Thursday, 7 April 2011

Spiritual Hunger?

Firstly an apology – it’s another fairly long one today, please stick with it and secondly the disclaimer; what follows are just my thoughts on the subject not a statement of absolute truth.  It saves a lot of effort to say it once at the beginning rather than qualifying every statement I subsequently go on to make!

There’s a lot of talk about being hungry at the moment in blogs, on Facebook, in sermons, in ‘worship’ song lyrics, in prayers and in books and to be honest and blunt most of it really winds me up!  I have a few issues with the concept of being ‘spiritually hungry’, ‘hungry for God’, ‘hungry for more of God’, ‘hungry for His presence’ or any one of the hundreds of similar phrases bandied about.

If you personally feel spiritually hungry, or hungry for more of God I am not criticising you, nor do I want you to feel hurt, angry, naughty, wrong, invalidated or condemned.  I do, however, want to suggest that you can be satisfied, and I’d also like you to give some of the ideas here some thought.

In the NIV version of the Bible there are 102 verses using the words hunger, hungry, thirst or thirsty. The Old Testament has the most with 67 and the New Testament has just over half that with 35.  Most of the references are direct descriptions of normal physical hunger or thirst, a lot are concerning God’s promises to feed the hungry and quench the thirsty.  Very, very few are using the word hunger and thirst in relation to a spiritual condition (Amos 8:11 being a prime example and this in the midst of another prophetic rebuke to the Jews).  The Old Testament must always be read from the perspective afforded by the New Covenant of grace.  Just because someone says it in the Bible it doesn’t make it true! Now hold on, put that rock down; don’t stone me yet.  In Psalm 42:9, and elsewhere, the psalmists say “Why have you forgotten me?” to God.  Do we have a theology that believes that God forgets us from time to time?  Is he absent minded?  “He is getting on a bit – he’s older than time after all”.  Nonsense!  The psalmist may have thought God had forgotten him but we know from Deut 31:6, Josh 1:5, Heb 13:5 and many other scriptures and promises he can’t and won’t – so this statement isn’t ‘true’ in the sense that we can extrapolate a theology or concept of God around it. 

Psalm 42 is the big one in the Old Testament to justify being ‘hungry for God’.  So big in fact a very popular worship song has used it (“As the deer pants for the water”) but what we have to remember is that the psalmist, a Son Of Korah, was an Old Covenant man, he did not know Jesus, he didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit so his encounter with God was through animal sacrifices, visiting the tabernacle or the temple and through the Torah.  As with much of the Old Testament the longing expressed by the writer of this Psalm was fulfilled by Jesus, Jesus was the drink of water that the psalmist was looking for!  Is the rock back on the ground?  Am I safe to continue?

Of the 35 instances in the New Testament only 11 do not relate to someone simply being physically hungry or thirsty and they are Matt 5:6, Luke 1:53, Luke 6:21+25, John 4:13+14, John 6:35, John 7:37, Rev 7:16, Rev 21:6 and Rev 22:17.

In 10 of those 11 verses in the New Testament, the hunger or thirst referred to is satisfied by Jesus!  That’s it.  Simple isn’t it?  If you’re hungry or thirsty then go to Jesus and he will satisfy you.  Matt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” is in the Beatitudes, a passage with many layers of meaning.  Each attitude of those blessed is matched up with specific blessing, the pure will see God, the meek inherit the earth, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness will be filled.  There’s no sense of a repetitive loop, that those seeing God may become impure and stop seeing him and need to re-purify themselves, that the earth will be taken away from the meek if they get out of line in some way and they’ll need to become meeker than ever to re-inherit or that the hungering and thirsting for righteousness will return after it has been filled!

Let’s also briefly address Luke 6:25 and get that out of the way; it says “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry”.  The four woe’s in v24 to v26 are addressed to those who were satisfied with Israel’s state of affairs, the Pharisees, the Scribes and those adherents to a religious system that Jesus’ ministry was in direct opposition to.  This verse clearly does not apply to those following Jesus or those living in the New Covenant of grace. 

The old religious ‘do-do’ has crept into the simple understanding of Jesus satisfying all our hunger and thirst and it exhorts us to continue to be hungry for more!  What more?  There is no more.  Jesus came as the perfect sacrifice to destroy the sinful nature, make us new creations and fully inhabit our lives by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  There is no more – the cross was the finished work of God in the rescue of his creation!  Our knowledge, understanding, bliss and enjoyment of that finished work should grow, expand and deepen as we live in perfect union with Jesus but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have it all right now!  To talk about being ‘so hungry for more of God’ is as ridiculous as two fools sitting at a banquet trying to out-do each other with their bragging of how hungry they are and yet never satisfying their hunger by eating the feast!  The gospel stories of Jesus feeding the physical hunger of the multitudes expresses the lavish Father heart of God towards us, he is an abundant God.

The call to ‘get hungry’ is a return to works rather than a reliance on the grace of God.  It is in fact a heresy.  (See – I’m stating things as facts rather than my opinion, just check that first paragraph again if you’ve picked that rock back up.)  If our experience of the goodness of God is dependent upon us we are in the same boat as those who insisted on circumcision for the gentile believers back in the 1st Century.   When preached at a meeting it is not only dead works it is also manipulation and condemnation, the implication being that the speaker has a better or bigger experience of God than you because of something they did and that you didn’t.  (They almost always promise that you can have it too, if you would only do the same thing they did.)

