In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus likens the kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast where fattened calves and other animals are slaughtered for the dinning pleasure of the invited guests, and in Matthew 9:15; 25:1-13, He identifies himself with the bridegroom. Do we hunger for the food that God has prepared for us in His wedding feast? Are we prepared to meet the bridegroom? Do we long to hear his voice? (Cf. John 3:29)
In Psalm 42:2-3, the Psalmist wrote: “As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” This deep desire for God should be present in all Christians, and not reserved for only a few impassioned souls; the normal state of a Christian is to be thirsty and hungry for God. The Bible tells us that God “satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Ps. 107:9). But we must meet the requirement of His Word in order to receive the promised reward: We must be thirsty and hungry.
Our lifestyles and the people we associate with might cause us to lose our focus on Jesus, and as a result, we may no longer hunger and thirst for Him as we begin to feed on our discontentment, fear, and anxiety. All of us have been guilty of not being hungry when Jesus lays a banquet of His presence before us, and it is usually because we are “sick” or have been “snacking” on something else.
Our bodies are designed to require nourishment, so it is normal for us to feel hungry when it is time to eat–unless our appetites have been suppressed by illness or satisfied by something we ate before our proper meal-time. It works the same way in the spiritual realm. We were created for fellowship with God, but if we don’t desire it, then either we are living in sin or we have allowed other things to take the place of God in our lives. The result in both cases is that our appetites become dulled, and we don’t pursue God with the same passion we normally would.
If we are living in sin but are quick to acknowledge our sins and sincerely repent, receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness can actually draw us closer to Him. But if we are lacking truth about ourselves in some areas of our lives, the habitual sins that are the result of it will take the edge off our hunger and keep us at a distance from God. The wilful refusal to acknowledge our sins and implore God’s mercy and forgiveness will also separate us from Him.
Two of the most common spiritual “sicknesses” are unbelief and unforgiveness. The Bible says that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]: no one draws near to God without first believing that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him earnestly.” (Heb. 11:6). Most of us believe that God exists, but if we don’t really believe that He will reward us for seeking Him with all our hearts, we are likely to be half-hearted in the chase.
Unforgiveness not only dampens our hunger but also puts us in a very precarious position with God. Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15). It is unlikely that we will even try to draw close to God when we know there is a debt of unforgiveness hanging over our heads.
If we suspect that some form of spiritual “sickness” is taking the edge off our hunger for God, we should not feel condemned! Instead we should cry out with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me…and see if there is any wicked way in me” (Ps. 139:23), and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the sin and revive our desire for God.
However, there are some who are too “sick” to approach God for help. They have lost their faith and have left the church due to chronic spiritual “sickness” that was left untreated. I am not sure how their spiritual health deteriorated to such a stage without receiving any help, but I think it is the responsibility of the Church they last attended to reach out to them and help them identify and unravel the root cause(s) of their spiritual “sickness”. It is easy to give them high doses of spiritual “pain-killers” to dull their consciences, constantly assuring them that God is all merciful and will accept them as they are, but that is equivalent to spiritual “euthanasia”. In Genesis 4:9, God asked Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” Will we echo Cain’s reply? As responsible brothers and sisters in Christ, we must try our best to help the spiritually “sick” identify the root cause(s) of their “sickness” so that they can be rehabilitated, and not help them die a painless spiritual death.
What if we are not spiritually “sick”, but have been “snacking” on something else? Allowing other things or people to come before God in our lives (i.e. idol worshipping) will have the same effect as living in sin. (Cf. Exod. 20:2-6) It is the nature of man to want to satisfy himself, to seek to assuage the insatiable hunger he was born with–but often we try to satisfy this hunger with the wrong things. We don’t understand that the emptiness in our souls can only be filled by God. St. Augustine puts it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and the heart of man is restless until it finds its rest in You.”
Many of us make the mistake of filling our stomachs with junk food–pornography, drugs, alcohol, just to name a few. But even seemingly healthy activities, such as travelling, shopping, and socialising in excess can diminish our hunger for God if our lives are not centred on Him. We are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). However, often we fail to do this because we set our eyes on something else, something that seems more pressing–or more appealing–than the heavenly banquet set before us. But the ideal is for our hearts to burn with unquenchable desire for God in all circumstances.
If perpetual hunger for God is our goal, how do we achieve it? How do we remain continually hungry for Him? I believe there are two things we must do.
First, we must realize that only God can satisfy us. No matter what else we try to substitute Him for, it will only bring passing pleasure. This is why the Bible says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world…For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17). And what is the will of God? That we “‘love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind'” (Matt. 22:37).
Second, if we want to remain hungry, we must learn to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” as Psalm 34:9 encourages us to do. But what does it mean to “taste” in the spiritual sense?
In the physical sense, tasting food means that we put it in our mouths to experience the nature of it–the flavour, texture and composition. In the spiritual sense, “tasting” means something similar: to experience the nature of God. And just as with a delicious meal, every “taste” of the Holy Spirit makes us want more.
Experiencing God does not necessarily mean quaking and shaking, rolling on the floor or speaking in tongues–though these can be outward manifestations of an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Rather it is about being aware of His presence in our lives in whatever way He chooses to make Himself known. This could be through the whisper of His still, small voice; through visions, dreams or visitations; through the weight of glory we sometimes feel or the fragrance we smell of His perfume; through His healing touch; through being slain in the Spirit; through coming face to face with Him in worship. Whatever the experience is, we know we have tasted Him, and the encounter becomes a catalyst for even more passionate pursuit.
Our “honeymoon” with God never has to end. As we get to know Him better, we see more of His goodness, more of His infinite beauty and perfection and holiness, and we desire to know and love Him even more. The ongoing revelation of God’s nature increases our hunger for Him, and we begin to understand why the psalmist declared, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).
Can we identify with the psalmist’s sentiments? Do we desire nothing on Earth besides God, and will not be satisfied with just a taste of Him?
We must endeavour to know God, to experience Him. It is not enough to have just one touch or visitation by Him. That would be like surviving the rest of our lives on only one meal! We need to develop a lifestyle of continually “tasting and seeing the goodness of God.”
Let the hymn “Lamb of God-Taste and See” by Tom Kendzia fill us with the unceasing desire to taste and see the goodness of the Lord: