Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, Live out Christ
Looking back to 2022, our church was still under the pandemic at the beginning. Brothers and sisters in our church felt alienated from each other, and children felt depressed at home. Thank God that through everyone’s practice of “Love God, Love Family, Love Church,” we have seen our church regain the warmth of a big spiritual family. There were more than 400 people gathered on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus. At the year-end youth winter retreat, more than 50 teenagers got closer to God together. Our church’s finances turned from a deficit to a surplus. We must give thanks to our God for this growth.
What lessons does God want us to learn together this year? What the people in the world care about is the kingdom on Earth. What they care about are inflation and economic recession, China’s full opening under the pandemic, China-U.S. competition, the continuation of the war between Russia and Ukraine, etc.
However, what we care about are the things of the kingdom of heaven. What we worry about are the exacerbation of global secularization, materialistic desires, love of money, indulgence of lust, confusion of gender, group antagonism, escalation of violence, willfulness, arrogance, love of pleasure, and not loving God. We feel that this is an era that desperately needs the truth of the gospel, needs to see a group of people earnestly living out the life of Christ, and needs a church that experiences real changes in words and deeds, a church that can be placed in God’s hands and become God’s tool to change the world. This is our burden this year.
The primary problem we are very concerned about is that everyone in the world is suffering from the disease of “spiritual dryness.” The disease is extremely serious, but people don’t know it yet! Perhaps you may ask what the disease of “spiritual dryness” is, what the symptoms are, how to treat it correctly, and what will happen if people are cured.
What is spiritual dryness? The reason for “spiritual dryness” is that when God created man, He gave man not only a physical body, but also a soul in the body. Human beings have souls, so we cannot rely only on material things to meet human needs. Material things can satisfy the body but cannot satisfy the mind. Therefore, there are some people who feel like they have nothing when they have everything. King Solomon, who possessed the greatest wisdom, power, and wealth in the world, said in his old age, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3) He told us that if we leave God and pursue the meaning and satisfaction of life only by ourselves, the result will be vanity.
Many people think that the purpose of life is to seek happiness and satisfaction. But it turns out to be nothing. The last chapter of Ecclesiastes is the author’s conclusion and advice after looking back at his life and understanding it: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) People must return to the true God and trust in Jesus in order to gain peace and satisfaction in their hearts. The French philosopher Pascal once said: “In everyone’s heart, there is a space made by God. This space will always be empty unless the Creator God fills it up through Jesus Christ.” This is the cause of “spirituality dryness” disease.
What are the symptoms of “spiritual dryness”? First, when encountering difficulties, people tend to avoid, complain, be anxious, blame others, fail to control anger, and even be violent. Or people may avoid problems, hide in holes, and be depressed. The most obvious symptoms are the loss of love for others, unwillingness to forgive others, and lack of peace in the heart! Second, people prefer to find all kinds of idols, both visible and invisible, to fill up the emptiness in the heart. However, that will create more emptiness, fear, and helplessness. Therefore, a simple self-examination to test if your spiritual dryness is positive is: (1) Have you lost love and patience for others? (2) Have you neglected your spiritual practice life? (3) Have you started to be absent from Sunday worship? (4) Have you ever compromised with sin and started telling lies?
How to cure the disease of “spiritual dryness”? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) “Hunger and thirst” are human instinctive needs. A person’s reaction to starvation is uncomfortable. In the same way, when the soul is hungry, it will be extremely eager for soul food to satisfy its needs; otherwise, there will be problems!
What is food for the soul? Food for the soul is obviously not physical food, but spiritual food. The Bible says that God is a spirit and only God Himself can provide food for the soul. The sweetest food for the soul is the presence of God and His precious words. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2) When I go home from church at night in winter, I have to be very careful and drive very slowly when passing Buice Road, because there are often deer coming out and crossing the road to drink water from a cistern on the opposite side. That is because a deer needs to drink a lot of water every day; otherwise it will feel as terrible as if it is “dead.” Similarly, we are created with souls, so we need to get close to God, and we need to spend a lot of time getting close to God and enjoying God, so that our souls can feel satisfied.
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you; as in a dry and weary land where there is no water…. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” (Psalm 63:1-6). Let our last thought at night and first thought in the morning both be longing for the presence of the Lord! Say good night and good morning to the Lord. And let the thought of being with the Lord fill our hearts throughout the night.
Mrs. Hong Peng once said that every night when she had chest pains and could not fall asleep while lying on the sofa, she passed the long night by meditating on the presence of the Lord. Our souls not only need God’s presence, but also need God’s words to feed. The LORD said, “People are not hungry for food, nor thirsty for water, but for not hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11). The Old Testament points out that the way to satisfy our souls is to thirst for God, for God’s presence, and for God’s words to feed our souls, like a deer thirsts for streams.
The Lord Jesus pointed out more clearly what food for the soul is. He said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) The Lord Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) The Lord Jesus calls us to come before Him with spiritual hunger and thirst so we can eat and drink the Lord and be satisfied!
