“Take delight in the Lord,” says the psalmist, “and he will give you your heart’s desires” (Ps 37:4).
This oft-quoted verse has profound implications for the believer. Before we can explore the landscape of this powerful statement, it’s important we take note of its context in the wider breadth of Psalm 37.
Who is Psalm 37’s author and why does it matter?
David lets us know at the outset of this psalm that he is its author. And as we’ve seen throughout his life, particularly in worship, David knew how to delight in the Lord.
Consider his dance when the ark of the covenant entered the city of David after its exile in the Philistine territory.
And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn. (2 Sam 6:14–15 ESV)
When Michal, his embittered wife, rebuked the king for his delight in the Lord, his rebuttal is instructive:
I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. (2 Sam 6:22 ESV)
David’s delight took precedence over anything he would receive from God.
What is the structure of Psalm 37?
Let’s look at how the entire psalm is worded. A plain reading of the passage reveals that verses 1–8 are commands to the people of God. Don’t worry. Trust in the Lord. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Be still. Stop being angry.
A shift happens in verses 9–22, however, where we learn what the outcome of the wicked will be. They will plot and snarl and draw their swords, David says, but the Lord will laugh at their efforts. A day will come when the wicked will be judged. Verses 23–40 highlight the differences between the godly and the wicked—and how God interacts with both. He directs godly people’s steps, taking delight in their way. He will not abandon them but will keep them safe. God will not allow the wicked to succeed. Much of what is said is summarized in verse 37–38:
Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
(Ps 37:37–38 ESV)
And that’s the important thing to remember when we read Psalm 37:4 in its context. It’s not a simple formula provided for the purpose of cross-stitching on pillows. Nor is it a clichéd sentiment, draining life of its pathos. It’s tucked into a psalm about God’s greatness and his ability to bring justice to an unjust world.
Is delighting the precursor to blessing?
First, delighting in the Lord is not transactional. Well-meaning Christians who discipled me in high school taught that if I delighted myself in God, then he would give me what I wanted: good grades, a boyfriend, admission to a good university. First: delight, then blessing would automatically follow.
But God is not a magical vending machine who dispenses treasures if we use the right currency. He is a relational God, longing to know us. In the beautiful dance of the Trinity, God himself is a relationship. The Father delights in the Son who delights in the Holy Spirit who delights in the Father. Delight is a relational word.
Oswald Chambers puts it simply,
Think of the last thing you prayed about—were you devoted to your desire or to God? Was your determination to get some gift of the Spirit for yourself or to get to God? “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). The reason for asking is so you may get to know God better. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). We should keep praying to get a perfect understanding of God Himself.1
To know him is to explore and revel in your relationship with him.
What does “delight” mean?
The word “delight” means in the Hebrew sentence exactly what it means in the English one: “to take one’s pleasure in.”2 Its object—in this case, God—is worthy and capable of delighting in.
Run a Bible word study on this Hebrew word (which you can do in Logos with a right click, without even knowing Hebrew), and you’ll see that the same word is used in Job 22:26:
For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty and lift up your face to God. (Job 22:26 ESV)
And in Isaiah 58:14:
Then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isa 58:14 ESV)
In this passage, we see the correlation between taking great pleasure in God as well as his response to that—he brings satisfaction.
In Nehemiah 1:11, we see a similar pattern:
O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. (Neh 1:11 ESV)
While delighting is not a formula for making God answer your prayer favorably, it is an indication of your desire to know the beauty of God.
Charles Spurgeon expounds upon the word this way:
It is joy, yet is it more, it is joy running over; it is rest, but such a rest as allows of the utmost activity of every passion of the soul. Delight! it is mirth without its froth. Delight! it is peace, yet it is more than that: it is peace celebrated with festivity, with all the streamers hanging in the streets and all the music playing in the soul.3
What happens when we delight in the Lord?
When we take great delight in the ever-unfolding relationship we have with the God of the universe, our desires begin to change. We long to do what pleases our heavenly Father. Our heart begins to hurt over the injustices that bother God. We see the world as the stage that the kingdom of God bursts onto. In short, we want to see God’s work done in our context—and when his will is done on earth as it has been done in heaven, we can’t help but rejoice.
