Coping Better with Unwanted Change: Four Steps to Greater Peace and Joy (Step 4)

We’ve been talking about a four-step restorative process to help you cope better with unwanted change or loss in your life. Once you can see and accept what you’ve lost or cannot change (Steps 1-2) and have started to appreciate your remaining blessings and opportunities (Step 3), you will experience more peace and joy. But there’s still another step.

Hiking through the Swiss Alps

Step 4: “Delight”

Trust in the LORD and do good;

dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Take delight in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:3-4 (NIV)

What do you take delight in? What are the desires of your heart?

For me, I love my birthday, which I just celebrated last week. As usual, I took the day off from work to do whatever I felt like doing, all day long. I went out for breakfast, spent hours interacting with well-wishers on Facebook, reflected on my life and future, read something I was very interested in, celebrated with my family, and, of course, ate ice cream!

But birthday delights, holidays, Friday night dates, lazy Sunday afternoons, and other special times are the spice of life for me, not the main course. In the right measure, the little (or big) treats in life bring me a lot of joy. Too much of them, and they lose their specialness. If I try to take too much from them, they can become like idols—alluring and wonderfully distracting from weights and responsibilities, but lacking sufficient nutrition for my psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. If my delights become addictions, they become my masters and can even slowly destroy my life or the lives of others.

From Scripture, we learn that God gave us many wonderful things in nature, in our beloved relationships, in our vocations, and in many other aspects of our lives. They are God’s gifts to us, and key ingredients to living fully and joyfully. God wants us to delight in them, providing that our greatest love is for our Creator God. If we keep this relationship first in our hearts, then then rest of our desires, delights, and loves will fall into their proper places, in the right proportions.

When I was teenager, I thought that these verses in Psalm 37 meant that if you put God first in your life (“delight in the LORD”), then God would give you whatever you most want (“the desires of your heart”)—perhaps a lovely spouse, riches, property, good friends, fun experiences, etc. etc. But one day it dawned on me that there may be a more profound way to view this promise. Instead of interpreting these verses as describing something transactional (if you do this, then God will do that), the process may actually be transformational (if you do this, then your heart and mind will be changed, leading to an entirely new set of desired outcomes).

When the Psalmist says, “delight in the LORD,” he is not talking about saying or doing something just to try to win God’s favor to get something from God. Rather, he’s saying, genuinely take pleasure in your relationship with God, just as Jesus taught us to do when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Then, the more your heart’s desire is genuinely to know, love, and serve God with all your being, the more you will want what God wants for you, i.e., to live righteously (or justly) and to do good, or in Jesus’ words, to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:38). Delighting in your Creator God leads to delighting in fulfilling God’s good purposes for your life. And when you think and feel this way, the greatest joy and privilege God could ever give you would be to enable you to know, love, and serve God even better, and to receive more opportunities to let God love others through you.

For me, delighting in God includes taking time to appreciate all that God has done in creation and in my life. As a minister and professor, it also translates to spending most days happily teaching, researching, writing, coaching, praying for or with others, mentoring, and trying to help or encourage those who cross my path. As a married man with children, delighting in God and God’s calling on my life also means loving my wife and family as best I can.

I’m deeply grateful for the life that God has given me and for the ways Christ has inspired and called me to worship, serve, and love. Even with all the suffering, loss, and difficulties I and my family have had to endure over the years, putting God and Christ at the center of my heart and priorities has given me great meaning, purpose, peace, and joy, which I could not have found in the same way otherwise.

For you, delighting in God first may look different than it does for me, because you have your own relationship with God and Christ, and unique calling. But the spiritual principle is true for all those who can accept it, and the result of ordering your life in this way (greater peace and joy) will be the same: When you choose to delight in God and let God transform your heart’s desires to match God’s desires, God will surely give you the desires of your heart.

In Practice

By now, you should be experiencing the fruit of working through the first three steps: See, Accept, and Appreciate. But don’t stop there. Make a conscious decision to move toward finding and doing more things that delight you. And start with God.

If you’re ready to take the fourth step, reflect on the following questions.

  • Where are you looking for pleasure, peace, and joy from day to day?
  • How well does what you delight in line up with what God wants you to delight in?
  • What would it look like for you if you delighted more in God and God’s good purposes for your life?
  • If your heart’s desire matched God’s desire for you more closely, how would you order your life differently? What would you be praying for?

Bottom line: You can make a lot of progress toward greater peace and joy in your life by seeing, accepting, and appreciating. But the most important step of them all is Step 4: “Delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Suggested prayer: “Loving God, I want what you want for me and my life. Please teach me to delight in you, and transform the desires of my heart to match yours.”

Next week: The conclusion to this series of articles with more practical suggestions for how to move through the four steps to greater peace and joy in your life

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