Text: Psalm 20
May God grant me the desires of my heart, and fulfill all my plans.
I wonder what it feels like to you to hear yourself say those words. Does it feel hopeful? Does it feel strange and unfamiliar? Does it feel immature and inappropriate? Does it feel unimportant and insignificant? Or, does it feel like an honest prayer?
It is never easy to ask for what you need. If you are like me, asking for what you need can feel selfish, self-serving, and undeserving. In some ways, I think our faith has encouraged us to not think about what we need and desire. As I think about my needs and heart’s desires within the context of my faith along with what I have been taught about my faith, the subtle and often not-so-subtle message is that it is our Christian duty to put others first, to sacrifice self, and to ignore or disregard my own needs and desires for the good of others. There is no more profound example of this than the way our faith tradition has interpreted Jesus on the cross.
When we are young, if we are lucky enough to have adults in our lives that care about us and love us, our needs are automatically met. We are fed, kept safe, and cared for; maybe even loved. But not every child has such a beginning and for them those basic needs go unmet. When that happens, those children learn one of two things: either not to have expectations of their needs being met, or that it is solely up to them to make sure they have what they need. They scrape, fight, and learn how to manipulate their circumstances just to survive at the most basic level-physically and emotionally. And most of the time, they learn to not need a whole lot. Or they learn how to get what they need in ways that are destructive to themselves and others, thus setting patterns for the rest of their lives.
By the time we reach adulthood, we have learned another lesson about asking for what we need-the lesson of living in FEAR. Other than fearing that we don’t deserve to have our needs met, we fear being rejected. We fear that if we put our needs and heart’s desires out there for the asking, we will be told no. And the fear of being rejected at our most vulnerable place-the place of need and desire-is almost as painful, maybe even more so, as not having our needs met in the first place. A therapist/friend once said to me, “It is hard to tell the truth about what we need because much of the time we are punished for telling the truth.” I know and you know that it is always best to tell the truth and I wouldn’t advocate for anything but truth-telling. And yet, when my therapist/friend said those words, “It is hard to tell the truth about what we need because much of the time we are punished for telling the truth,” there was a recognition that what she was saying contained its own truth. Telling the truth about what we need and of the desires that reside in our hearts can be a painful place, if for no other reason than the fact that we don’t live in isolation from one another; and one person’s truth about their needs has implications for another. While each of us must be responsible for our own needs, we do live interdependently and in relationship to one another-needing one another. And when we can’t meet the needs of someone we care for deeply, there is pain. So pain and not wanting to cause those we love pain is yet another reason we have a hard time asking for what we need and what our hearts desire. But I once read that, “on the spiritual path the enemy isn’t pain – it’s fear of pain. We haven’t become wise because we’re so afraid of pain.” (Richard Rohr) So, I come back to fear and how it holds us back from asking for what we need and what we desire and what it means to have all our plans fulfilled.
The writer of Psalm 20 invites us into a conversation about the desires of our hearts and to consider what it means to our spiritual lives and our faith journey to speak to God about our needs, our wants, our hearts’ desires, and having our plans for life fulfilled. When I first read Psalm 20, I wondered about the appropriateness of the psalmist’s words. As we read this text, it is important to know that the words of Psalm 20 are not God’s words. They are the words of the psalmist, most likely David, written to one of Israel’s leaders. Because we don’t know the context, we can only imagine that David was offering words of hope and encouragement in a difficult time. We can imagine this because of the way the psalm begins, “The Lord answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! May God send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.” At its beginning, it is a prayer of petition. But the psalmist doesn’t stop there. No, he moves from a prayer of petition to what some might call wishful thinking: “May God grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.” My first reaction to those words was who gets to say things like that, much less suggest that they might come true? There is an assumption in the request that leads one to believe that God holds the power to make all of this happen, if only one asks or asks in the right way. At its core, verse four begs the question, “Is God, indeed, all powerful?” And also to ask, “What does it mean to ask such if God is not all powerful?” I think we do best if we consider verse four more of a parent’s wish rather than a promise of God. And with that said, I still want to consider what it means to think about having our hearts’ desires granted.
I guess one of the first questions to consider is, “Are we meant to have our needs and desires met?” Most everyone here (at least those still listening) knows that what we need and desire changes with time. What we need and desire at age sixteen is different from when we are twenty-six. And twenty-six is different from thirty-six. And thirty-six is different from forty-six or fifty-six or seventy-six. Indeed, our needs and desires and our hopes and wants change with time and experience. But at some point, if we live long enough, it seems to me that each of us returns to a place where what our hearts desire from God are those things that are most basic to a life of faith-to know that God is present in our day of trouble and that God will protect us and give us the support we need. Is that not what our hearts desire, truly? If so, then yes, we are meant to have our needs and desires met. Does that truth make our other needs and wants and desires and plans less significant? I don’t think so-we are human and God created each of us with beautiful and complicated needs, desires, wants, and plans. Those things are what make us unique, alive, and passionate people. And I believe, at a core place, it is our spiritual work to know what our heart desires. And yes, to then ask-sometimes with fear and trembling. But it may very well be our path to true salvation.
But what about the asking? What does it mean to ask God for what we need and desire? And how do we do that? I’m not sure but here’s what I think. If we are looking for the easy way out, our prayer may simply be to say to God, “I don’t know what I need, but I’m sure you do; so you take control, God.” I’ve prayed that prayer and while it may suggest a certain surrendering of will to God, I have found that it leaves me feeling distant from both God and myself. Another option is to know what you need and pray with conviction for a specific outcome. I have also prayed this prayer. And very few times, if ever, have my needs and desires been fulfilled with a specific outcome. For this I am grateful, for this way of relating to God does suggest an all powerful God that I cannot reconcile to the suffering in our world. A third way, that I find most helpful, is to ask for what I need, to name my desires and hopes for the plans I have and then to release what I am holding and open myself to whatever possibilities come. It’s never easy to not be attached to specific outcomes but I am reminded of that mantra that we often say here at Pullen: show up, pay attention, speak your truth in love, and don’t be attached to the outcomes. Maybe that is the way we ask for what we need and for the desires that reside in the depths of our hearts. Again and again, I have been surprised with joy when allowing my heart to remain open; and possibilities that I could have never imagined have found their way into my life.
The psalmist concludes, “Now I know that Love comes to all who open their hearts…They shall rise up strong and sure. The Beloved, the one who created us, will hear our call, and make a home in our hearts!” Psalm 20 is an invitation-it is inviting each of us to ask for the desires of our hearts and to make known to God all our plans. It invites us to open our hearts and release all that is there into God’s knowing and God’s care. And Psalm 20 stands as a steadfast reminder that, indeed, in the day of our trouble God will be present with us; God will keep us safe and hold us closely when the fear and pain of asking for what we need threatens to consume us. It is our spiritual work to know our heart’s desires. It is our spiritual calling to ask God for what we need. And possibly it is our greatest spiritual challenge to then release it all-needs, desires, and plans-into the care of God’s grace and mercy. In doing so, we rise and stand upright, knowing that God does answer when we call.
Say it with me, “The Beloved, the one who created me, will hear my call, and make a home in my heart!”