I ran across a verse in my daily bible reading that, while familiar, I’d never really considered carefully.  It’s short and lyrical, something you’d see printed on someone’s wall or in a greeting card, or even recited at a wedding.  Let’s look at the verse:

“May He grant you according to your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your purpose” (Psalm 20:4, NKJV)

It’s easy to skim this and think, “that’s lovely!” then keep moving.  But if taken at face value it would be easy to miss the verse’s intent—full of both promise and warning. 

Oftentimes, the words themselves can provide rich information, but the Hebrew words used in this verse are fairly run-of-the-mill and used all over the Old Testament.  They don’t appear to provide any additional insight, being quite broad and able to be interpreted a number of ways based on context.

Let’s look instead at the two separate pieces of Psalm 20:4.  My goal here isn’t an exhaustive study, but rather just highlighting a few deeper things to ponder.

“May He grant you according to your heart’s desire…”

When the bible talks about the heart, it doesn’t just mean our emotions or feelings like we often think of today.  Instead it’s truly the core of who a person is.  And so when this verse talks about our “heart’s desire,” it’s not talking about every single thing we’ve ever wanted in life, every wish and fleeting craving.

It’s referring to our deepest desires and motivations, the thoughts that drive us, the things which occupy our minds.  It’s who we are at our rawest.  Jesus is very clear that the desires of our heart will be reflected in how we talk and act, and will be reflective of where our priorities in life lie (Matt. 12:34, 6:21).

The verse asks that God grant His people their desires…but we also know from Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful and “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).  This feels like a worrying contradiction.  So what are we to do with this?

There’s another translation for Psalm 20:4 that a few bibles use, where it says, “May He grant you according to your heart”.  I quite like this translation, because it indicates a little bit more of the double-edged sword that this verse implies—if your heart isn’t right, what you get will not be right either.  It implies that you should be careful what you wish for (or subconsciously focus on), because you just might get it.

Another of David’s psalms really gets to the crux of this idea better, or more completely.  He says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).  The Psalms are riddled with admonitions to get our hearts right, from “create in me a clean heart” to “Your law is within my heart” (Ps. 51:10, 40:8).  And I believe this is a more fleshed-out version of what is meant in Psalms 20:4.

So let’s now look at the other portion of Psalm 20:4.

 “…and fulfill all your purpose”

The Berean Study Bible says “make all your plans succeed” and the King James says “fulfill all thy counsel”.  The implication here is our intents, what we’re trying to accomplish.

There are technically two ways you could choose to understand this statement— the purpose God has for us in this life, or our own purpose (what we feel our purpose is in life, or the goals we seek to achieve).

It is good to have plans in life.  Mankind was designed to need purpose and set goals, to work hard to achieve something.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with working toward your own plans in life.

However, there are a couple ways that this can become unhealthy, and work counter to our relationship with God.  The first is that we get so focused on pursuing our plans that we lose focus on God, or we start to believe that what we achieve is due to our own abilities and efforts.

We forget that God chose the foolish and weak of the world (I Cor. 1:27).  We lose sight of the fact that everything we accomplish is through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).  We begin relying on human reasoning in decision making, our pride bubbles up, and we ultimately pull away from God.

The other thing we should consider is, what about God’s plans for us?  God tells us, “For I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).  Is there a chance we have unintentionally derailed one of God’s intentions for us by doggedly (or thoughtlessly) pursuing our own plans?

God tells us that there is a time and season for every purpose under heaven (Eccl. 3:1).  In other words, timing is everything.  When you’re pushing toward a certain goal, at a crossroads, or looking to make a decision, it’s worth taking a step back and remembering to bring it to God to ask for His guidance.

I’ve gone to Him many times with a situation or decision and asked Him to make the way forward known.  It’s okay to ask for specifics and push Him to help make things clear.  On two different occasions in my life I’ve brought a very specific request to Him relating to my job situation and literally prayed, “Please show me where you want me to be and what’s right for this next step in my life.  Please open one door, and one door only—I will walk through it, no questions asked, but I just need that one door to be super clear!”  On both occasions He answered that prayer in a very obvious way.

Proverbs 16:9 tells us that a man plans his course but God establishes his steps—in other words, we’re not truly in control.  And when we forget that, God sometimes has to do something to remind us.  So we would be wise to assess our plans or “purpose”, and consider how they align with God’s word…and if He seems to be trying to get our attention in a certain area.

What should we do with this?

This is the part where I wish I could give you tips or specific actions to put this into practice in your life.

But unlike some of the other studies on this site, that’s not really the point with this one.  Sometimes the best we can do is bring certain topics to the forefront, and then it’s on us to ruminate on it and ask the right questions of ourselves…and of God.

Are your heart’s desires aligned with what God would want for you?  Do you go to Him regularly in your prayers, bible study, or meditation, asking for Him to guide your direction and decisions?  And even if you do, do you actually look for His answers and step out on faith?  These are hard things to do and it’s challenging sometimes to feel confident that we’re seeing the right answers, but it’s one of those funny things where it gets easier with practice.

“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.  All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.  Commit your words to the Lord, and your thoughts [plans] will be established” (Prov. 16:1-3)

Right after writing this study I happened to listen to a sermon that I think pairs well with it:  Tim Pebworth – Counselor, Not Control

What does Psalm 20:4 Mean? Our Heart’s Desire and Fulfilling Our Purpose | Be Stirred, Not Shaken

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