Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
– Matthew 5:6
Have you ever gone a day where you’re running late and skip breakfast, then for whatever reason you have to miss lunch too? I have had it happen a couple times and I can tell you, by the time I get home after work I am ready to pillage and plunder the kitchen. Nothing within the pantry is safe at that moment. Even stale chips in the back of the cabinet begin to look appetizing.
We all know what it means to be hungry. In varying degrees, it is something every human is familiar with. It is not something we need to be taught to identify or discover. From the newborn screaming at three o’clock in the morning, to adults getting hangry in the afternoon, you know when you are hungry. It is a basic, instinctual, hardwired reality in our life. When our bodies need food they let us know, and if that need is never met, we die.
I find it interesting that this idea of hunger and thirst, along with their satisfaction, is used by Jesus as an illustration in Matthew 5:6. This idea has captured my thoughts lately, and I would love to share a few of those thoughts with you.
I plan to do this in two parts, looking at hunger first, then its satisfaction second.
This may not be earth shattering news for some, but when you are hungry or thirsty, it’s because you are not eating or drinking. Feel free to pause if you need to collect your thoughts after that mind blowing truth. But seriously, your body reacts to its need and creates a physical experience to get you moving toward food or water. It’s that simple.
In the same way that we all have physical hunger, we also all experience a hunger within our hearts. Every one of us has a spiritual hunger, and there is no problem with desiring that it be satisfied. However, we do have a problem in that we deny and suppress what the hunger is pointing us toward (John 12:43). The problem is our rejection of what will actually satisfy the hunger.
This is a sad reality when it comes to our spiritual hunger, that there are many who think they are full and satisfied, as if just finishing their fourth plate from a buffet, yet they are wasting away from starvation. Like walking skeletons, they move from one craving to another while their souls are starving to death, all while denying the reality of their terminal condition. They refuse to see that their souls are desperate for satisfaction, but what they are feeding it never gives it.
We all, deep down, know this reality of our heart’s condition. We know this because no matter how much we get the things we desire, we keep wanting more. The money, the toys, the pleasure, the fame, all of it, never satisfies.
To try and open this idea up more, let’s look at the ways we can respond to our soul’s hunger. I believe there are two ways. Attempting to be satisfied by yourself, or desiring to be satisfied by Christ.
Attempting to be satisfied by yourself
I see this response fleshing itself out in at least two ways. I’m sure there are others, but these two have been on my mind the most.
First is the pursuit of self glorifying pleasure.
I want it, so I’m going to get it. It makes me feel good, so I’m going to do it. I want sex, so pornography or fornication is ok. I want this standard of life, so sacrificing my family for my job is ok. I want to be accepted, and will compromise anything to gain it. I was hurt by this person, so I get to hurt them back. And the list goes on.
This response is from the person who throws caution and conscience to the wind in pursuit of their pleasures, simply because they want them. The desires are real, the hungers are real, but the means of satisfying them fail over and over. It is as if you are thirsty, yet by passing up a cup of clean cool water, you scoop up a handful of salt and throw it in your mouth. This not only fails to satisfy the thirst, but it will leave you with a greater thirst than before.
What is even more troubling is that when the person gets what they hoped would satisfy, and then when they discover its inability to truly satisfy, they tend to go on denying the water will help and continue gorging on the salt over and over, in increasing amounts, expecting it to somehow meet their need. However, it never does, and in this pattern of life your soul will shrivel up and die.
Second is the pursuit of self glorifying praise.
I go to church. I’m nice to my neighbors. I’m not perfect, but I try to do what is right. I’m a good person. I don’t lie, steal, cheat, or murder. I pay my taxes. I’m a hard and honest worker. And on and on.
This type of response, on the surface can look right, and that is why it is so deadly. The question is not about what the person is doing on the outside, the question is about what is satisfying them on the inside. If it is their own glory and praise, then the person is driven by pride or bound by fear. They are seeking to be satisfied by their adherence to moral duty or following religious systems. They seek self glorifying praise by giving every effort to prove they are a good person to themselves, to others, or to God. Then on the other side, they live in fear of being seen as a bad person by themselves, others, and God.
Think of it in the context of telling a lie. Let’s assume you chose to tell the truth in a difficult situation. It may even cost you something to be honest, but why did you do it? If you are seeking your own glory, it is motivated by fear or pride. Either you said it because you were afraid you would be caught in your lie and things would be worse, or you did it because you want to be seen as a noble and good person who tells the truth. Jonathan Edwards called this common virtue, and while it helps society function, it does not satisfy your soul. Instead, it is as if your stomach growls, and you pass up a steak dinner to go run a marathon hoping it will fix it. However when you finish running, you are exhausted and now even more famished than before. You work harder and harder, pushing yourself to try and prove you can do it yourself, or because you are afraid of what failing will cause. If this pattern continues in your life, your soul will collapse on the track, dead from it’s starvation.
