1 So get rid of hatefulness and deception, of insincerity and jealousy and slander. 2 Be like newborn babies, crying out for spiritual milk that will help you grow into salvation 3 if you have tasted and found the Lord to be good. 4 Come to Him—the living stone—who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. 5 Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed. 6 For it says in the words of the prophet Isaiah, See here—I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone, chosen and precious; Whoever depends upon Him will never be disgraced. 7 To you who believe and depend on Him, He is precious; but to you who don’t, remember the words of the psalmist: The stone that the builders rejected has been laid as the cornerstone—the very stone that holds together the entire foundation,8 and of Isaiah: A stone that blocks their way, a rock that trips them. They stumble because they don’t follow the word of God, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received it. (1 Peter 2:1-10) Have you heard the phrase, “You are what you eat?” I’m not sure that’s entirely true, as I am not more bacon and fried chicken than I am, but the idea behind it is that you become the thing you consume. Maybe better, that which fills you forms you. That’s a principle that suddenly encompasses all of life.
- Your family fills you.
- Your friends fill you.
- Your job fills you.
- Your TV and books fill you.
- The way in which you organize or direct your thoughts and loves fills you.
That’s why we guard our heart, because it creates a well out of which flows our life (Proverbs 4:23). Whatever fills us, forms us and forms in us, and then flows out of us. So I want to talk today about being hungry, with the urgent demand of a newborn child, for the food of God’s Word.
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My initial thought was to preach about all the things we hunger for: Money, sex and power, which is another way of saying we long for things, for pleasure, for love, for agency and control in our lives. Or maybe to talk about how we fill ourselves with spiritual junk food. There’s all kinds of great food analogies, and as a life long fan of food, I could talk about this for a long time.
But I’ve been thinking about something different this week, and that is a different problem: we are not hungry enough. Or maybe: we have so many ways to fill ourselves we can ignore how hungry we are, or we can forget what it is like to be hungry, and why God has made us hungry people.
In my perfect world, I am never too hungry. There is always something within my grasp. So when lunch or supper rolls around, I am definitely interested in food, but I’m not hungry as much as I am intrigued by the smells and looking for to the pleasure of the experience.
But when I diet, I get hungry. That growling and gnawing and sense that I am being nibbled away from the inside is really disconcerting to someone who has been able to avoid that quite successfully. Now, when it’s time for a meal, I am a little more invested. I am conscious that there is a biological void that needs to be filled.
If I stick it out, I discover in a week - or ten - that I start to like that hunger. Rather than making me angry it reminds me that I am more purposeful, more self-controlled. I’m probably feeling better overall by this point; I can see the payoff. There are other kinds of health that go with this (assuming I am making healthy food choices).
But I also get more appreciative of food. What I once took for granted because it was so easily accessible I now value more. I realize my need for it rather than just my want for it. I need to be choosy in my diet because I can’t just have everything like I used to. Something has to be taken off my previously expansive menu. And the more I ‘taste and see’ not just the food but the value of the food my hunger has led me too, the more I appreciate the source of my satisfaction.
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I think one of the problems we Western Christians face is that we live in a culture that makes it very easy to avoid or be easily distracted from our spiritual hunger. Whenever something nibbles or gnaws inside - anxiety, loneliness, depression, lust, greed, jealousy, anger – we can feed ourselves with something: a phone, a TV show, music, books, shopping, food (again!), hobbies, a good workout, a pill, the news, even friends.
It’s not that we aren’t hungry. We are. We are people with deep, strong appetites of all kinds. We long for meaning, purpose, identity, love, intimacy, connection, pleasure, power, fame, money, things. Oh, we are hungry people. We are all like babies who crave.
This is not a bad thing in itself. We are made to crave.[i] “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst - for righteousness.” The problem is that we live in a setting where we can graze on all kinds of things at the first twinge of our spiritual or emotional hunger.
I saw this week that Alice Cooper is still touring in his 70’s. He once said,“It doesn't matter how many drugs I take, I'm not fulfilled. This isn't satisfying. There's a spiritual hunger going on. Everybody feels it. If you don't feel it now, you will. Trust me. You will...
He felt it, but he fed it with drugs. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. We can become grazers in all kinds of ways, never feeling too hungry because we are always shoving stuff into our minds and hearts that distract us and temporarily satisfy us.
And then we pull up to The Table of God’s Word during devotions or on a Sunday morning, and we are kind of interested, but we aren’t that hungry – or at least we don’t feel that hungry. “I think I’m good. I should probably only have a small serving – I’m still full from my spiritual chocolate-covered bacon.” If I get hungry later, I can always snack.
“If you don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great... The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world.” John Piper, A Hunger For God
I don’t think we let ourselves get hungry enough. I don’t mean we should be trying to self-generate hunger. We don’t have to. We are wired to be hungry. I mean we spend so much time covering up our hungers that we fill ourselves with junk and never begin to crave the spiritual food we really need.
