When I was in gastroenterology, we spent our entire day talking about the digestive system. One of the conditions that was particularly hard to treat was diabetic gastroparesis. These patients often get full early, and stay full for a very long time because their stomachs don’t empty normally. Among other problems, they essentially end up with a lack of hunger. (Who would have ever thought that NOT having hunger would be a disease?)
The Bible talks about hungering after righteousness, after God.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 NIV
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:21 NIV
The trouble is that hunger is not a very comfortable situation in which to be. I’ve often thought about wanting to hunger and thirst after God as something good, something pleasant. But hunger, by its very nature, is painful.
There’s a big difference between a desire and hunger. Hunger goes beyond desire to a physical discomfort of craving. A bowl of salted caramel ice cream sounds good to me right now. One could even say that I DESIRE to have at least a spoonful. But am I hungry? No. No hunger pangs. No stomach rumbling. But if I eat the desired salted caramel ice cream, I actually shortcut hunger.
Ken Gire speaks on the subject of spiritual hunger in The Reflective Life.
“Because hunger hurts, though, we try to take the edge off it in any way we can. One of those ways is with religious activity. And that can include the activity of reading books, listening to tapes, or going to seminars. Through these things, which are often very good things, even nourishing things, we are fed by the experiences of others. But they are not our experiences. I can read a psalm about David crying out from a cave in the wilderness, and I should read that psalm, but it is not my psalm. It is not my psalm because it is not my cave, not my wilderness, and not my tears.”
My pain. My cave. My wilderness. These create a true hunger.
There’s no easy substitution for hunger. In a world of self-sufficiency, my faith can be hampered by shortcutting hunger. Do I snack on the spiritual experiences of others, rather than working through and learning from my own? Probably more often than I’d like to think.
In the same way that eating at the first desire for food without true hunger creates overweight people, feeding off of the experiences of others without allowing true hunger for God creates overfed Christians.
How do we create true hunger for righteousness rather than snacking on the experiences of others?
Many times we find ourselves in stages of life in which we tangibly feel the need for God’s healing or provision. I think at times we have to carefully and prayerfully create vacuum of need that only God can fill, not by sinning so that “grace may abound,” but by stretching ourselves outside of what is spiritually, physically, or financially comfortable. Perhaps by supporting a ministry financially when we’re not sure how God will provide for our needs. Maybe by engaging in spiritual disciplines, like fasting, that remind us of our hunger for God. Possibly attempting something that without God’s help would be a sure failure.
So here’s what I’m contemplating: How am I continually cultivating a hunger for God?