A genuinely remarkable, but easily misunderstood exhortation in the OT is the one we find on the lips of David in Psalm 37:4. Continue reading . . .
A genuinely remarkable, but easily misunderstood exhortation in the OT is the one we find on the lips of David in Psalm 37:4. Let’s look at it for a moment in its broader context.
“Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land” (Psalm 37:1-9).
To “delight” in the Lord is closely related both to what precedes in v. 3 where David calls on us to “trust” in the Lord and to what follows in v. 5 where we are called on to “commit” our “way” to Lord. Likewise, the same God-centered focus continues as we are told again in v. 5 to “trust in him” and in v. 7 to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”
All these exhortations that have God as their focus are set over against the tendency to “fret” yourself over evildoers and to be “envious” of them. Instead of fretting over the prosperity of sinners we are to trust in God, delight in God, and commit our way to God. And that only makes sense if there is more gladness and peace and joy and comfort and delight in God than there is in all the riches amassed by human effort.
I once asked John Piper how we avoid reading this text as an endorsement of the prosperity gospel or a gospel that uses God to get goodies, so to speak. In other words, what prevents us from seeking our joy and satisfaction in God as a pathway to laying hold of other desires of the heart? In other words, how do we avoid making God a tool or instrument or means for the pursuit of joy in something other than him?
He responded by saying that the “desires” of the heart must be desires that are satisfied in more of God in more and more ways. If that were not the case, we would not truly be delighting in God as an end in itself but only using God to get what we enjoy more than what may be found in him alone. He wrote to me: “I often say that the desire of the heart that we get is God himself. True. But the text implies plurality, and so I am willing to say that we get more of God in more ways when we delight in him. It does not promise that all we can conceive of enjoying will come to us, but that our desires to taste more of God in many ways will be arranged according to God’s wise and loving plan.”
We should also note that if your delight is wholly in God then your desires will not be for anything that would diminish his centrality in your soul. You won’t want anything that has the potential of turning your heart to trust in anyone but him. If your “desires” are for the stuff of this world that would detract from your complete satisfaction in God, then you aren’t truly delighting yourself in him.
But why joy? Why do the biblical authors, such as David, make delight or joy in God so central to our relationship with him? Is it not enough simply to obey God or fear God or worship God or believe in God? Why joy? Why delight? Why does it matter so much?
Not long ago a blogger criticized Christian Hedonism for insisting that we come to God and praise God for the joy to be found in him. He said that we should worship God simply because God deserves to be worshiped. Well, of course he does. No one disputes that point. But Christian Hedonism directs our attention to the how of worship. How is God most glorified in his people? And I would insist that God is most glorified in his people when they experience in themselves, by God’s saving and sanctifying grace, the affections of joy, delight, and satisfaction that God himself experiences in God himself. So there is obviously something special about joy. Jonathan Edwards made this point in several places:
“God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory . . . both [with] the mind and the heart. He that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation [i.e., his heartfelt commendation or praise] of it and his delight in it” (Misc. 448).
“Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed? An understanding of the perfections of God, merely, cannot be the end of the creation; for he had as good not understand it, as see it and not be at all moved with joy at the sight. Neither can the highest end of creation be the declaring God’s glory to others; for the declaring God’s glory is good for nothing otherwise than to raise joy in ourselves and others at what is declared” (Misc. 3).
So, let’s resist any temptation to relegate joy and delight to a place of secondary importance. We must also resist the tendency among many to describe joy as little more than the unintended effect or result or inadvertent fruit of some other Christian duty. Instead, let joy in God, delight in God, not in his gifts but in God himself, be the focus of our efforts through the power of the Holy Spirit. For in our delight and joy in God is God most gloriously glorified in us.