If someone asked me to define “delight” as it is used in Psalm 37:4 (NAS)—“Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart”—I’d probably say something like, “Well, delight means…um, you know…it means…delight!”
I think the root of my lack of in-depth understanding about delight is that when I read or recite Psalm 37:4, I usually skim over delighting myself in God and rush right into Him giving me the desires of my heart. But that’s like eating dessert first and foregoing my protein and vegetables: sweet, but not sustaining.
As it turns out, the meat of delight is a gorgeous word-origin discovery: the Hebrew term hepes, which means “to bend towards, to be inclined towards [an object or person].” From there, chewing on what “delight yourself in the Lord” means in actual practice leads to me employ a tool I often use when I’m trying to get a handle on some aspect of God: I set it in a human framework.
Clearly, this must be done carefully because the perfection and holiness of God are always my standards, not the imperfections of my fellow sinful humans. But against that cautious backdrop, how do I delight in my closest human relationships? How do I enjoy the people I love, trust, believe in, admire, respect, and cherish? The answers—seven of them, to start with—offer a fleshed-out picture of what delighting in God looks like, not just as a word but as a way of life.
1. Get to Know Him
I am intimately acquainted with the people I delight most in on this earth. I know that my young adult longs to live somewhere near the water, that my teenager loves scented candles, that my mom hates it when the heroine in a fiction novel bites her lip, and that when my husband doesn’t like something I’ve made for dinner (rarely), he says, “Um…no, I think I’m good!” when I ask if he wants seconds.
Delighting in God requires me to get to know Him well, too. He is immortal, invisible, and beyond full comprehension with my human, finite mind, but He IS knowable. And He wants to be known: “‘Let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:24).
I need to know God’s likes and dislikes, His preferences, His habits, His character, His nature. If someone asked me, “Tell me about your father,” I could rattle off a description of my wonderful early dad without missing a beat. The same needs to be true if someone asks, “Tell me about the Father.” In-depth knowledge of God is the fountain into which all rivers of delight in Him flow.
2. Spend Time with Him
If knowledge of God is a fountain, time spent with Him is its widest input spring. If my husband and I—strangers to each other until the morning we met at church in our twenty-somethings—never spent time together, we would not know all there is to love and appreciate about each other.
How can we expect to delight in God if we don’t know Him, and how can we expect to know Him if we never spend time with Him? Prayers of all kinds at all times, in-depth Bible study, Scripture memorization, worship, fellowship with other people who know God well, taking a walk in nature, and being awed by God’s handiwork….all of these feed our delight by feeding our knowledge. To spend time with God is to know Him, and to know Him is to enjoy Him.
3. Take an Interest in Him
I did not grow up in a sport-centric household, so when my husband-to-be started talking about how he liked to watch “the action on the gridiron,” I knew I had some learning to do. Over more than 25 years of marriage, I’ve gained some understanding about downs in football and the possession arrow and the difference between offense and defense. I learned all this because I am interested in what my husband is interested in--because I am interested in him.
If we are delighting in God, we will be interested in Him and in what interests Him. He is interested in worship, and although singing is only one form of it, we can offer our voices (on pitch or not) to Him. He is interested in hospitality, so whether or not we consider this our area of giftedness (full disclosure: I scored a zero in this area on my spiritual gifts assessment), we can look for tools and times to practice it. He is interested in the care of widows and orphans, so we can take opportunities to invest in those in our communities who have lost mates or parents.
4. Think about Him
I’m not sure how old children have to get before they’re not always on your mind when they’re not in your presence, but so far, for me, it’s not 22 years. I think about my children all the time: how they’re doing, what they have going on, if they slept okay, whether that sore throat ever turned into anything worse. They’re often on my mind because they’re always in my heart.
Inclining ourselves toward God means turning our minds toward Him: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). Thinking about God (things above) often requires us to intentionally NOT think about something else (earthly things). It’s not that God doesn’t care about our earthly activities and concerns and interests; it’s just that we are to be first and foremost heaven-minded.
Deliberately rerouting our mental circuitry toward God sometimes looks like turning a verse (or even part of a verse) of Scripture over in our minds. Sometimes, it looks like telling God who or what He is, using His names. Sometimes it looks like doing an in-depth Bible study (and doing the homework). Personally, I know what I allow in my mind works its way down into my heart; if God is on my mind, that is all to the good of my heart.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Tinnakorn Jorruang
5. Talk about Him
As a proud mom of older children, I don’t require much of an opening to bust the door wide open and tell people what they’re up to. (Friend at the grocery store: “Nice weather we’re having, huh?” Me: “Yes! Speaking of weather, did you know it rained three inches yesterday in the town where my daughter goes to college?”) Even if I’m talking to a stranger, we won’t get very far into conversation before my delight in my children comes out.
The same should be true of my delight in God: I should not have to work very hard or for very long to incorporate Him into my interactions with others. I can talk about what He’s done for me, I can talk about doing life with Him, and I can talk about what He’s teaching me. These are all touchpoints when I’m sharing about my children. And I should employ them even more to talk about God, because fascinating as my children are, any person I’m talking to (with the possible exception of my girls’ grandparents) needs to hear about God more than anything or anyone else. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14).
6. Prioritize Relationship with Him
I announced to my general life circle several months ago that during my daughters’ simultaneous senior year of high school and college, I was going to be very stingy about my time with anyone other than them. My hours in my girls’ immediate presence are limited these days, so given a choice between spending, say, an evening with them and an evening with someone else, I’m going to give first preference, for now, to my children.
We cannot possibly delight in God if our relationship with Him isn’t a priority. And it’s not enough to say it is; we have to show it by how we choose to spend our time and energy, and even our money. My husband works long hours six days a week at the business he owns, which leaves him little free time in the evenings. Yet, every night he faithfully reads the Bible and a couple of daily devotionals. He starts His days the same way. He spends the rest of his free time at church or serving on our church board or with his family. Other interests he could pursue (golf—a hobby of his in our pre-children days—comes to mind) have given way to these activities that feed the relationships with God and family he treasures more.
7. Look Forward to Being with Him
I am always looking forward to the next chunk of time I am going to spend with my husband and children. At-home movie dates, occasional dinners out, family pizza nights, special holiday celebrations--I always have these on my radar to look forward to and anticipate.
We know we are delighting in God when we also look forward to being with Him, whether that “with” happens in a sanctuary or out in nature or at a concert or in a group Bible study or—ultimately—in His immediate presence in heaven. “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).
If we look forward to being with God about as much as we look forward to going to the dentist, we do not delight in Him. And that problem is not His but ours. Whatever is watering down our desire to spend time with God—unconfessed sin, misplaced loyalties, simply being too busy—needs to go.
“Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart” is a two-party, two-way equation. “Delight yourself…”: this is our job, our part, our responsibility. “And He will give you…”: this is God’s role, His end of the bargain.
When we delight in God—when we bend toward God—He bends our hearts so that He Himself is what we desire. I believe when God says He will give us the desires of our heart, He means first that He will put the desires themselves in our hearts. And then, because He also bends toward us—“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters…He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:16, 19)—our inclining hearts reach toward Him and find what they long for most.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Merlas