7 Ways to Cultivate Spiritual Hunger
In Matthew 5:6 Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” It is noteworthy that Jesus said those who hunger and thirst will be blessed. We do not always think of hunger and thirst as a blessing, do we? I teach a class at school where I have my students try to solve world problems, and a popular topic is the problem of world hunger. In a lot of people’s minds, hunger is a bad thing. If that is how you have thought of hunger, then according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:6, you need to start thinking about hunger differently.
Is hunger really a problem? I get hungry every day and it is not a problem for me because I have a remedy for it—I eat! God designed the human body with a built-in hunger mechanism so we will feed our bodies regularly, and it is a great system. As long as we have food available, hunger really is not a problem. It helps us remember when our bodies need sustenance.
If an individual does not have an appetite, he or she will not get the basic nutrition necessary to sustain life.
Have you ever seen a teenager eat? Some teenagers occasionally stay at my house; one is our dog sitter who comes when we travel. My wife always thinks she has bought enough food for that young man while we are gone, but by the time we get home, all the food she purchased is gone and other things in the refrigerator are gone too! Teenagers are growing and their bodies need extra nutrition.
Conversely, I have had some elderly friends, whom I could tell were getting close to the end of their lives because they lost their appetites. If you have ever been a caregiver, you know that a lack of appetite is a real concern. If an individual does not have an appetite, he or she will not get the basic nutrition necessary to sustain life.
Spiritually, to hunger and thirst for righteousness will cause us to seek the Lord and to be filled, and that is what our souls need for survival. That is why Jesus could say, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst...”
Spiritually, to hunger and thirst for righteousness will cause us to seek the Lord and to be filled, and that is what our souls need for survival. That is why Jesus could say, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst...” The Apostle Peter instructed, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). If we want to grow spiritually, we need to develop a desire for nourishment just like that of a newborn baby. Newborns instinctively and immediately start looking for their mothers’ milk. Peter is telling us that Christians should be like that—after receiving salvation, we ought to immediately start seeking after God so we can grow spiritually.
Jesus used hunger as a metaphor for the longing of the soul, and we can learn from that comparison of physical and spiritual hunger. Since we now understand that hunger is a good thing, let us consider seven ways to cultivate spiritual hunger.
#1 - Think about food
What is a food that you really love? Choose something and take a moment to contemplate why you enjoy it so much. Just thinking about that food can make you hungry for it! It is the same way with God—we need to focus our thoughts on God! We should think about the experiences we have had with Him in the past and consider why those memories are so precious to us. Hearing testimonies during church services helps us to do that; we want the experiences and encounters with God that we hear about.
Reading God’s Word is another way to focus our thoughts on Him. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, He stated, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Understanding the importance of Scripture will make us hungry!
When we talk about God, read His Word, and think about who God is and what He can do for us, something happens. We begin to crave closeness with God and His blessings.
#2 - Put food before you
Have you experienced a time when smelling or seeing food made you hungry? Maybe you were not even thinking about eating, but you walked into the kitchen and someone was fixing a nice meal. When you looked at that delicious food, all of a sudden, you were ready to eat! That can happen spiritually when we go to church. We come in and see the bounty of the Gospel spread before us, and that makes us hungry and thirsty for God in our lives.
The teenager who dog sits for us happens to love meat. One day, I took him to a Brazilian restaurant where they serve huge skewers of meat. They bring a dozen or more different kinds of meat and carve it right at your table so the meat falls onto your plate. When this teenager saw that meat landing on his plate, his appetite was written all over his face! From just the look and smell of the meat, he was ready to dig in.
We can compare that to what happens spiritually at camp meeting. Camp meeting is such a blessing because we gather with the people of God and rehearse the blessings He has poured out on us. We sing the praises of God and we hear from His Word. Spiritual food is placed before us, and not only that, we are encouraged to eat! We see people receiving from God all around us. Just by being with the people of God and kneeling together around the altars of prayer, our hearts zero in on what we really want and need, and a hunger wells up inside to receive it.
#3 - Recognize your need
Have you ever been so busy that you forgot to eat? We can get so focused on a task that we forget the basic necessity of food for sustaining our lives. Sometimes we do that in our spiritual lives, too. We can get so busy with life—busy with important things like our jobs and families—that we forget that what we truly need is communion with our Heavenly Father.
God has put all sorts of desires in our hearts, but our critical need is for God Himself. If we do not seek true happiness in the Lord, our hearts will always be hungering for something more. But when we understand and realize that our greatest need is a right relationship with God and communion with Him, then we will find real satisfaction for our souls.
