Question ninety in the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is the birth of the new man?” In other words, it wants to know what it is that distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever…or more personally, what distinguishes your life today as a Christian from the way you lived before as a non-Christian. The answer to this question is both telling and convicting. It is simply that we take a “heartfelt joy” in the Lord. So, beloved, up front, does that describe you when it comes to your church attendance, your devotional time, your family worship, and your prayer? If it doesn’t, then you may need to reevaluate your priorities a bit.
Yet, in case we are unclear as to what “heartfelt joy” looks like in our lives, the question goes further. It describes heartfelt joy as taking delight in two things: living according to the will of God and doing good works. In English, “delight” means that we take pleasure in these things — that they satisfy our hearts.
But do we really “delight” in living according to the will of God? You know, this ties in with Jesus’ statement that “if you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Is obedience to God something that satisfies our soul and brings pleasure to our lives or is it something we do out of some sort of legalistic obligation? Do we groan on Sunday morning when it comes to getting out of bed and contemplate whether we really need to go on a given morning? Or to we rejoice that Sunday morning has come and look forward to being in the House of the Lord on this day with God’s own? Do we look forward to our personal Bible reading and devotional time, protecting a block of time so that we can practice it undisturbed? Or is it something we do some of the time so long as the “urgent” matters of the day do not distract us? Does our sin create in us a genuine and heartfelt sorrow? Or, do we just brush off our sin as no big deal, figuring that “God will forgive me anyway.” And, if you fall into this category, you may want to read Deuteronomy 29:18-20 just to refresh your mind as to God’s view of those who think this.
And, do we really delight in good works? Perhaps that is one that weighs easier on our souls because we all enjoy those random acts of kindness that we sometimes do. But, wait, the next question in Heidelberg reminds us that Good Works have three characteristics: they are done in faith, according to the Law of God, and are done for God’s glory alone. If all three of these criteria are not met, a work that someone does, no matter how noble, is not truly “good.” So, if we get the credit for it…or if anyone but God gets the credit for it, it is not good. So, do we truly delight in such works as are defined here?
Psalm 37:4 reads this way:
“Delight in Yahweh and he will give you the petitions of your heart.”
Does this mean that God gives us anything we want when we ask him? No. Does that mean that if our heart is in the right place and we pray in faith, God will give us anything for which we desire? No. What it does say is that if we truly delight in God, then our desire will be for a deeper and deeper relationship with God, and that he will give to us. Our error (and especially the error of the so-called “prosperity gospel” and the “word faith” movements) is that we tend to focus on the outcome and ignore the command. We need to focus on the imperative command that we find at the beginning of the verse: “Delight in Yahweh!”
Think about it this way. If you delight in the Lord then you will desire for your life whatever the Lord desires for your life. And God places into your life what he sovereignly designs for your life because it is designed to conform you into the image of Christ (and is thus, for your good). Sometimes that “good” is hard to see when you are in the middle of the “slough of despond” or the “valley of the shadow of death,” but through your delight in the Lord, these things become your heart’s desire and you can embrace them with thankfulness.
The Desires of our Heart
“Take pleasure in Yahweh;
And He will give to you the petitions of your heart.”
Recently, I my wife was listening to a popular Christian radio station in our area and I heard, during one of the breaks between songs, a commentator saying, “God wants to give you your heart’s desires…” Ultimately the man went on to explain that the more we delight in God the more God will bless our lives. And as I was standing there listening to this, I said to myself, “that’s surely not what David meant when he wrote these words.” By human terms, David’s life was a mess. His brothers did not like him much, his first wife was embarrassed by him, his father-in-law (King Saul) tried to kill him multiple times, and he spent much of his life hiding in the wilderness from the King and his men. Even as a king, David spent much of his time at war, he murdered one of his close friends, committed adultery, lost a child because of his sin, had another son take his kingdom out from under him, was denied by God in terms of building the Temple, etc… Yet, David understood where to go for peace and sanctuary. A life of trial and strife surely could not have been the desire of his heart (read the Psalms!), but he did take ultimate pleasure in Yahweh. If the radio commentator is right, David is doing something wrong. I think that the radio commentator is wrong…and so go all those who would read the Bible out of context.
In many ways, Psalm 37 reads more like a chapter in Proverbs than in the Psalms (then again, it would be one of David’s sons who would write the former). It contains a series of reflections or ponderings about living life well in this fallen world, and here in verse 4, we find the language that the radio commentator was drawing from. English translations tend to render the language similarly, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The language seems pretty straightforward, and it is, but to understand this passage we need to make sure we do not gloss over the implications of what it is saying. The problem arises when people separate the first part of the verse from the latter part of the verse. The commentator was reading the verse this way: “If I delight in God then God will give me the things that I desire.” But, if we genuinely delight in something (or in this case, someone), isn’t that one in which we delight the desire of our heart? Indeed, it is!
The point is that God does not want to give us the desires of our hearts; God wants to be the desire of our heart! And when God is the desire of our heart, God gives more and more of himself to us, not the “stuff” that this world is filled with and we so often allow to become our treasure. Jesus said to set your treasure in heaven (on God! — Matthew 6:19-21) for where our treasure is there our heart will be. The reason that David could write these words in the midst of so many trials of life was precisely because God was the one in whom David delighted. And as David delighted in God, God gave to David more and more of himself…a place of refuge in a time of trial.
This world is filled with things and people that will try and become the desire of your heart. This world is also filled with well-meaning people who study their Bibles in the light of their own preferences. All of these things are pitfalls and traps that we must avoid. John the Apostle instructed us that we are to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), that means all the spirits you encounter, even those that wear the garb of Christianity. There are many that will mislead and under their influence we will set our hearts on other things. Do not fall into that trap. Make God your soul desire in life and he will richly bless you with himself.