When Jesus said “blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied” (Luke 6:21), he was not talking about physical hunger. The parallel account in Matthew 5:6 makes that clear: “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Charismatics say that hunger “pulls [miracles, revelation, God’s Presence, etc.] down from heaven.” But what is spiritual hunger, exactly? How do you get it, and how would you create it in others?
The world seems to exist in a tension between two opposing truths. God is one, yet He is three. We have freewill, yet we are predestined. Justice and mercy. Greatness in the Kingdom looks like a servant. Even in nature, you have this. Nature is good, yet it is also wild and harsh. Hunger comes from another tension: we have a vision of what could be, yet it is not. Hunger is this yearning for that which you envision to become reality.
Hunger is not necessarily spiritual. Christopher Columbus envisioned an easier way to the Indies and was validated, except for the facts that the world was larger than he thought and there was a continent in the way that he did not know about. Steve Jobs envisioned a hand-held computer, and although he tried to make it reality with the Apple Newton, the technology was not ready. Eventually he succeeded with the iPhone and iPad. Bill Gates envisioned a computer on every desktop, and for many years every desktop ran his operating system.
Spiritual hunger comes when we perceive a spiritual truth and say “why not now?” Jesus gave us all authority, yet the Church is not living in all authority, so why not? Jesus said that we would do greater miracles than he did, yet most of us have not even seen someone raised from the dead; so what’s up with that? Jesus said he came to give us life abundantly, yet we struggle with depression, lack of meaning, and other similar things. Jesus said that if we abide in him, we can ask whatever we want and it will be done, but we have unanswered prayers that we know are God’s will.
Hunger comes when we choose to keep the tension, when we are willing to live in the tension. When we try to remove the tension, we kill the hunger. So if we say, “I don’t understand what Jesus meant that we would do greater miracles than he did, I’m just going to ignore that,” or we decide that we are not Jesus’ target audience for the verse, we remove the tension. It makes life easier, because we do not have to figure out why we are not seeing any miracles (or if we are seeing miracles, why we are not seeing greater miracles) and we can settle for the comfortable life. On the other hand, we miss out on seeing the tension fulfilled. David had a prophetic word that he would become king, yet for over a decade the current king kept trying to kill him. What would have happened if David had given up on the prophetic word that he would be king and decided that Samuel was wrong?
When we practice living in the tension, it slowly builds trust and faith as we see God come through. Goliath terrorized the armies of Israel for forty days, even though both Saul, the army, and David knew the teaching that God fights for his people. Every day there was a tension between the physical reality that they faced a warrior who could easily kill them, and the promise that God would defeat their enemies. However, it was only David who trusted the teaching. He even says why: he had already trusted the teaching as a shepherd, and had experiences of God delivering him from lions and bears, so he was confident that God would do it again. Everyone else in the army (sadly, including the king) needed to trust in God to kill an enormous, deadly giant; living in the tension had brought David to the point where he only needed to trust God to do it again.
Hunger is created by creating the tension between the kind of world God desires to build and what currently is. Leadership courses call this “casting vision.” Let me demonstrate.
In the early Roman Empire, Christians grew to command the respect of the pagans around them. Christians clearly valued freedom, as they would sell themselves into slavery and used the money to pay for the freedom of another slave. It was an act of self-sacrifice and living embodiment of “consider others more than yourselves.” It also put flesh on the message of salvation that Jesus died for you. Christians also clearly valued life, because they adopted the newborn babies abandoned outside the city to die. This was an accepted form of abortion throughout the ancient world, but Christians counter-culturally gave of themselves to serve another. Even the pagan revival emperor Julian conceded that Christians demonstrated great virtue by adopting their pagan babies. Today Christians are known for condemnation (informing people of all their sins), for bombing abortion clinics, and voting Republican. I imagine a non-Christian suggesting to a friend that they talk to a Christian about their intractable problem, because Christians are known for having elegant solutions to problems because we go ask God and hear back from him. I imagine a society where Christians are known as pillars of the community because they love their community with their actions, doing what others will not. I imagine a restructured society, where the elderly are in families, not in a nursing home by themselves. I imagine neighborhoods where Christians demonstrate community and it leads to architectural changes as people exchange their patterns of driving in isolated metal boxes between their garage and work to patterns that increase social interaction. I imagine the homeless, insane, depressed, and other hurting people seeking out a church because they know that they will find healing. I imagine the Church creating a generation of statesmen, who govern as wise servants for the good of the people, not simply as a career or to push an ideology. I imagine the Church being a place of such beauty (not just visually) that the world takes notice.
I know this God’s desire, and I know that we have God’s power, so what does it take for this to become reality? This is hunger.