meaning, if, as a friend says, the concept can make the 18 inch drop (from head to heart), I believe my life would improve tremendously.
A few months ago, I heard a sermon. The preacher used this verse as the basis of his entire discussion. Hey, the points he made were inspiring, and I'm sure they are supported by verses elsewhere in the bible, but when he gave the definition of delight and said it came from a particular Hebrew word, that didn't sound right to me. I had looked up that word 15 years ago and had a different impression about the word. Wanting to revisit the original Hebrew words in that verse is what drove me to find and dig into the online reference (and I wrote the first blog entry so that others could do the same).
I remember being taught some questions to ask myself if I'm trying to draw conclusions from bible verses (e.g. if teaching others): Is whatever I wish to identify as a key point true (that's usually the easiest one)? Is it timelessly true (that can be tougher; the point cannot conflict with other parts of the bible; it's worth considering whether it is cross-cultural, too)? Is it from this passage (is that what this passage is about, or does particular wording tempt you to make a point out of context)?
Having had that stressed in my own training, I perk up when a preacher claims some concept is from the verse and I doesn't feel to me like it's really from that verse. Hey, it might be that their point is true and just not from this passage, but I think they should be clear about that. Otherwise, I think it is bad for the listeners for a few reasons: it might encourage them to interpret verses in whatever way suits them best; it might make them think that the teacher has some special ability to extract information from the verse that the rest of us don't naturally see there. I appreciate that I was taught to be thorough and self-checking before passing it on. I was encouraged to be sure that what I'm leaning on as truth really comes from scripture.
The Hebrew word the preacher cites is definitely used in the bible, but it wasn't the Hebrew word used by this verse. The word here is used only 10 times in the bible. The online references gave these definitions: luxurious, delicate, feminine, to be of dainty habit, be pampered, to be happy about, take exquisite delight, to make merry over, make sport of. I can fit "be happy about" in the verse, but what am I to make of "delicate" and "dainty"? There is something I need to understand there, for the author chose that Hebrew word instead of some other Hebrew word that could also be translated as "delight." (I haven't figured that part out yet.)
Here are the 10 phrases in the bible in which the Hebrew word is used: delicate woman; delicateness; delight in the Almighty; delight himself in the Almighty; delight yourself in the Lord (this verse); delight themselves in the abundance of peace; soul delight itself in fatness; against whom do you sport yourselves; delight yourself in the Lord; delighted with the abundance of her glory; delicate woman.
Of the places this word is translated "delight," most are about the Lord, which doesn't help me figure out its meaning. But the other uses of "delight" add some breadth to it, particularly the one that appears 7 verses later in Psalm 37: "But the meek shall inherit the earth and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."
I mentioned earlier that my first inclination is to think that "delight" means "work harder at serving God in some way"...."Serve God better and he'll give you the desires of your heart." If I try to work that "serve" definition into the "peace" verse, it clearly doesn't work: "they shall serve the abundance of peace."
That "peace" verse helps me see how delight is being used here. Think of how nice it is when calm returns, when you've had a good night's sleep, when health and strength return, when a storm passes, when you resolve conflict with a loved one. Peace is nice. Abundant peace would be amazing. People could really relax and be happy. That would be a surprising thing, an amazing thing. Observing and grasping the abundance of peace could make a person feel really good. They wouldn't have to work for peace; they could just observe it and enjoy it. It would be a response to a great thing.
That works. I can grasp that "delight" in both the "peace" verse and the "Lord Almighty" verses is about having a happy response, not a "go do it" action. So, does verse 4 mean, "Respond to the surprising, amazing goodness of the Lord..."? I think so. Plenty of people have stories to share that underscore this. Their lives have been transformed because they "get it."
My sister Jan is an example. Cancer has trashed her body, yet she has nothing but delight for God now and welcomes cancer as God's wake up call for her. Read her story here.
For the rest of us, perhaps the exercise continues in our understanding this verse. "What is it about the Lord that, if I observe it, comprehend it, would surprise me and amaze me and bring about an internal response, just like someone delighting in there being peace?"