HAPPINESS THROUGH HUNGER
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A woman leaving church said to the pastor, "Thank you for that sermon, it was so helpful." The pastor said, "I hope it was not as helpful as the last one." "Why what do you mean," she asked. "Well," he said, "that last sermon lasted you three months." On the other hand, there's a pastor who told a woman how glad he was to see her so faithful in attendance each Sunday. "Yes," she said, "it is such a rest after a hard week to come and sit down and not think about anything."
These two cases are extremes, but nevertheless they are typical attitudes which are happiness killers for many professing Christians. A poor appetite means trouble in the body, and a lack of craving for spiritual food is a sign of an unhealthy soul. Jesus says in order to be happy we must hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is not enough to nibble at it at your convenience. To hunger and thirst is a painful experience which motivates a person very strongly. A craving for food and water makes a person desperate and leads to revolutionary action. Nothing matters to the person who is starving or dying of thirst but the satisfying of that burning desire.
David entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence which was unlawful, but he did it because he and his men were so hungry. The Bible tells of two mothers in Samaria who, when the city was besieged by Benhadad, made a pact to eat their own babies. This has happened many times in history, and even here in America. The Donner party on its way to California in the frontier days got stranded in the mountain snows. Even though they represented the best of American life, hunger drove them to eat the flesh of those that died.
Thirst also drives men to desperate measures. People who heard Jesus knew more about real thirst than we do. The hot sun in the desert made water more precious to them than we can realize. Rider Haggard in King Solomon's Mines tells of three men and their guide who are running out of water. The Zulu guide says, "If we cannot find water, we shall all be dead before the moon rises tomorrow." One of the men reflecting back on the torture of thirst and the hallucination it created said, "If the Cardinal had been there, with his bell, book, and candle, I would have whipped in and drunk his water up, yea, even if I knew that the whole concentrated curse of the Catholic Church should fall on me for so doing..."
Men become desperate when they hunger and thirst, and all the energy of their being is concentrated on one goal-to satisfy their need. This sounds like misery, and it is, but it is in the spiritual realm another example of the paradoxical misery that leads to happiness. Without hunger men will not crave what they need. If the Prodigal Son had not ended up eating husks being fed to pigs, he may never had returned to his father. The misery and hunger motivated him to go home, and to the spiritual banquet of forgiveness, as well as the physical banquet of food.
Happiness through hunger is the next logical step in the beatitudes of Christ. The first three have been downward. We must be emptied of self; dependent upon God, and submissive in humility before we can be filled with the righteousness of God. Those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and are meek are sufficiently detached from self, and now ready for this new direction in which we are to climb.
Empty of self-righteousness and ready to be filled with the righteousness of Christ. There are three attitudes that will characterize us if we have arrived at this point, and truly hunger and thirst after righteousness. First there will be:
I. THE ATTITUDE OF ADMIRATION.
Admiration is the appetite of the soul. Sir John Suckling said, "Tis not the meat, but tis the appetite makes eating a delight." To be happy in hungering and thirsting after righteousness we must have an appetite for righteousness. If we do not admire the righteousness of Christ, and men of righteousness in history are not our heroes, we will have a hard time being a happy Christian. A happy Christian who does not admire righteousness is as contradictory as a gourmet who is repulsed by food, or a clown who does not like laughter.
If the Christian still finds sin very appealing, he will not hunger or thirst after righteousness. The man who does not mourn over sin, and long for the sanctified life that Jesus can give can never find the happiness of this beatitude. He's hung up back on the negative beatitudes, and is yet full of self-satisfaction. To such a person the righteousness of Christ is as unappealing as a full course meal to one with the flu.
Dr. William S. Sadler wrote, "I doubt if the highly self-satisfied and conceited person is capable of genuinely admiring anything or anybody. And we must not overlook the fact that when we enlarge our capacity for admiration we at the same time increase our capacity for joy and happiness." Admiration is an admission there is something better than what you have, and it stimulates hunger. What you admire you desire. This, of course, can lead to good or evil, but it is necessary if we are to go anywhere. If you admire the movie stars, you will hunger and thirst after fame. If you admire the wealthy you will hunger and thirst for money. If you admire Christ likeness, you will hunger after righteousness.