There is a phrase I’ve heard quite a bit in the last few years, in fact I’d written it as a note on my smartphone a few years back because I used to really like it!  The phrase is “Our portion is in proportion to our hunger”.  Scripturally I can find absolutely no evidence for the truth of this, well not in the Bible anyway.  I think this mocks the character of God, it implies God is like a mother bird, which tries to feed all her chicks but will feed more to the ones that make the most noise! Or that God withholds good things from us because we’re not hungry enough!  I’m pretty sure my Bible speaks of a God who gives the exact same amount of himself to all who believe, and that amount is: all of him.  Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things”? He pours his spirit out on all flesh.  I don’t get more of God because I’m hungry for more!  God doesn’t bless me more because I worked hard to make myself desire him more!  The work of God is simply this: to believe in the one he has sent.

Now I’m not saying we should be complacent and just sit about never spending time with our Father, never enjoying him, never eagerly looking forward to times when we can put aside the mundane things of normal life and focus 100% on him in prayer, worship or adoration.  Not at all!  What I’m saying is that to call this ‘hunger’ is to do a gross disservice to Jesus as it implies lack.  It implies that what God has done for you already was not enough.  So I encourage you to feast yourself on what Jesus has already done.  Don’t be a starving fool at a banquet, tuck in, read Romans 6 in particular and all the letters of Paul and then the whole Bible and feast on the New Creation reality and realize that you’re not hungry and you were never meant to be once you’d encountered the bridegroom and he’d swept you off your feet and taken you into the wedding feast.

Nor am I saying that I’m satisfied with the state of the world, the unsaved lives of those I love, the amount of miracles I see when I pray for healing.  But to call this very specific dissatisfaction ‘hunger’ seems odd to me.  It’s religious language.  The Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray “Your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven” and I’m fully on board with that! I want to the kingdom to come into the lives of those who don’t acknowledge Jesus, I want the works of the enemy to be undone by the power of the Gospel, I want heaven on earth.  But the word ‘hunger’ implies lack of something rather than simply a desire for something.  I am fully satisfied with my God.  I am fully satisfied with what he’s done for me, and for the world, on the cross.  I am convinced that the kingdom will be advanced better and quicker by a people who know the full satisfaction of their salvation and leak that over-abundance into a needy world than by Christians who are constantly frustrated and looking for more.

You may have a different perspective or opinion and if so, bless you.  I am not going to fall out with you over it, and I hope you won’t fall out with me!


  1. THAT'S great Phil! Love it, love it, love it!

  2. Well put.Amen.

  3. Amen and amen to this, Phil! Beautifully put, Phil. Thank you very much. What a weight just blew away from my shoulders reading this! I've had a fear for years of not hungering enough, of missing it, of missing Him. I never fear finding Him, it's not finding Him that bothers me.

    I do yearn to know Him more but I am also fully aware that eternity won't be long enough to discover every amazing facet of the jewel that He is, there will always be more wonder and beauty to find in Him.

    But yes, when I lift my eyes and look into His beautiful face now, my heart melts and there's no place I know that is better than just being with Him. The sense of not having made it, of not having understood it enough or hungered after Him enough for Him to respond more fully to me is such a heavy weight to carry. Reading this exposed the lie.

    Happily repentant tonight that actually His grace is sufficient for me, that it's all about Him and not my efforts. Until you hear it, you don't realize what a lie you've believed. It sounded so godly. Thanks a million, Phil.

    The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing.......(Ps 23)
    The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing........(Ps 34)

  4. Hi Phil,
    Our Journey (as you might have gleaned from the blog) has been the unveiling of the religious, empire building, abusive (intended or accidental) use of power and controlling deceptions that have consumed the church which in my opinion always draws believers away from Christ and towards certain leaders, their teachings and the mechanisms they have developed to add an esoteric dimension to their spirituality. Any "yoke" of works placed on believers by those in leadership is a complete and utter contradiction to Jesus' teaching. His yoke is easy, Jesus was not slow to rebuke those in "power" that made knowing God difficult.
    Love what Carol wrote, and surely that is the point, Jesus lifts the weight off, so we can live fully satisfied in the knowledge that we are completely and utterly done, no effort, no works, just fully alive in Christ, and living life to the full, no longer trying to be something we are not, but freed to be exactly what we are created for.
    Now I'm gonna duck for cover in case a few rocks come my way! lol.
    Peace, Jx

  5. I love this. You and Mags are very good teachers!

  6. I love this Phil. What kind of Papa wants His children to walk around hungry? He wants us satisfied. I'll admit to liking this word in the past as a way to describe the passionate love I feel for Jesus and the desire to see His Kingdom on earth. However, it is a poor word at best, and possibly even a conterproductive word as it clearly gives us the "feeling" that we need to be striving for something.

    Your comment about hunger implying lack of something rather than simply the desire for something sums it up brilliantly.

    No need to worry about rock throwing here. I love it! Thanks : )

  7. Brilliantly stated! I'm so glad the Holy Spirit directed me to your blog. I love reading what He speaks to you. God bless you both as you are filled with all His fullness.