We’ve all had those days. Circumstances go from bad to worse, creating an undercurrent of fear so strong that it tugs at your hope and threatens to pull you under. While you’re trying to stay afloat on God’s promises, guilt sets in. “Joy in the midst of trials is the mark of a true Christian,” you tell yourself. In enters doubt with all the what-ifs that make your burden heavier. You pray and put your trust in God. Now what? You need a distraction to ward off anxiety. Work, phone, binge-watching, ministry—any of these should do. But they don’t. Why does the call to ‘delight yourself in the Lord’ seem so distant in times of trouble?
What Does It Mean to 'Delight Yourself in the Lord'?
When you’ve been a Christian for a long time, certain words and phrases have a tendency to settle into your vernacular, become commonplace, and lose their potency. Any well-versed believer is familiar with and has probably memorized, David’s beautiful invitation in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” But what does it mean to delight yourself in someone—especially ‘the Lord’?
Think back to a specific moment in time when you freely enjoyed the company of a loved one. What made that moment special and memorable? Did you laugh or cry together—like good friends often do. Did you bond through the thrill of a shared experience? Did you boisterously celebrate a long-awaited victory together? Or perhaps you sat with each other in loving silence, grateful to know you didn’t have to carry a burden alone.
To experience deep, satisfying fellowship is a gift like no other. But that kind of connection doesn’t happen overnight. It’s silly to think you could find heartfelt delight with a stranger. The same is true when it comes to delighting ourselves in the Lord.
To delight ourselves in the Lord, we must first know Him. “but 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).
God calls us to know Him for several reasons. First, He wants us to discover His many attributes that are so worthy of delight. He also desires a relationship with us. “He made us relational beings and we are made in His image. He too desires the time, discussion, and journey as our Father and Friend,” says Emma Danzey in How Can Christians 'Delight' Themselves in the Lord?The third reason God calls us to press on to know Him (Hosea 6:3) is because the exercise of seeking Him is profoundly important to the nurture of our souls.
Our invitation to seek Him—to know Him—is one of a Christian’s most valuable privileges. And it’s also the secret to our delight in the Lord, especially during times of distress.
In another Psalm David declares, “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
What state of mind do you think David is in when he declares his one desire? Does this verse seem like it’s portraying a moment of praise for a victory won? It’s not. The prior verse gives us a glimpse at the setting: “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident” (Psalm 27:3).
David cries out to God for “one thing” while in the middle of a literal battle for life. He knows that this one thing, above all else, will help him overcome the agony of desperation. Why? What does David hope to gain from his request? The verses that follow reveal where David’s hope lies. “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD” (Psalm 27:5-6).
David knows that if He can be where God is, see Him in all His glory, and seek Him while He may be found that it will lead to safety, shelter, and the power to rise above the enemy’s schemes. In the refuge of God’s presence, David is given the ultimate weapon against hopelessness—the ability to delight himself in the Lord.
Christians have direct access into God’s presence, through the blood of Christ Jesus (John 14:6, John 19:9, Hebrews 10:19). But the cares of this world and complacency can blind us to that truth. That’s why it’s so important to seek Him. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
When we turn our eyes away from this world and fix them on Jesus, our delight in the Lord is assured. God promises that when we seek Him with our whole heart, we will find Him. And when we find Him, His divine qualities, especially those that are manifest through Christ, will sweep us off our feet.
No amount of self-determination can ever produce a sincere delight in the Lord; it’s a byproduct of knowing Him. Isaiah 58 is a prime example of a time when God’s people tried to operate out of a man-made delight in the Lord. They failed—hard. Not because they didn’t check off all the right boxes, but because those boxes weren’t God’s priority at the time. They had lost touch with the source of their true delight.
What Is the Context of Psalm 37:4?
When David wrote Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart,” he didn’t just invite us to “delight” ourselves in the Lord; he also revealed the benefit that occurs when we do.
“Since it is human nature to battle against self-worship, we are tempted to focus on the latter half of this verse which seems to promise that God will give us whatever our little heart’s desire,” says Rhonda Stoppe in What Does it Mean to Delight Yourself in the Lord?
To unlock the mystery behind this powerful yet often misinterpreted promise, we must set aside every preconceived, humanistic notion—and with fresh eyes, let the Bible say exactly what it says.
This verse, in context and according to the original language means: When we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart.
In other words, when we delight ourselves in the Lord, His desires become ours.
How amazing is that! The misinterpreted promise doesn’t hold a candle to the real one. What Christian in their right minds, knowing the inherent evil and deceptive nature of our own hearts, would ever want to gain the object of their own natural desires (Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-22), especially when we’re granted the opportunity to trade our worldly desires for His.
3 Practical Ways to Delight in the Lord on Bad Days
First, Seek Him—When believers face fiery trials, one silver lining usually appears right away. As the flames get hotter, the first objects to disintegrate are the everyday obstacles that undermine our time with God. In the thick of trouble, we tend to lose our appetite for trivial activities. And for good reason. On bad days God wants to connect with us just as much as we need to connect with Him. Our burdens and cares matter to God. That’s why Jesus prescribes the remedy for worry. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
In What Does It Mean to "Seek the Lord”? John Piper offers this insight: “Seeking involves calling and pleading. O Lord, open my eyes. O Lord, pull back the curtain of my own blindness. Lord, have mercy and reveal yourself. I long to see your face.” When you cry out to God it’s important to listen and have faith that He hears and will answer. What good does it do to seek if you don’t believe that He can be found? “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” Hebrews 11:6.
Rest assured, as you seek God the Holy Spirit will nourish and refresh your soul by revealing the truth of God’s word in fresh, poignant ways. As you draw nearer to Him, He’ll refine you, comfort you, instruct you and guide you. Fear will fade, and His perfect peace will prevail. (John 14:27, Philippians 4:6-7) Our delight in the Lord is perfected in His presence.
Delight in past victories—In the Old Testament, the Israelites built altars and used stones of remembrance to commemorate significant God moments. These markers were used as a visible reminder of God’s goodness, deliverance, provision, and sovereignty—for the Israelites, their future generations, and their enemies. God has done great things in our lives too. Personal things. Miraculous things that could not have been accomplished by anyone else but Him.
One way we can express our delight in the Lord is by continually celebrating His past works. When we rehearse our God-given victories during trying times, it reminds our heart of God’s faithfulness, which ignites our delight in Him.
Delight through verbal thanksgiving—Thankfulness is a powerful tool to help combat sadness, anxiety, and depression. This fact is not only proven repeatedly in Scripture, but science has also finally caught up with God’s truth. Research shows that verbal expressions of gratitude produce a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. The hormones help connect the giver of thanks to the recipient, much like those same hormones create a bond between mother and child.
Thanksgiving is a form of worship that redirects our attention away from the temporal and bonds us to the eternal. Our delight in the Lord becomes inevitable when we “enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise.” Chara Donahue puts it this way in 7 Powerful Spiritual Benefits of Thankfulness, “Thankfulness leads us to a dependency that draws us into the heart of God while at the same time turning our hearts towards Him. It is so easy for us to be led astray by the lusts of our flesh, but when we look with eyes of thankfulness, we see that our deepest desires are already being met.”
True delight in the Lord is a celebration of all His excellent qualities. When we’re in God’s presence, through Jesus, we can view those qualities in a person—not as a curious onlooker, but as a child enraptured by our Father’s glory. And as we celebrate Him, we can trust that “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).
Photo credit: ©Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio
Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.
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