The whole Sermon On The Mount focuses on the inner man as the realm of true happiness. Whatever you admire in the inner man is what you will become. If you admire the proud and arrogant who get their way by force you will not be poor in spirit nor meek. If you admire the Casanova who deceives women you will let your lust be the controlling factor in your inner life, but if you admire the man who cherishes his wife and is faithful to her as long as they both live, then you will be guided by that admiration to be just such a man yourself. We must be aware that we are ever becoming what we admire. Nobody wants to be a doctor unless they admire doctors; nobody wants to be a pastor unless they admire pastors, and nobody wants to be a better Christian unless they admire those who are better Christians. Everybody is going in the direction of their admiration.
It all starts on the inside where you develop your appetite. The history of a fisherman starts with a boy admiring his father, or some other man catching fish, and he desires to do it too. He develops a taste for it and just loves catching fish, and he aspires to become good at it, and thus begins to commit time and money to acquire all that he can to reach this goal. He buys tackle of all kinds, electronic gear for the boat he has purchased, and he is filled with anticipation of landing bigger and better fish. This is the normal pattern of life for the happy fisherman. The same pattern is what Jesus is saying is essential in the spiritual life.
Whatever wins your admiration wins your appetite, and becomes the motivating factor in your life. Jesus does not want His followers to miss out on all the blessings of admiring music, art, sports, and numerous other values, but He demands a priority in our admiration. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." In other words, the higher and nobler the object of our admiration, the higher will be our happiness. The ultimate is an attitude of admiration for righteousness. The second attitude that is essential is-
II. THE ATTITUDE OF ASPIRATION.
Aspiration is reaching out for what you admire. Richter said, "There is a long and wearisome step between admiration and imitation." Many people admire Jesus and the life He lived who do not aspire to be like Him. It would be all right with them if they could attain some measure of righteousness, but they do not hunger and thirst after it. These will never know the blessedness of being filled. Only those whose aspiration is like that of the Psalmist will be: "As the heart panteth after the water brooks so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God...." And elsewhere he cries, "O God, Thou art my God, early will I seek Thee, my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land..." And again, "My soul longeth, yea, fainteth for the courts of the Lord, my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God."
Here is a man whose appetite and thirst for God was unquenchable. He wanted more and more, and more yet. This is the kind of aspiration that will lead to fullness and happiness. The paradox is you have to be always hungry to be filled. You must be ever dissatisfied with what you are to find satisfaction. Perpetual discontent is the only way to contentment. We must feel like Tennyson when he wrote-
An Oh for the man to arise in me,
That the man I am may cease to be.
Andre Kostelanetz, one time the most listened to conductor on earth with such orchestras as The New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Boston Symphony, tells of how important inspiration is to him as a musician. He writes, "It is, I think, a sense of discovery, a keen appetite for something new.... Someone has described the whole feeling as a divine discontent."
You can see how all that has gone before in these beatitudes are the foundation for this one. You have to be poor in spirit and meek to go on perpetually admitting you are still deficient and far from the goal of righteousness. The only way to keep moving along the road to perfection is to be ever conscious of our imperfection. We tend to feel our dignity demands that we level off and be content with where we have gotten. If we are fine respectable people that should be good enough. We don't have to go to extremes. But Jesus says, you cannot know God's best and experience the highest happiness unless you persistently aspire to go all the way to the top. How far we get is not as nearly as important as how far we desire to go.
Jesus does not say, blessed and happy are those who are righteous, but rather, blessed are those who hunger and thirst after it. Many Christians have died before they got far along, but if they aspired to go all the way with Christ, they shall be filled. The thief on the cross only lived a matter of hours, but he got to taste heaven that very day because he hungered for it. Paul says he never arrived at his goal because his goal was so high it could not be attained in this life. Right up to his death he was pressing on toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He was hungering and thirsting to the end. That is true happiness, and many Christians miss it because they are too early satisfied. The only way to be like Jesus is to want to be like Jesus.
