"Take delight in Yahweh, and he will give you the desires of your heart." ~ Psalm 37:4
How is it that this verse consistently shows up in the office and lectionary when my heart is restless? Rhetorical question. It's a verse that gets quoted a lot in some circles, with good reason, although sometimes it seems to be ascribed a kind of magical quality as though having more quiet times or enthusiastic worship experiences was the key to getting the things you want from God. As I've been reading in the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker this week, we've gotta recognize that God is The Thing that we want. The highest good that all other goods point us to, that all desires for good things ultimately have their meaning in.
That's not to say, of course, that God doesn't give us the lesser goods we desire. I think there is an intentional ambiguity in the phrasing: God gives those delighted in him both the objects of their desires as well as redeemed desires in place of broken ones. I've heard some people talk about about the latter reading as the primary one, a little too self-satisfied in their cleverness for reading it differently than most, but read in context the former reading has to take precedence. You can't read Psalm 37 as part of the whole canon without hearing its very clear reliance on the Deuteronomic promise of blessing and cursing (Deuteronomy 11) especially as it pertains to the land.
The psalmist is setting up an active attitude of the heart becoming of God's people, who walk in humility before God rather than worry about all the power and wealth that the wicked have. Psalm 37 recapitulates God's covenant with Israel by saying, "Live in this way and you will be bearer's of Yahweh's blessing and promise", and by downplaying the success of people who do evil, "Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked" (v16). It's not our goal to have all the stuff possessed by those who live without reference to the God of Israel, but to be possessed by him and delight in what we do have, trusting the Lord to meet our needs and bring us joy.
And this heart attitude has been adopted by Jesus as part of the core of the way of life he teaches us: "The meek shall inherit the land" (v11) could not be a clearer antecedent to "The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5), which includes Christ's subtle indication that Yahweh's claim is on the whole earth and not just the tiny Palestinian strip between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. It's so tempting, especially as one discerning a call to the ministry, to look at what is had by "the world" and covet it and disdain the narrow path of God. God, the psalmist and Jesus, however, are reassuring me this morning that the relatively little that I have is better, given that God himself is the ultimate compensation.