Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, February 24, 2019
I am in my bedroom and it’s close to my daughter’s bed time. She walks in and lays on my bed. I ask if she has brushed her teeth. She giggles. I put my index finger right at her collar bone, one of her tickle spots. She scrunches her neck down so I can’t get my finger in there. And she laughs. Then, I softly poke her belly, another tickle spot. Giggling, she tenses her body up. I ask, “Do you want me to stop?” If she says, “Yes,” then I stop. I want her to feel like if she tells a guy to stop doing something, then he will. I want her to expect to be respected. And on this occasion, she does tell me to stop. But, very quickly she says, “No, go ahead.” And I tickle her neck. Earnestly she says, “Tickle me.” And I tickle her belly. And we laugh and laugh. What is better than going to bed laughing?
In this nightly routine, I am delighting in my daughter and she is delighting in time spent with me. In the first stanza of Psalm 37:4 the psalmist says, “Take delight in the Lord.” The Psalm opens commanding us not to fret, not to worry about the success evil people seem to have. Though the wicked prosper now, verse 9 says they will be cut off from God. The blessing comes to those who wait for the Lord.
After the opening “do not fret, do not be envious,” beginning in verse 3, a series of positive commands are given. Opposite the “do nots,” these are verbs telling us what to do, how to live. “Trust in the Lord.” “Take delight in the Lord.” “Commit your way to the Lord.” “Be still before the Lord.” These positive commands set our daily approach to life, both our actions and our attitudes. For me “delight” in the Lord is a wonderful entry point into the deeper call of God in this Psalm. When my daughter and I are deep into the tickle belly laughing, it is easy and natural for her to trust me. She’s more willing later to be still while I read the Bible to her and read other books to her. And she falls to sleep feeling safe, surrounded by a family who loves her.
If delighting in my child involves tickling my daughter, or a throwing a football around with my younger son, or going to an movie with my older son, what does delighting in the Lord look like? What does it look like when a Christian experiences unrestrained pleasure in his relationship with God?
Here are a few experiences I have had. First, a sunrise. Imagine a cool morning that slowly becomes a sunny, warm day. At dawn, the dark of the night, gives ways to shadows, early gray light, and then after that, the muted colors of early morning that burst into glorious golds, greens, and blues when the sun triumphantly comes over the horizon and gleams through the treetops. If I am outside walking on a morning like that, I see God in the awakening colors. I hear God in the sweet chatter of birdsong. I feel God in the cool, crisp air on my arms and face. In that moment, I am delighting in God.
Another, very different example comes when I am stressing out because I am in the middle of trying to overcome difficulties. At first, I don’t heed the initial command in this Psalm. The very first words are “Do not fret.” But I do. Instead of praying, I talk and worry and fret. Now, how in the world does this lead up to delighting in the Lord? What happens is, I will find a Bible passage that helps me see God. It hits me, and I want to read it over and over. I want to read it to other people. I pray it. I pray the words of the scripture as my prayer and I pray the meaning of the scripture into my life. For example, recently, as I have dealt with challenges, Colossians 3 has become my lifeline. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. ... Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (3:12, 15). I meet God in His word, and the pressures life has imposed melt away. I delight in my Father who is there for me, always making me new.
I mentioned the way God speaks to me through nature in the early morning, the thrill of meeting God in the pages of the Bible; to that I could add the bliss of receiving grace while resting, or the peace that comes when I listen, over and over, to certain songs by David Crowder or Mandisa. In these and in countless of other ways, I am assured of my relationship with God. The relationship becomes tangible and I know what it means to say, “I delight in God, God the Father, my Savior the Son, and the ever present Holy Spirit.”
Then Psalm 37:3, “trust in the Lord,” makes sense. Of course I trust in God. God has already shown Himself to me and shown me my own self cast in His light. I see myself more clearly when I see myself in relation to God. I trust God.
I also, as verse 5 commands, commit my way to God. What other way is there? When I commit my way, my life has direction. I do not just fumble along from weekend to weekend and paycheck to paycheck. My life has meaning. I am God’s possession. I exist to bring God glory and help others find salvation in Jesus. But it’s not because I am pastor. These commands - trust, delight, and commit - are extended to everyone who opens Psalm 37 and reads it as holy scripture. These are commands and maybe our sense of individual autonomy causes us to recoil at such a directive. But these commands serve to invite us to walk in relationship with the God who loves us.
The fourth command, in verse 7, sets our story. If “delight in the Lord” is where I enter this story, then verse 7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” declares the world in which we live. We live at God’s initiative, bound for the Kingdom Jesus announced. We live for God’s pleasure. Because we have delighted in God, we are ready to be still and wait on the Lord.
In the world, as it is today, we have to grasp and strive. Go out aggressively and get a job. Work hard to be first. Put others behind you in class rankings, in a race, in securing the promotion, in gaining the position in line at the store, or the parking space at the hot restaurant. Competition has its place and even in faith there are times when we need to assertively take initiative in our living out faith. But the command “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” reminds us to be balanced in our thinking. The good things we have, the very best things in life, are gifts from God.
We don’t grab gifts. We gratefully receive them. The Kingdom of God is inherited, not taken by force. An inheritance is something we receive as a result of another’s extreme generosity. Psalm 37:11 says, “The meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” Does that passage at all sound familiar?
Jesus alluded to this Psalm when he gave the sermon on the mount. In the opening of that sermon, that passage from the early verses of Matthew 5 we call “The Beatitudes,” Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” He doesn’t mean blessed are the weak. He says meek, with an ‘M.’ We are all weak in different ways. And we are all in the same way in that none of us can stop sinning by our own will power. We need the Holy Spirit. But, as a spiritual practice and as a step of obedience, we can choose to be meek. And we must. We can choose to wait patiently upon the Lord, and when the Lord gives blessing, gratefully receive and enjoy it.
Six times the promise in Psalm 37 is that those who wait on the Lord inherit Land. For Jewish people in the centuries before Christ, this was a literal promise of the land of Israel. For Christians living in the centuries after the crucifixion and resurrection, the promise of inheritance is fulfilled in Christ. We receive Christ.
Receiving Christ, we become members of the family of God, adopted as sons and daughters of God. The promise of Land comes to ultimate fulfillment at the final resurrection, when we all join Christ, raised from death, raise in bodies that cannot be hurt or die. Then, we live in eternal fellowship and love with God and with one another.
We begin living into our inheritance, our relationship with Jesus as sons and daughters of God right now. It starts when we confess our sins and receive forgiveness and receive Jesus into our hearts and minds as our Savior and Lord. As I stated at the outset, a beautiful way to take this step to relationship is by delighting in the Lord. I cited how I do that - early morning nature, praying Bible passages, certain songs, tickling my daughter. How do you delight in the Lord?
If you didn’t know such a thing was possible, let that be your quest this week and in upcoming months. Walking with God can be a relationship that’s real for you. Fix Psalm 37:4 as your prayer. Let that verse shape you and as you dive into the beautiful pleasures of delighting in God, you’ll find trusting in him easier, committing your ways to him natural, and being still before him pleasing in its own way. Your relationship with God will soar to new heights. You’ll find being a Christian to be more than a box checked off on the religion section of the census. Being a Christian will becomes the greatest joy in life. This week, discover ways you can delight in the Lord.