However, there’s a flipside to this: In the past, I grew jealous of those performers who made it. I wanted their lives. These days, I’m surrounded by married couples and their families. I want that life for myself. I’m not jealous of my friends—it would be foolish to be so—but I can’t say it doesn’t sting at times.
There’s a strange verse in the Bible, found in the Psalms. It says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
I’ve never known what to make of that verse. It sounds simple enough. Trust God and do what you want to do, and everything will be alright. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t always work that way.
I’m not the only one who has trouble explaining this verse—either what it means or why it doesn’t always come true. I’ve heard dozens of explanations for what it means, many of them coming from preachers on television right before the offering plate is passed around. Or, as mentioned earlier, from Christian men and women who moved to L.A. to become film stars or musicians. However, it’s the explanation as to why the verse doesn’t come true that fascinates me.
How many times have I heard (or some variation of), “You weren’t praying in accordance with the will of God. Once you pray according to God’s will, it will come true,”?
What does that even mean, to pray in accordance with the will of God? And how are we supposed to know if we’re doing it? At least, doing it well enough to have our prayers answered?
Or, we explain the verse this way: “The desires of your heart must have been selfish.” We reason that the person’s prayer must have been tainted with materialism or selfish ambition, or the Lord would have acquiesced to his wishes.
But that seems like a cop-out. A way of letting God off the hook. How do we know if someone’s desires are selfish? Job’s friends assumed he had sinned against God, and that’s why he was suffering. Yet, God later said Job had done no wrong and scolded Job’s friends for their false words. (Besides, isn’t that the definition of grace? That we come to God dirty, presenting our requests to Him?) Does the promise only come true if our desires are selfless and spotlessly clean? If so, this verse will never apply to my life because I rarely have a prayer that is unwashed of at least some selfish motive. The concerns of this world are too real to me.
Or, does the promise apply only to our spiritual longings: to be holy, forgiven of sins…to one day get to Heaven? As for earthly desires—finances, relationships, marriages, illness and suffering—those aren’t included in the deal. That’s a reasonable explanation, I suppose. I’ve never known anyone to be denied a spiritual request of God. But, if so, does it mean we can never pray for these earthly concerns? For an inattentive husband to finally pay attention? For a child that has chosen a destructive lifestyle to finally come to his or her senses?
Desire is a tricky thing. It gives us hope; it allows us to have purpose for our lives. When you have something to look forward to, you can sprint toward the day. Without desire, we stumble forth like zombies, living for nothing and hoping for the same. However, by granting ourselves those desires, we set ourselves up for disappointment, should they not be met. Maybe that’s why we cling to this verse so tightly. We fear being let down.
I was one of those men who used the verse to justify my dream of an acting career. I was holding up my end of the bargain (delighting in the Lord) by serving, giving myself to church and community, praying and studying the Bible feverishly. In hindsight, I realize my desires were not healthy ones. Fame is too destructive of a dream; no one was meant to be worshiped. But what happens when our desires take the shape of good things—things we know God values? What do we do when those prayers are not answered?
Do we try to kill desire? After all, those who expect nothing will never be let down. Do we keep praying, though we are gradually losing heart? Do we declare that verse in the Psalms to be a lie, and lose faith in God and what He says?
I’m only asking questions. I have no answers, nor suggestions. I’m clueless at the moment, but I’m desperately searching. I want to play piano top games with my own child. I want to dote over my wife. I can’t pretend those desires don’t exist, nor should I. They are good ones. In the meantime, I’m forced to deal with the sting. The sting that comes from longing and seeing others who have gained what I most desire.
Or, maybe the verse means to wait.
That explanation makes sense to me. It’s probably no coincidence the best advice anyone has given me has been to “hold on.” No fancy Scriptural quotations. Just a simple encouragement to “hang in there.” I can do that. It won’t be easy, but I can do it (Though a sense of urgency on the part of the Almighty would be nice. I know the Bible says, “To the Lord, a thousand years is like one day,” but for me, one day is like one day, and I only have a finite number of them).
In the meantime, I keep doing what I’m doing—working, praying and hoping the verse actually means what it says.