#4 - Healthy vs. unhealthy hunger
We established that physical hunger is good because it causes us to seek the sustenance our bodies need. But while there is a healthy hunger for nutritious food, we can also develop unhealthy cravings for foods that are not good for us. Often we hear that one of the problems with the American diet is that we eat too many salty, processed, high-fat foods. Snacks like French fries, buttered popcorn, ice-cream, and potato chips with dip taste so good! People can have strong cravings for these foods, but does that mean they are good for us? Not really. They have minimal nutritional value and many negative effects on our health.
Applying this concept spiritually, we know that God has placed a healthy hunger inside every human being—that is our desire for God. But there are also unhealthy desires for things that would diminish our appetite for God. If we attempt to fulfill those desires, we do damage to our own souls. That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” (italics added).
With physical hunger, it is possible to have cravings for both healthy and unhealthy foods in the same day. Spiritually, we must not have a divided heart, where sometimes we desire God and other times we desire something else. We should be diligent about guarding our hearts from things that are unhealthy for the soul.
#5 - Avoid junk food
Here is a common scene: Just before dinner, a child reaches for a snack and his mom or dad says, “Stop! You will ruin your appetite.” Parents want their children to be hungry when they come to the dinner table so they will eat the good, nutritious foods that have been prepared.
God has prepared a feast for our souls, and it is a nutritious meal that will satisfy. We must protect our hunger and desire for God and His righteousness, and make sure we do not consume spiritual “junk food”— things that distract or hinder us from desiring the good food that God has provided for us.
Even objects and activities that are not sinful can be spiritual junk food; anything that keeps us from realizing how much we need God falls in that category. For example, some people turn to food when they are sad or anxious. At that point, their physical food is becoming spiritual junk food. Instead, when we are sad or anxious we should cast all our cares upon God, for He cares for us. We must be careful not to substitute objects or activities we like for the touch from God that we truly need. Our entertainment, money, security, and jobs are not bad, but we cannot let them suppress our spiritual hunger and desire for God.
Even after we are saved, sanctified, and baptized with the Holy Ghost, it is vital for us to keep receiving spiritual nourishment. We can do that by saying, “God, I don’t want any junk food for my soul.” We need to ask God to show us if anything we have been consuming needs to be put aside. This may include things that seem good but have simply become too important to us. We are not going to earn God’s favor through this kind of self-sacrifice; that is not the point. This is about avoiding anything which takes the place of what we really need.
#6 - Exercise more
Isn’t it amazing how a hard day’s work or a period of vigorous exercise increases our appetites and makes food taste so much better? Let’s consider that fact from a spiritual perspective. Are we “exercising” spiritually enough to work up an appetite? If we lack a spiritual hunger, maybe we are not expending enough spiritual energy.
One way to expend spiritual energy is to witness to others. There are many people in the world who need God; are we putting ourselves out there to reach them? Personally, while I do not mind public speaking, I get scared at the thought of speaking one-on-one with people. So witnessing takes effort on my part—that is a spiritual workout for me.
Here are a few other ideas:
- Share God’s love by taking opportunities to help meet the physical or emotional needs of others.
- Do what you can to confront the evil and injustice in the world around you.
- Invest time and talents in the work of the church.
- Pray for others.
All of these take spiritual effort, and thus represent an expenditure of energy. When we engage in such activities, we naturally develop a deeper hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness.
According to 1 Peter 2:2, when we are born again, we are spiritual babes who consume God’s Word like infants consume milk. We do not expect babies to be productive citizens. We understand that they need to grow and mature before they will be able to contribute to society.
The same is true in the spiritual realm. God expects us to grow and mature as Christians. Instead of merely “consuming” the Gospel, He expects us to start producing the fruit of the Gospel for the benefit of others. When we do that, we will realize how much we need God’s help to be effective for Him and we will hunger and thirst for more of Him.
#7 - Ask God for a hunger
If an individual was sick and did not have an appetite, you could pray and ask God to help that person develop one. You can pray for a spiritual appetite as well. If you ask God to make you hungry for righteousness, He will hear and answer that prayer.
If you are born again, have you been sanctified and baptized with the Holy Spirit? You need those foundational experiences, and you will need a hunger to seek and receive them.
The greatest need of our souls is having a right relationship with God and communion with Him. Only by seeking Him and His righteousness will we grow and thrive as Christians. And only by seeking Him will we find true satisfaction for the desires of our hearts.
Are you hungry? The good news is that a spiritual feast awaits those who are! And God invites each one of us to come and dine!