When I was a boy of twelve, my mother and I lived with my grandmother in the top half of a two-story flat in Oakland, California. The Browns lived downstairs with their daughter, Clarice. It was 1942 and World War II raged. Though I was not old enough to enter the service, Wally Breck, a young man calling on Clarice Brown, was, and he had enlisted in the Navy.
Because of our involvement with the Browns, we often asked of Wally's well being, and one day they sadly informed us that the Japanese had torpedoed Wally's ship. It appeared that Wally had been lost, though the Navy officially listed him as "missing in action."
Thirty days later, however, a letter arrived with the good news that Wally had been found and rescued! Though his hand had been wounded when a Japanese fighter had strafed his ship, he and some shipmates had escaped in an open life raft. After floating for twenty-three days, the raft was finally spotted and the men picked up.
When Wally had mended and come home, he told me what it was like to go day after day without food and water. His lips had cracked, and his throat was dry and sore. This young sailor, who had weighed well over two hundred pounds, returned home thin. Floating in the middle of a salty ocean with no food, he truly hungered and thirsted.
Few of us have had an experience like this, but perhaps we can understand its application in our spiritual lives. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." We have a promise from Jesus Christ Himself, that if we truly hunger and thirst for His way of life, He will fill us with the good and wonderful things it can bring.
Filling the Need
Of course, when we have what we want, we do not hunger and thirst for it. Only when our desire is still unfulfilled do we truly strive to fill it. This beatitude of hungering and thirsting pictures a Christian who has an acute sensitivity or awareness of a need in his life that must be filled. Because it is yet unfilled, he yearns for it with all his being.
Remember how good even the faintest of food smells are when we are deep into a fast? The body screams its desire to eat, and our olfactory glands pick out of the air any hint of cooking food. A neighbor grilling on his deck down the block sends delectable wafts of roasting meat our way. It can be almost too delicious to resist!
Jesus wants us to have the same irresistible urge for His way of life. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness simply means we have an ardent desire for righteousness. After coming to recognize what God is and what we are, we fervently want to change and become like Him. We feel a compulsion to rid our lives of sin and change our base nature into His noble and perfect character. We have a great eagerness to attain the glorious potential that God offers to those He has called.
King David and others among the psalmists used figures of speech and metaphorical expressions to convey their need for God:
Psalm 42:1-3: As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, "Where is your God?"
Psalm 63:1: O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
Psalm 84:2: My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Psalm 143:6: I spread out my hands to You; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah.
When we really hunger and thirst for God, we will be diligent in prayer, study, fasting and meditation. We will be quick to yield ourselves to God and easily entreated by our brethren. And though our human nature fights desperately against us, we will make the changes that will transform us into God's children.
When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, and God in turn fills us, it is good for God, for the church and for us. Everybody wins.
When God calls us, however, He does not automatically remove the hungers we have acquired while being raised and living in this world. God expects us to handle this job by yielding to His instructions, overcoming and making right choices. It is not an easy task. Deep-rooted desires can be very difficult to dig out and destroy.
In Matthew 16:26, Jesus Christ poses a question to each of us: "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for His soul?" On this, Albert Barnes comments:
To gain the whole world means to possess it as our own—all its riches, its honours, and its pleasures. To lose his own soul means to be cast away, to be shut out from the kingdom. . . . [T]hey who are striving to gain the world, and are unwilling to give it up for the sake of religion, will lose their souls; and . . . if the soul is lost, nothing can be given in exchange for it, or . . . it can never afterward be saved. There is no redemption. . . . (Barnes' Notes, vol. 9, p. 173. Emphasis his.)
The individual Jesus describes in this illustration had a hunger to gain the world and all it could give him. But because he would not control that hunger, he lost his eternal life. How tragic, especially since the rewards God offers far exceed what this world can offer!
A wrong hunger is a corrupt craving that cries out for satisfaction. Whether our hungers are physical (for food, alcohol, drugs, sex, wealth) or mental (for position, control, power, vengeance), we must overcome or control them. Otherwise, the fruit of illicit desires is always destructive. The Bible records the stories of many men who allowed their hungers to consume them. It also faithfully reports the unfortunate consequences.