We are not honest with ourselves, and poor enough in spirit to admit we are in desperate need of more of God's righteousness. With the evidence of spiritual malnutrition obvious, we in pride pretend we need no food for our souls. Abraham Lincoln deserves the title honest Abe because of his willingness to admit his deficiency and need for God's guidance and righteousness. He said to a friend one day, "I have been reading the beatitudes and can at least claim one of the blessings therein unfolded. It is the blessing pronounced upon those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." Those who have arrived and are satisfied with their righteousness can never claim this promise. If, however, you are discontent, unsatisfied, and aggravated with your poor grasp of God's Word and ability to live it and communicate it, rejoice, for this honesty with self leads to the attitude of aspiration for greater things, and this is the key to happiness.
Dean Stanley says that on the Christian tombs in the Catacombs of Rome the first sign of Christian life is pictured by a stag drinking eagerly at the stream of life. This should be the perpetual attitude of every believer. When the thirsty stag is no longer attracted to the refreshing stream, then we can cease to hunger and thirst after righteousness. This, of course, means a never ending aspiration.
As pants the wearied hart for cooling springs,
That sinks exhausted in the summer's chase,
So pants my soul for Thee, great King of Kings,
So thirsts to reach Thy sacred dwelling place.
As admiration must lead to aspiration, so aspiration must lead to the third attitude which is-
III. THE ATTITUDE OF ANTICIPATION.
A mother said to her little boy, "Don't you think your older brother should have the biggest piece of pie?" "No mama," he responded, "He was eating pie three years before I was born." Here was a little guy who felt behind in his pie consumption and he was trying to catch up. That may be a foolish goal in the physical realm, but in the spiritual realm it is not. The new Christian can anticipate eating on the same level as the mature Christian. You can go from milk to meat very rapidly if you only hunger to do so. Some stay on milk all their lives, but others are rapidly into the meat of the Word. A five year old Christian may be eating bigger and better meals than a twenty year old Christian if they hunger to do so. The Christian who anticipates catching up and eating spiritual meals fit for a king can soon be at the king's table.
Hunger and thirst are a curse and not a blessing to the man who has no hope of satisfying these desires. Hunger and thirst are only blessings when you anticipate satisfaction. The man who is hungry before a banquet is the happy man because he anticipates satisfying that hunger. The Christian cannot be happy who admires righteousness, and aspires to reach out for it, if he cannot do so with a sense of assurance that he will be filled.
Jesus promises that if we hunger and thirst we shall be filled, and, therefore, we must press on with expectancy anticipating each day that God will supply daily bread for the soul. The problem with the average Christian is that he does not really anticipate any exciting and delicious morsels for his soul. He is so accustomed to the crumbs of spiritual food that he does not expect anything more. This lack of anticipation for a new spiritual meal every day lessens the appetite, and the poorer the appetite, the weaker the aspiration and desire.
If you woke up this morning with no anticipation, and no expectancy that this could be a day of delicious and delightful meals for your soul, you are robbing yourself of one of the keys to the happy life. Every day we must live with the attitude of anticipation. If we are empty vessels longing to be filled with the water of life, we are assured of being filled. T. E. Brown wrote,
At God's sweet fountain
Some one left me long ago;
Left my shallow soul expectant
Of the everlasting flow.
And it came, and poured upon me,
Rose and mounted to the brim;
And I knew that God was filling
One more soul to carry Him.
You should never be content with the great meals you have had in the past. We have all had delightful experiences of eating, but we are not content to leave it at that. We anticipate having other great meals ahead. So it is to be with spiritual food. There is no point in the previous beatitudes which leave us empty of self unless we follow through and anticipate being filled with all the fullness of God.
Tennyson gives us a brief word portrait of the men who combined all the beatitudes we have looked at so far.
We feel we are nothing-for all is Thou and in Thee;
We feel we are something-that also has come from Thee;
We know we are nothing-but Thou wilt help us to be.
This anticipation of God's helping us to be, combined with admiration for Christ, whom we are to be like, and aspiration that keeps us climbing to this goal, leads to the highest happiness of which we are capable.
As we now by means of eating and drinking remember Him by whose life and death we are saved, let us pray that beginning today we will hunger and thirst after righteousness, and begin every day in the attitude expressed centuries ago by Bernard of Clairvoux in this poem:
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
We taste Thee, O Thou living bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still.
We drink of Thee, The Fountain Head,
And thirsts our souls for Thee to fill.