"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." -Psalm 37:4 (ESV)
A few years ago someone explained to me that it was essential to notice that the "delight yourself in the Lord" part of the verse came first. She explained that this verse did not mean that because I was a Christian, all things I hoped for would come true. It meant that when I delighted in God, He would plant desires in my heart to match His - desires for that which is good and honoring to Him - and as my desires became aligned with the heart of God, they would be fulfilled. This is true. But in the past few weeks, I have been learning something more about the truth in this verse.
Three years ago I came to Cambodia for the first time. I came to love the country and felt the Lord calling me to further missions here. Two years ago I returned and prayed about pursuing missions in Cambodia with a longer-term goal in mind. Last year I came again to Cambodia, and when I came back to the States, I had a difficult time with re-entry to America. I prayed God would break my heart for America because at the time, my very own country was the one that was hardest for me to love. Little did I know how He would answer that prayer.
During the past school year I worked part time at Bonham Middle School, where I helped with an after-school program. It didn't take long to get to know the students through tutoring, soccer, crafts, and other activities, and work soon became a ministry opportunity as the students opened up about issues with friends, rough situations at home, and all the hard parts of life. When the last day of work came, I found myself surprisingly upset that I had to leave. As I thought about how much I loved these students, I realized that for the first time in years, I could see myself working with students like these for the rest of my life...in the United States. This was pretty earth-shattering, considering I'd made so many decisions (including my major) based on the belief I would live in Cambodia long-term. In the past three years, I had unwittingly placed much of my identity in this country and a desire for ministry here. I even told someone this semester, "When I'm in Cambodia, I feel alive!" Yet less than a week before I was to leave for Cambodia for the summer, I realized God had broken my heart for America.
Back to Psalm 37:4...I'd thought this verse meant that when we delighted in God, He would give us His dreams and desires for our life, which He would then fulfill. For three years, God had cultivated this passion for Cambodia in my heart - He placed a desire and dream in my heart - and He had provided opportunities to fulfill that desire and dream. But here I was, continuing to follow what I thought God had called me to and the dream that He'd placed in me...and that dream had changed. All of a sudden my desire to come to Cambodia wasn't so strong anymore, and I wanted to stay and finish the school year at Bonham. The very culture that was most difficult for me to come back to last year was now the most difficult for me to leave. How does that work?
As I've thought on this verse during my time here in Cambodia, I've come to understand that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He doesn't simply give us His desires for our life; He becomes our utmost desire. The greatest desire is not a dream or ministry or life plan or even desire to tell others about Him. Not a desire to live in another country. Not that these dreams are bad, and I still believe God puts those in our hearts, too, though sometimes He changes and shapes them over time as we mature. But our foremost desire is to be for Him, to know Him and love Him and be more intimate with Him. The one desire that never changes as we grow in our faith is our desire for Him.
Living in Cambodia is not what makes me feel alive! "For to live is Christ..." (Phil 1:21). When I delight in the Lord, living is Christ. When I delight in the Lord, my utmost desire is for Him, not for Cambodia or the United States or for a country or people group or person. And no matter where I am, He gives me the desire of my heart, because the greatest desire He places in my heart is to know Him.
Will I live in the United States for the rest of my life? Will I live in Cambodia? Will I live in another country? I don't know. What I do know is as I seek Christ and delight in Him, He faithfully grants me the desire of my heart; He faithfully grants me the privilege of knowing Him more.
For that, I praise Him.
[As a side note, though it was difficult to leave the students at Bonham, I entrusted each of them to the Lord and know He is providing for them. I am so glad and grateful to be in Cambodia this summer, and I am enjoying my time here!!]