Delighting leads to understanding the heart of God toward the world, which then leads to joy when his purposes prevail. Jesus embodied this same pattern when he constantly stole away to spend time (delighting!) in his Father, then brought the kingdom to earth by exorcising demons, healing lepers, and raising the dead. He delighted in the Father, and the Father gave him the desires of his heart—a freed humanity. He said, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34).
How does delighting in the Lord change us?
When we spend time with God by getting to know him, that interaction can’t help but change us in myriad ways.
Jumping forward to the New Testament, think about the fruits of the Spirit delineated in Galatians 5:22–23. The outpouring of the Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity results in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those are the Spirit’s attributes. As we delight in God, we have the privilege of experiencing his love and all the workings out of that love. He is joy. He brings peace. He exercises patience. He is surprisingly kind. His goodness is counterintuitive. He is faithful to carry out his covenants and keep his promises—even when we’re faithless. He is gentle with us when we’re walking through the valley of pain. In his salvation plan, think about how he exercised self-control in sending Jesus at just the right time in history.
We naturally want to spend time with people who share these same winsome traits. We are drawn to them. And sometimes we spend time with them in hopes that their way of doing life rubs off on us. We become like those we hang out with.
Similarly, when we can’t wait to spend time with God, when we experience his amazingness, it’s because we love how he treats us. And his love for us causes us to love others. We learn best by experience, and we cannot demonstrate what we first haven’t walked through. Perhaps this is why Jesus had such strong words for those who appeared righteous on the outside but were something else altogether on the inside. Their heart and their actions did not match. But when we spend time delighting in God, he changes our insides so that our good actions flow naturally from a changed heart.
But how do we delight in the Lord?
This is where the disciplines enter in. To spend time with God is to choose to make time for him because we love him. Taking time away, just as Jesus did when he walked the earth, strengthens our connection to the Lord. Here are seven suggested avenues:
David and other psalmists knew the art of lament. Lament precedes delight. A lament is simply writing out your questions and anguish to God—then as you process them, you shift your perspective from pain toward faith. Amid your questions, you remember the goodness of God and his past faithfulness to you, then you shift your mindset to the future—you will see his goodness.
2. Worship musically
Create a playlist of your most vertical worship songs: i.e., songs singing to God about his great attributes and qualities. Next time you have a quiet moment to yourself, sing your heart out to the God you delight in.
3. Fast from social media
Look over your stats for your phone use in the last week. How much time did you spend there? Choose to fast for a period of time each day. Instead spend that set-apart time in study, Scripture memorization, or prayer. Digital silence, even though it’s not easy in our noisy world, opens you up to hear the voice of God.
4. Serve others
When we delight in God, our heart beats for those who are less fortunate. If you want to delight in God, do the things that delight him. Take note of a local injustice and seek to bring light to it (via some other means than posting about in on social media!). Send a struggling friend a note of encouragement, or send them this article!
5. Host a celebration
Invite people over for a feast. We do this every year, hosting a Seder meal for our friends. We sing worship songs, eat a meal together, and explore the symbolism of Passover and the Last Supper. The truth is that we grow best together. Since the COVID pandemic, we’ve isolated ourselves into spiritual silos, and we’ve forgotten that we truly experience the delightful presence of God in community.
6. Read the whole Bible
To get to know the God who spun the world into existence, you have to read his words. You will experience his heart, his longsuffering toward all creation, and his longing to make all things new. Reading the whole Bible gives you the entire narrative from creation, through fall, and on into redemption through the chosen nation, exile, and the messiah and his kingdom. What better way to know someone than to read what they wrote?
To pray is not to simply share a laundry list of concerns; it’s the oxygen of the relationship between you and God. When you reframe prayer as getting to know God, much like a new couple can’t wait to spend time together, it becomes a delight and a treasure hunt. Prayer has many aspects: adoration, confession, intercession, petition, but in its simplest form, it is just talking to God.
As you delight yourself in the Lord, a beautiful transformation happens. The desires of your heart match the Lord’s. And as they do, your joy increases. It’s not that you seek him to gain a treasure later—it’s that he is the treasure. Jesus told this story:
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matt 13:45–46 ESV)
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: An Updated Edition in Today’s Language, ed. James Reimann (WORDsearch, 1992), 80.
- Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 851.
- C. H. Spurgeon, “Sunshine in the Heart,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 8 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862), 328.