II Samuel 13 tells the story of Amnon, one of David's sons, who lusted for his beautiful half-sister Tamar, Absalom's full sister. He could not let his hunger for her go. "Amnon was so distressed over his sister Tamar that he became sick" (verse 2)! His desire became so urgent that he lost all control and raped her.
Obviously, King David was furious, but Absalom, planning revenge, held to his own counsel for two years. At the end of that time, Absalom invited Amnon to a banquet, and when his brother's heart was merry, had him killed. Amnon's illicit hunger triggered several disasters in David's family: Tamar's dishonor, Amnon's death, Absalom's banishment and David's grief.
I Kings 1-II Chronicles the hunger of Adonijah. This son of David coveted his father's throne and aligned many powerful men on his side, including Joab and Abiathar the priest. However, while giving a party, Adonijah heard the uproar of the procession announcing that Solomon had been anointed king. His guests scattered, fearing to be seen committing treason, and Adonijah fled to the altar at the Tabernacle, begging the king to spare his life.
Solomon mercifully granted his request, but Adonijah's hunger had not been satisfied. After David died, he persuaded Bathsheba to ask Solomon to allow him to marry Abishag, the beautiful young lady who cared for David in his old age (see I Kings 1:3-4). Once he heard the request, Solomon knew that Adonijah still sought the throne, for in ancient times, taking the old king's wives symbolized taking the crown.
And King Solomon answered and said to his mother, "Now why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also—for he is my older brother—for him, and for Abiathar the priest, and for Joab the son of Zeruiah." Then King Solomon swore by the Lord, saying, "May God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah has not spoken this word against his own life! Now therefore, as the Lord lives, who has established me and set me on the throne of David my father, and who has made me a house, as He promised, Adonijah shall be put to death today!" (I Kings 2:22-24)
We could name many other examples of uncontrolled hungers that produced disaster in the lives in which they raged: David's hunger for Bathsheba, Joab's hunger for position, Gehazi's greed for Naaman's gifts, Jezebel's lust for power, Simon's unnatural desire for the Holy Spirit, and Judas' betrayal of Christ for thirty pieces of silver. All their hungers produced nothing but evil.
Preventing Wrong Hungers
We can see from these biblical examples, as well as from our experiences in life, that uncontrolled wrong hungers will be fed! It seems to be an unwritten law. Unless something happens to forestall the process, hungers for the wrong things will seek satisfaction to the detriment of those who possess them. James writes, "When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:15).
How can we derail these hungers before disaster strikes? In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus Christ instructs us in how to control wrong desires:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If any one desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."
He tells us to deny ourselves. This means we must disown and renounce ourselves and subjugate everything—all our works, interests, and enjoyments—to the standards set by God. Paul commands us to bring under our control every thought that opposes God and His way (II Corinthians 10:5).
Jesus also instructs us to bear our cross. We need to embrace the situations God has set us in, and with faith in Him to bring us through them, bear the troubles and difficulties that come upon us. Just as Jesus accepted His role, even to "the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8), we need to be content with what God gives us to do (Philippians 4:11). As Paul says in I Timothy 6:6, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." What an achievement it is not to be driven by evil hungers!
God has called us to lay down our lives in subjection to Him. The supreme object of our lives is not our personal happiness or fulfilling our every desire. Our goal is God's kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), but notice what Jesus says next: "And all these things shall be added to you." If we yield ourselves to God's instruction and grow and overcome, He will fulfill our legitimate desires!
Matthew 16:25 shows us the two sides of this issue. Jesus says that if we insist on preserving our way of life, with all its wrong hungers and desires, we will lose it eternally! But if we take control of our mind and emotions and destroy our way of life—ridding ourselves of all the wrong hungers and desires that are against God—then God will save it eternally! The better option is obvious.
Satan has filled this world with hungers of every sort to tempt men, including the people of God. Hungers of lust, power, money and fame seem inviting after the monotony of day-to-day living, but Satan's way is a trap, though an enticing one. It always looks good on the outside, but inside is sin, destruction and ultimately death, eternal death.
God allows us to make decisions. He allows us to learn from the decisions we make—both right and wrong. The right decision to make about the wonderful calling and opportunity He has given to us is to yield ourselves under the mighty hand of God in faith that He will work in us. His work is always wonderful and good. Once we yield, we can set our mind to overcome, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. And God will satisfy us!