Christians are good at interpreting scripture to their advantage, even if it is not what God intends. We like a feel-good message. We like blessing and prosperity and we give ourselves liberty to interpret scripture to our liking. I have done this in ignorance and I have suffered a good bit because of it. Had I been more receptive to truth, then I would have accepted the reality God dealt me sooner and learned a lot faster. I praise Him for His patience with me through this learning process.
The following verse was the backbone of my great misinterpretation:
Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”What a beautiful verse! God is the source who deliberately transforms our will and moves within us to carry out deeds according to His plans. How awesome to comprehend that God plants righteous desires within us and guarantees the execution of those desires.
When paired with Psalm 37:4 my misinterpretation got worse. This verse says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”
Even as a child when I wouldn’t receive all of the items on my Christmas wish list, I knew that this verse did not mean that God gives us everything we want just because we love Him and claim His name. I knew it must have an alternative meaning. I decided it meant that God plants holy desires within us; that He distributes the actual yearning and not solely the fulfillment of a yearning. I determined that if I looked into my heart to see what upright desires were there, then I could credit God for placing them there and count on His support to bring them to pass.
Test #1: Does my desire pass the Philippians 4:8 test? Is it true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy? If it passed this test, then I would move on to test #2.
Test #2: Does it violate any of God’s written commands? I know God’s Word and I know what lifestyle choices are off limits to me. It is not difficult to construct life pursuits within the confines of His precepts. I know better than to presume that God will sanction any sin.
So, if my desire passed tests #1 and #2, then I would give God credit for planting the desire in me and grant myself license to pursue the stated goal with gusto. I would insist that God blessed it and label that insistence, “faith”. Once labeled as faith, then I would not compromise for fear of sabotaging my dream with doubt.
I reasoned within myself, “God MUST be instilling me with this desire in my heart. God MUST ordain this thing I am dreaming of. My motives are good, the quest is Biblical, and I desire a God-glorifying result; therefore, I give credit to God for the origination of this dream. And since He placed it there, then He MUST see it through to completion. His power MUST bring it to pass.”
Hence good intentions gave birth to an ugly sense of entitlement. I suspect you can already see the flaws in my logic. I tested this hypothesis over and over and reaped little success in support of it. My college selection of a major passed my tests, so did my first career path in social work, many positions of employment, and relationships I entertained. Most of my decisions passed the two standard tests, but more often than not the end result of those pursuits amounted to no more than decimated hopes, unfulfilled dreams, failed attempts, and wasted effort. Only in retrospect have I been able to reevaluate my flawed interpretation of the scriptures.
Here is where I went wrong:
In regards to Philippians 2:13, the scripture says that God works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. HIS . . . good . . . purpose. Not mine. I am capable of constructing my own good initiatives independent of anything God has instilled in me. Just because I have good intentions doesn’t mean I have God’s blessing or His guarantee of success. So the accuracy of interpreting this scripture lies in discerning what are God’s good purposes for me? What career, volunteer services, ministry efforts, mission trips, family (or lack of a family) does He will for me? I do not have these answers. His ways are not my ways nor are His thoughts my thoughts, so my logic cannot calculate what He is up to. I can only seek Him, listen and follow when He reveals something new. To listen I must be quiet and expectant. In order to follow, my leader must be moving. I should not exert my own creative efforts when I get restless; I must wait on The Creator. I must be patient, and then I must be obedient.
In regards to Psalm 37:4, the requirement of God instilling and fulfilling desires hinges on delighting in Him. Have I ever authentically delighted in Him without any ulterior motive? Is my concept of delighting in Him a mediocre, watered-down version which doesn’t measure up to His purified concept of delight? I imagine that God has a refined measurement of delight which I should not assume that I have ever attained. Humility must reign in me. I must strive to delight in Him to the best I can understand delight and let Him alone judge if and when I meet His standards. To delight in Him I must solely focus on who He is, what He has done, what He will do, what He commands and love Him with all the obedience I can muster every moment.
Where does this leave me? It leaves me to treat the desires of my heart with suspicion. I do not trust them to have God’s stamp of approval or assurance of success even if they are laden with good intentions. It leaves me hungry to know His true, unadulterated, perfect will for my life, untainted by my own selfishness. I must place my expectation on His motives instead of my own which I always perceive with favorable bias. I realize that God will plant His desires within me, but I should look to that planting as a formal exchange between my Creator and myself, where He delivers His will distinctly identified as His. I have no expectation that His will will be difficult to obey. On the contrary, because I seek to delight in Him with a pure heart, I trust that I will love receiving the announcement of His will for me whatever form it comes in.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30