The Most Abused Verse in the Bible

This reflection is excerpted from the With God Daily devotional on October 27, 2016. Join thousands of others who’ve subscribed to With God Daily and get reflections written by Skye, plus scripture readings, and historic prayers of the church, on your smartphone every morning.

Psalm 37 continues a frequent theme throughout the book—God’s defense of the righteous and his judgment of the wicked. This psalm, however, contains one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses anywhere in scripture. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” To those shaped by consumerism and a culture of self-actualization, the appeal of this verse should be obvious. It appears to say that God is how to achieve your dreams, which is why millions of Americans—including Oprah Winfrey—say Psalm 37:4 is their favorite verse in the bible.

This interpretation, however, is fundamentally flawed because it reduces the Lord to a device, a means for achieving one’s true goal. Our desire is the buried treasure and the Lord is merely the shovel we use to reach it. The constant message of scripture, however, is that God is to be our treasure. When Psalm 37:4 is extolled by prosperity preachers or self-help gurus, they are perverting the gospel by inviting us to use the Lord rather than love him.

Psalm 27 is not calling us to use God to achieve our desires (the consumerist’s error), neither is it saying all of our desires are inherently wrong (the fundamentalist’s error). Instead, we are called to properly order our desires by delighting in the Lord above all else. We are to recognize that he is more valuable and more beautiful than anything in all of creation. When we “seek first his kingdom,” then all other things find their proper place in our vision. The emphasis, therefore, belongs on the first half of the verse, “delight yourself in Yahweh,” rather than the second.

As we delight in him, our desires will automatically and naturally conform to his character. That means some desires will diminish, others will expand, and some will disappear altogether. As St. Augustine said, “Love God, and do what you want,” because what you want will be what God loves.

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