- We don’t set down our phones when it begins to sink in how lonely we are.
- We don’t turn off the TV or put down the book when we realize how hungry we are for a relationship with someone.
- We avoid confronting and surrendering our envy or greed by volunteering, or working or staying busy – anything to not be alone with our thoughts.
- We don’t talk with a friend instead of turn on Netflix when we begin to wrestle with serious questions about our faith.
- We don’t pray about our unresolved anger instead of cooking all evening.
- We don’t soak up God’s word instead of binge watch when our self-worth or self-image is shattered.
We don’t let ourselves feel our spiritual hunger enough - and that’s what all of these are. The immediate feeling is loneliness, or doubt, or anger, or self-loathing, or lust, greed, envy…. But if you peel back the layers, eventually you find the God-shaped hole from which all of these hungers can be traced.
That hunger is God’s reminder that there is something in you that needs to be filled, and that reminder is meant to point you toward the One who can fill it. God gives us a hunger for Him. We can’t manufacture that ourselves. This is not a sermon about how to get hungry. This is about embracing our hungers, surrendering them to Christ, and finding our satisfaction in God and His word.
I considered trying to address a whole list of things, but I think I want to just focus on one example of how I think this works.
I spent years of my life with my idea of who I was as a man wrapped up largely in three things: sexual desirability, athletic ability, and professional achievement. You might say I was hungry to matter, for my life to have meaning, to be affirmed and loved and respected.
So Sheila had a lot of pressure to convey to me that I was sexually desirable; I had a lot of pressure on myself to find the right gym and play in the right leagues; I spent years not knowing how to rest because there was always something I could be doing to further my career or build my achievements. I was hungry.
And when the hunger began to really gnaw, I grazed. I sought out my wife’s attention more; I worked out harder; I did more stuff. This was a full life in that I had plenty to do to make sure that the minute my spiritual stomach began to remind me that I was not full, something was nearby.
Of course, that didn’t work. My identity is meant to be grounded in the reality that I am a child of God, and all that matters is who I am in the eyes of God, and the fact that He loves me as a perfect Father perfectly loves His child.
So, God in his mercy made me hungrier.
Sheila and I went through some seasons in our marriage where sex had to be put on the back burner because we had some serious relational things to work through, and suddenly the identity hunger I had masked settled in. My health took some hits: knee surgeries, plantar fasciitis, shoulder surgery, the heart attack. The hunger I soothed with weights began to gnaw. And the more I worked hard in my different jobs to make a name for myself the more I realized how many people did the same things so much better than I do…
Now, I’m hungry. Now I can feel it. Now I know that whatever bread I was feeding myself with was not the bread of life. I hungered and thirsted but I always hungered and thirsted again.
And I had to cry out for spiritual milk with a desperation I had not had before – once again, not because I hadn’t been hungry before, but because I had been able to avoid feeling the depth and the implications of my hunger. That, I think, is when you begin to taste and see that the Lord is good. And to those who believe and depend on Him, He is precious.”
“God will fill the hungry because He Himself has stirred up the hunger. As in the case of prayer, when God prepares the heart to pray, He prepares His ear to hear (Ps. 10:17). So in the case of spiritual hunger, when God prepares the heart to hunger, He will prepare His hand to fill.”
Back to Alice Cooper. I didn’t give the whole quote.“It doesn't matter how many drugs I take, I'm not fulfilled. This isn't satisfying. There's a spiritual hunger going on. Everybody feels it. If you don't feel it now, you will. Trust me. You will... Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that's a tough call. That's the real rebellion.”
He said in an interview with CNS News:
“When you get out there and realize you’ve had every car, every house, and all that, you realize that that’s not the answer, there’s a big nothing out there at the end of that… A lot of people say that there’s a big God-sized hole in your heart. And when that’s filled, you’re really satisfied, and that’s where I am right now.”
That’s the real fulfillment. It’s a rebellion against the gluttony of the world and trading it for the satisfaction of Jesus.
When I felt the unsatisfied hunger of my own pursuit of my identity. I was forced to reckon with “what makes a man”: is it strength and capability or holiness? When my spiritual snacks were locked in the cupboard and I couldn’t avoid my hunger in that way, I had to fill myself with what I should have been filling myself with all along: the truth in God’s word about what makes a man a man: my identity in Christ. I found this in the Bible, in the observations of other Christians, in prayer, in writing…. I had to walk into my hunger with my eyes focused on the only One who can satisfy.
Peter say that we are made to “proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light..” This is the glorious testimony of the hungry people who find our satisfaction in a God who fills us beyond what we can ask or think.
So don’t be afraid to be hungry. Don’t be afraid to feel it. God is using it to point you toward Him – for your good, and for the praise of His glorious grace.
[i] See this website for a bunch of verses. https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Spiritual-Hunger