Both of these two ways of trying to fulfill the hunger of your soul will leave you empty. The scary part is they are both so alluring and deceiving. Self glorifying pleasure can feel like it is meeting your needs for a time, but the shine starts to wears off and you find yourself wanting more. It’s like a child getting a new toy, to then only see something else a week later that catches his eye and suddenly the new toy in his hand is not as satisfying as the one in someone else’s. It’s a vicious cycle, and we treat the hunger in our soul the same way.
Self glorifying praise can feel like it is satisfying us, but we never feel like we have done enough good to keep the applause coming. Or we constantly look over our shoulder, walking in fear of someone finding out where we have failed. We live exhausted lives working to both bring and protect our praise with our actions and choices.
This continual effort brings up a question, if we seek to satisfy your soul’s hunger with our own pursuits and efforts, however we never feel satisfied and continually long for more, what is the conclusion?
We find that we cannot supply the satisfaction to our hunger.
Now some at this point may say that the answer then is to deny the hunger. We cannot satisfy it, so you must fight the cravings. However, you will never overcome them. A hungry man living on the streets cannot stop the pain in his gut by will power or convincing himself he is not starving to death. Only food will stop it. He will die if he does not eat. In the same way, neither can we stop the hunger pains in our soul, or the coming spiritual death if it is not satisfied. We must accept that we were designed and created with a desire for satisfaction, pleasure, and joy. It is hardwired within us, just like physical hunger. The difference is, our spiritual hunger cannot be satisfied by our own efforts. They just will not work.
So what will work? We have to accept what our soul is hungry for, which brings us to the other response to our hunger.
Desiring satisfaction in Christ
I find it interesting that in Matthew 5:6, Jesus gives a qualifier for the hunger before it can be satisfied. Christ doesn’t just say that if you are hungry, you will be satisfied. Instead he tells what type of hunger will be satisfied. Don’t miss that! All of our souls are growling in hunger and are panting in thirst, the question is what kind of food and drink will satisfy it? It is not the desire to feast on our own self glorifying pleasure or praise, but one for righteousness that is satisfied!
And with that, we have a big problem! But before we jump into that, we need to define this term righteousness. Webster does a pretty good job on this one.
acting in accord with divine or moral law : free from guilt or sin
morally right or justifiable
Justified, free from guilt or sin, to act in accord with the standards of God. Sounds pretty tough. Can you do that? Can you be that? Can you be morally perfect, are you free from guilt or sin?
Some may read this definition of righteousness and only see it as a cause to try harder. Please, do not hear that! The definition points to a greater reality. A person who is justified, and free from guilt or sin, is someone who has a right relationship with God. Sin separates us from God, and we all have sin in our hearts. (Matthew 15:18-19) That is what your soul is hungry for. It is starving for a right relationship with God, but our sin keeps us from it! (Isaiah 59:2)
Now do you see the big problem? It is not only that you have been trying to feed your soul the wrong thing, it is that you are unable feed it the right thing! (Romans 3:10-12)
It is when we realize the hunger of our soul is for a right relationship with God, that we realize that we cannot satisfy it, because we cannot produce it, and that is when hope arrives!
It arrives because we can now see that our hunger and thirst for righteousness is actually a hunger and thirst for Christ! God knows the hunger we have, because he made it in us. He knows we cannot satisfy the hunger to be right with God by ourselves by making our own way back to him, so he came to us! He took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and lived a sinless, perfect, and righteous life on behalf of those who will lay down their desires to glorify themselves with pleasures and praise, and long to glorify him by seeing him as worthy of all praise, and as the source of our ultimate joy and pleasure.
Christ does not give you satisfaction, as in giving you something outside himself, he himself is the satisfaction to the hunger and thirst. He is the glass of water, rather than the handful of salt. He is the steak dinner rather than the marathon. He is the one who will satisfy you for all eternity, because he is the one who can give you what your heart longs for the most; to be right with God, the one your soul was made for.
So the question is simple, what are you trying to satisfy your soul’s hunger and thirst with? One leads to life, one will starve it to death. Consider these verses as you reflect on your answer.
My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. – Jeremiah 2:13
Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life. – John 4:13-14
You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. – Isaiah 12:1-3
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35
I hope and pray you chose Christ as your all satisfying treasure, and give up the failing pursuits of self!
You can read part two of this series here: Our Satisfaction. It will look at the ways that Christ satisfies us.