“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
This verse is often quoted to prove that godly people can have pretty much anything they want. The purveyors of the health and wealth gospel use it often – and they’re often not as concerned about that “godly” part. This is a gross misuse of that verse. It ignores both its scriptural context and its theological context.
That this doesn’t promise wealth is demonstrated by its neighboring verses. “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (37:5-6). Does this sound like a promise of material gain? I don’t think so. But the best is this:
“Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked” (v16).
Clearly, this passage is not teaching that believers, or even those who “delight” in God, will get whatever they want.
This use of the passage does not just ignore the neighboring verses; it also ignores the effect of delighting yourself in God. Here is a survey of my electronic commentary collection regarding this verse.
“What is the desire of the heart of a good man? It is this, to know, and love, and live to God, to please him and to be pleased in him.” – M. Henry
“When the righteous have desires that spring from the Lord, the Lord will surely fulfill those desires.” – Nelson commentary
“I am not sure that He is going to bless your business, but He has already blessed you with spiritual blessings, and He will shower on you all of the spiritual blessings you can contain.” – J. Vernon McGee
“When believers delight in the Lord, his desires become their desires.” – Tyndale Bible Commentary
“Distinguish the ‘desires of thine heart’ from the desires of thy flesh; distinguish as much as thou canst. It is not without a meaning that it is said in a certain Psalm, ‘God is’ (the strength) ‘of mine heart.’ For there it says in what follows: ‘And God is my portion for ever.’” – St. Augustine
“The desires of God, and the desires of the righteous, agree in one; they are of one mind in their desires.” – John Bunyan
“Men who delight in God desire or ask for nothing but what will please God; hence it is safe to give them carte blanche. Their will is subdued to God's will, and now they may have what they will. Our innermost desires are here meant, not our casual wishes;” – C. H. Spurgeon
The point is this: If you delight yourself in the Lord, the desires of your heart will be different.
I don’t want anyone to think that I’m saying material possessions, or even a moderated desire for them, are bad. But the Bible does not promise Christians material plenty – in fact the best among us often do with the least. No one should teach that we deserve whatever we want, and they especially should not abuse this verse to do it.