Wot, no Ferrari?
As I’ve continued to ponder these issues, and to reflect on the familiar story of the events preceding Christ’s crucifixion, something struck me that I have never noticed before: Jesus’ will was different from God’s.
Think about it; in the Garden he prayed ‘not my will, but thine be done.’ Commenting on this verse, Calvin notes that “...in Christ there was a remarkable example of adaptation between the two wills, the will of God and the will of man, so that they differed from each other without any conflict or opposition.”1
Whenever I have heard teaching on Psalm 37:4 - “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” – I have always been told that it does not mean ‘If you delight yourself in the Lord, he’ll give you the Ferrari, big house or dream holiday you’ve always wanted’, but ‘when you delight in the Lord, your heart changes so its desires align with the things he wants for you.’ In other words, the person who is walking closely with God and delights in him will desire the things God wants and therefore will receive them.
This is mistaken on two levels. Firstly, wanting the things God wants doesn’t necessarily lead to getting them – even God doesn’t get everything he wants: “God our Saviour…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4), and unless every person in history has had a death-bed conversion of which no-one else is aware, this simply hasn’t happened.
Secondly, delighting in God doesn’t necessarily lead to wanting the same things he wants. If anyone on earth ever could be considered blameless in the ‘delighting in God’ stakes (as well as in any other stakes you want to mention), it was Jesus. He should surely have been wanting the things God wanted. Indeed, he certainly did: he wanted there to be a way for all people to be redeemed. He knew God’s plan to make it happen was through his death and resurrection. He came willingly to earth for that purpose. When push came to shove, though, he didn’t want to go through with it. He still wanted the same outcome, just not the same process to achieve it. He was still 100% behind the goal, just not the agreed action points.
I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly encouraging that even Jesus wrestled with wanting God’s will in God’s way. Though we can’t fault his delight in the Father, and though he could see as we can’t what had to be done and why, the fully human part of him still felt the fear and the desire for safety, comfort, and the avoidance of pain.
How then do we reconcile Psalm 37:4 with Luke 22:42? On one level, I don’t know. There are godly people, delighting in the Lord, who live for years without being given the desires of their hearts. Hebrews lists a number of them who waited eagerly for things they had been promised, but died before they came to pass, and these weren’t just their desires but promises they had received from God. Sometimes people are given their desires in eternity not on earth, but other times not: the sick child dies, the much-prayed-for relative never gives his life to the Lord, the longed-for spouse or children never materialise.
Sometimes the desire is fulfilled in a different way than was looked for: the childless couple become surrogate parents to the neglected, a memorial fund is set up which raises the money that finds the cure that saves other children in the lost one’s name, the diligence in prayer leads to a depth and intimacy of relationship with God that may otherwise not have been experienced.
On a deeper level, though, the truth is that those who delight themselves in the Lord always do get the desires of their hearts. Just like Jesus, their desire, in the deepest part of their hearts, in the loneliest moment of the darkest night is that not their will but God’s be done. That’s a prayer he’s happy to answer, and through which he is able to work mightily.
- 1 John Calvin, New Testament Commentaries, Vol III, p151.