Unscriptural Expectations Keep Us from Enjoying God

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4)

The gross and pervasive abuse of this text has opened up the floodgates of the prosperity gospel – the health, wealth, and happiness gospel. I blame our inability to enjoy God on the unhealthy and unscriptural expectations that have grown out of its misuse.

Because many Christians neglect sound doctrine, we have become susceptible to abuses like this.  When the Bible is misused, when it is used to promote a “name it and claim it” kind of theology, weak Christians with a covetous heart are immediately sucked in.  And frankly, it can be tough to refute the logic of the prosperity preachers.  Because on the surface, the Bible does seem to teach the “name-it-and-claim-it” philosophy.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. (Matthew 21:21-22)

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (Mark 11:22-24)

When we take a stream of this kind of verse without any Scriptural context, we struggle to understand why we wouldn’t have everything we want.  Many Christians are discouraged and defeated because they have tried the “name-it-and-claim-it” approach and it hasn’t worked out so well for them.  Then they start thinking that they are the ones with the problem.  And then they lose their ability to delight in the Lord or enjoy God — because they feel like they should have more. God isn’t answering their prayers, and so they feel guilty, or frustrated.  Either the promise isn’t true or else they don’t have enough faith.

Because they can’t answer the poison punch of the prosperity gospel, and because they haven’t experienced the “name-it-and-claim-it” success that others have enjoyed, they lose their delight in God.

Before I get into specifics, I want to make a few points by way of introduction.  First, we cannot take a mercenary approach to God and expect to delight in Him. The verse says, “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”  But if I read it in my own heart to mean, “I can’t be delighted in the Lord if He doesn’t give me the desires of my heart,” then I have turned God’s promise into a stock market investment.  That sort of thing quickly turns into, “When God gives me the desires of my heart, I will delight myself in Him.”  And from there, we have stripped the verse of any spiritual meaning.

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The 37th Psalm begins with an instruction:

Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.

Don’t look with envy at the prosperity of the wicked.  It is in the context of this instruction that we are told to delight ourselves in the Lord.

Second, the Psalmist commands us to delight ourselves in the Lord; he doesn’t command us to get for ourselves the desires of our heart. The word “delight” is pretty self-explanatory.  The word means to enjoy, to take pleasure in something.  What does it mean to “delight” in the Lord?  What does it mean to enjoy Him?  A while back, I wrote a series on joy; in that series, I defined joy as

A complete happiness and satisfaction with God and with His will, and at the same time a delight in that will.

Peter describes joy this way:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: (1 Peter 1:8)

The Psalmist adds:

I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:8-11)

Quite possibly, our delight in God will be mixed with disappointment, sorrow, and even pain. And when it is, these things do nothing to detract from the joy and delight we experience in the Lord. In fact, they do just the opposite: they tend to enhance and fulfill our experience of joy and delight. The Bible teaches that our joy comes out of the overflow of the joy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was anointed with the oil of gladness above all His fellows.  He was the happiest man who ever lived. And when He faced His greatest trial, He counted that joy…

…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

It is in this sense that James teaches us to

Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

When we get things backwards, we lose that pure joy and delight in the Lord. And this is exactly why we must not allow unscriptural expectations to rob us of our ability to enjoy God. 

Third, the promise is that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, then He will give us the desires of our heart. We can expect a two-fold blessing: we will have the desire of our heart, because we will have the One we desire, the One we delight in.

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

When we have Christ, and our delight is in Him, then whatever else we have with Him will also be a delight to us. That said, I want to cover two things in the remainder of this post.  First, I want to point out some specific unscriptural expectations. Then, I want to show why these unscriptural expectations rob us of our ability to enjoy God.

Some Specific Expectations We Don’t Find in Scripture

Many believe that a Christian will never feel down or depressed, will never be sad.  We should know better than this.  If we know the Psalms at all, we know that melancholy often co-exists with our relationship with God.  Yet, when the black dog of depression comes around, when our heart is overwhelmed, we complain as if God hasn’t kept His end of the bargain.  He was supposed to keep us happy, happy, happy.  Sorrow and sighing were supposed to flee away.

God didn’t promise to remove all your sorrows or all your troubles.  He promised to be your satisfaction, your delight in the face of hard trials and afflictions.  The joy, the happiness, the delight that God gives fills our hearts and overwhelms our sorrows.

From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:2)

When we feel overwhelmed, when our heart is weighed down with sorrow, we tend to obsess about our joy or about our happiness.  Then we become impatient with God.  “Why aren’t you fixing this, Lord?” We get out our happy-o-meter, and we measure our happiness on a scale of 1-to-10, and we log it, and we obsess about our joy.  But the Bible teaches us to delight ourselves in Christ, even in those times when our heart is overwhelmed.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. (Psalm 42:5)

Others believe that when a Christian is sick, he will always be healed.  Maybe I should be more gentle in the way I break this to you, but… You will not always be healed.  If you don’t believe me, drive through your local cemetery.  I’m pretty sure you’ll find a number of Christians buried there. In fact, I don’t know of many Christians who lived much beyond their 90’s, and even fewer who have lived beyond the century mark. 