The result of being full in spirit is that there will be love in the heart, patience, sensitivity to the truth, desire to get close to God, living water flowing from the Holy Spirit, faith in God, and peace in troubles! “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
A person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness is a person who draws close to God with a hungry heart and meditates on God’s word, so that he is filled with God’s love, God’s word, and God’s Spirit. This person’s hunger for God is a daily, lifelong hunger. And he will experience the joy and blessing of being constantly satisfied in this life as well as being completely satisfied in eternal life.
How should we eat the bread of life and drink the living water of the Lord? First, we can do spiritual practice, read the Bible, meditate, and pray. And we can have: (1) fixed time: do spiritual practice in the morning before going to work or after dropping off the children, and at night after the children go to bed; (2) fixed location: a personal quiet corner; (3) fixed quantity: fixed progress, half an hour, and about ten verses.
I encourage brothers and sisters to set up a new year’s spiritual plan: fixed time, fixed location, and fixed quantity. You can follow our church’s plan to read the Bible in two years, or you can find a few people to form a spiritual group and encourage each other. May the Lord make you desire to be close to God, as described in Psalm 42:1: “as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
The key point of the phrase “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is the two words “hunger” and “thirst,” which point out that only God can satisfy spiritual hunger and thirst. The addition of “for righteousness” is to remind us to find the right direction and the right object for our spiritual hunger and thirst. “Righteousness” means right things, right actions, and meeting the requirements of God’s law. The essence of righteousness is God. Only God is perfect and righteous. Therefore, “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is the desire for God’s will and the truth, that is, the desire for God.
To put it simply, the theme of this year, “Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness,” is to encourage us to thirst for the truth and for God. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness, thirsting for the truth, and thirsting for God are actually not things that can be accomplished in one year. 2023 is just a starting point. The pursuit of truth and God is actually our lifelong pursuit! Because it is impossible for us to reach the standard of God’s “righteousness” in our whole lives, it is impossible for us to become perfect righteous people in our whole lives, and it is impossible for us to fully grasp all the truths. However, we should always put the truth first as the goal, and then earnestly pursue the truth with a hungry heart. Our whole life is to pursue the truth. We can never fully possess the truth. However, we can be possessed by the truth because the Lord Jesus is the truth.
Our lives are very short. Thirty years spent on work and family pass quite suddenly. We may have a wealth of professional knowledge, but only a superficial understanding of God’s truths. However, the richness of God’s truths is like an ocean, and it is worth devoting the second half of your life to pursuing them. In fact, even if you spend your whole life pursuing the truths contained in the Bible, you will not be able to explore them all. For pursuing the truth, we should live to learn and become people who hunger and thirst for righteousness! On the first day of this new year, plan the second half of your life well and get to know God, the truth, and the Bible well. If you have such ambition, then congratulations, ACCCN has planned the best learning environment for you, which is the adult Sunday school in ACCCN. The plan of ACCCN adult Sunday school is to provide you with (required courses) four years of Bible college, (two years of in-depth courses) spirituality, marriage, parenting, money, workplace, missions, study of New and Old Testament books, theological lectures, etc.
Therefore, I encourage brothers and sisters to set the first goal in 2023 as thirsting for the truth and for God: (1) establish a regular spiritual life with fixed time, fixed location, and fixed quantity; (2) complete the six-year adult Sunday school required course; (3) study and serve at the same time (parents with children under 18 are encouraged to study three quarters and serve one quarter).
However, the goal for 2023 is not only to long for God and the truth, but also to live out Christ. Living out Christ takes time. How many years does it take to live out the life of Christ when it only takes six years to complete our church’s Sunday school training? How many years does it take to live out the humility, truth, love, and servant service of the Lord Jesus? Bonds said in “The Power of Prayer,” “It takes twenty years to develop a worker.” Moses in the Bible spent forty years in the wilderness to learn to be a teacher, a father, and a shepherd. Before the Lord Jesus came out to preach, He prepared for thirty years!
The requirement of faith is to be consistent between inside and outside, to be consistent between words and deeds, to be consistent between what you say and what you do. Therefore, it is easy to learn knowledge, but it takes a long time to train and practice to live out Christ. In other words, you must do what you say, and after learning the true way, you must live it out; otherwise you will become a Pharisee. As Ephesians 4:20-24 says, “That is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” This process of allowing God to create the character of Christ in you will take a lifetime.
The insight that Jesus showed among the teachers in Jerusalem when he was twelve years old is unforgettable. For the next eighteen years, he meditated on the Bible, practiced prayer, fasted, and lived simply. Therefore, after he was baptized by John the Baptist at the age of thirty, when he knew that he would encounter a great temptation, he went to the wilderness to be alone and fast for forty days according to the habit he had practiced. Even when Jesus began his ministry, he was often alone and spent all night in prayer. Through such spiritual exercises, Jesus was able to live out the life of truth, love, humility, and servanthood despite all kinds of slander, jealousy, of the constant work of serving, fatigue, and ineffectiveness.
We can reflect on ourselves. Have you lived a life of truth, love, humility, and serving in your busy daily life? Do others see the Lord Jesus in you? Let us encourage each other to hunger and thirst for righteousness and live out Christ in 2023.
Author: Pastor Allen Chi