God has not promised always to give you good health.  If you have good health, be thankful. And if you don’t, you shouldn’t feel as if you have sinned.  If you have sinned, and your sin directly caused your sickness, that is one thing — in that case, you confess the sin and seek healing and forgiveness on those terms (James 5:14-16). But in most cases, our health problems don’t trace directly to a sin problem.

We have an unscriptural expectation that when we get sick, we should pray about it for the appropriate amount of time, and then we will be better.  Healing, they claim, is “only a prayer away.”

I don’t say this to discourage you from praying for your loved one who is sick – but understand that some sicknesses will not be cured.  We are all dying.  We have this incurable terminal disease that will eventually bring us to the grave.  For many, that disease is called “life.”  Better to die from really living than to waste away with no life in our years.

Is Jesus Christ not sufficient when we are sick?  Is He only sufficient for the healthy?

A third (sadly) common unscriptural expectation is that, because we belong to God, we will grow rich in material things.  One of the most wicked doctrines ever invented by men comes from the notion that the only blessed life is the life of luxury.  The Bible teaches otherwise.

The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them all. (Proverbs 22:2)

What did the Apostle Paul know of material wealth and prosperity?  Prior to his conversion, he knew what it was to abound.  But after his conversion, he learned what it was to be abased.

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, (Philippians 3:7-8)

Paul tied the deep poverty of the Macedonians to their deeper blessing.

Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. (2 Corinthians 8:1-2)

Another all-to-common unscriptural expectation is that God will always answer our prayers favorably. I suppose that the verses that headlined this article have been used to promote this idea as much as anything.  And, all things being equal, the Bible does promise that God will give the desires of our heart.

But these promises should not be taken as a blank check for your prayer life.  God doesn’t withhold answers to prayer until you have prayed long enough, or until your prayers reach the right temperature, the right fever pitch, to be heard.  God promises to bring our desires in line with His, so that the things He wants become the things we want. And when we pray believing prayers, that means we believe God will do what is best for us and we trust Him. It doesn’t mean that we believe in the answer; it means that we believe in the Lord.

Now, I have heard plenty of this — “I want what God wants; I want $1 million; so God must want me to have $1 million.”  But that is purely rationalization, and a dangerous one at that.  You have set yourself up for disappointment. You have set your heart on something that God never promised, and unless you are careful, you will lose your joy and delight in the Lord as a result.  As Spurgeon said in the Treasury of David,

…there are many things which nature might desire which grace would never permit us to ask for; these deep, prayerful, asking desires are those to which the promise is made.

Finally, many believers have the unscriptural expectation that they will always be filled with Holy Spirit power. We tend to equate the Spirit-filled life with success in the Christian life, and with spiritual power. Partly, this comes from a lust for spiritual power — power that God has not promised.  And partly, it comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. 

The command to be filled with the Spirit is a command to be brought under the influence of the Spirit – to be controlled by the Holy Spirit the way a drunk is controlled by alcohol.  Being controlled by the Spirit won’t make you super-Christian.  It will, however, enable you to overcome your own lusts.  It will wither your flesh (Isaiah 40:6-8) and teach you to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25).

How These Unscriptural Expectations Rob Us of Our Delight

When we get wrapped up in having any one of these blessings, we lose our ability to enjoy God or delight ourselves in Him.  We are disappointed, because we never have everything we want.  We grow frustrated with God, and it is hard to enjoy God when you are disappointed with Him.  Besides that, we lose sight of what it is we were supposed to enjoy in the first place.

Suppose that you had all five of these “blessings” as a Christian – constant, undiminished happiness, robust health, fabulous wealth, an undefeated prayer life, and irresistible Holy Spirit power. Do you suppose that you would enjoy God very much?  Would you have time to enjoy Him?  Would you take time to enjoy Him?

I ask because God seems to think that when you prosper, you might be tempted to forget God.

Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; (Deuteronomy 8:12-14)

Unbridled prosperity would actually diminish our capacity for joy.  In part, we wouldn’t enjoy God because we would turn our focus from God to the gifts God gives.  We would forget that the single focus of our delight is on the Lord our God, and we would lose the ability to enjoy Him alone.  If God fulfilled even our unscriptural expectations, we would lack the tension that produces a deep, abiding satisfaction in the Lord.

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

The deepest joy and satisfaction that the Christian could ever experience comes out of our experience of God in the midst of deep sorrow and struggle and suffering.  But we would never know this if God fulfilled even our unscriptural expectations.  If we never suffer, how can we know that Jesus is enough, that He is sufficient, even in the face of such sorrow and suffering?

… but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: (I Peter 2:20-21)

Apparently, Jesus didn’t die so that we could have things easy, all our wishes fulfilled.

The key takeaway point is to enjoy the Lord as He is and not as we want Him to be or imagine Him to be. “Delight thyself also in the Lord…” If we pursue a false Christ, we will find no joy in that pursuit. A false Christ has no power to delight us.  If we delight ourselves in what He gives rather than in Him, we lose our ability to enjoy Him.  We must remember that it is Christ we pursue, and it is His joy that satisfies us.  Without Christ, our blessings are all hollow.  When we delight ourselves in Christ, His blessings cannot fail to delight us.  And that is true even when those blessings involve pain and sorrow.