Hunger Pains

Of all my various research interests (and believe me, I have a plethora), one of the top three is Christian worship. I love liturgy, the work of the people coming together in service to God. I love the sacraments. I love the “smells and bells” of high church worship, and I love simple services ending with an altar call instead of the Eucharist. Exploring all of that and how it has changed over the course of two thousand years is one of my favorite things to do. If I were telling the truth, my passion for worship and liturgics is probably due to a single professor I had in seminary, the man who taught my first worship class (and my course in church music). His passion for liturgy was infectious, and I caught the bug. But aside from that, he repeated a single phrase over and over again, a saying which has reverberated in my brain for several years now: “The greatest gift God can give a believer is a hunger for more of Himself.”

Therein lies great wisdom, my friends.

When we come to God in worship, we should never do so out of a sense of obligation. It should be out of a desire to become closer to the One who made us. The One who saved us. The One who is at work in our hearts and in our lives so that we become willing vessels of the gospel of Jesus Christ and go into the world, baptizing and teaching and making disciples. We should hunger for God more than we hunger for food, crave spiritual nourishment more than even physical sustenance.

Moreover, it should be a constant hunger, one which never gets sated. I really don’t think anyone should ever wake up in the morning, blurredly stare at the ceiling, and decide in our hearts, “Nah. I’ve had enough God for one lifetime. Time to do my own thing.” It’s a daily commitment, this walk with Christ. Luke 9:23 puts it this way: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'” Did you catch that? This is a daily thing. Not one day goes by when we can be a committed follower of Jesus and put aside the cross of self-denial and run around helter-skelter doing as we please. (Can I still say “helter-skelter”?) I’m not saying we can never do what we want, nor am I trying to paint God as some divine dictator. But if we want a life pleasing to God, we lay aside our own desires in favor of God’s desires for us. We stop hungering for our selfish wants and hunger for God Himself.

This, I feel, has become the dominant problem in westernized societies. Atheism, etc. aside, those who do profess a belief in God and in the atoning work of His Son on the cross don’t actually live like it makes any difference to them whatsoever. American culture is self-indulgent, not self-denying. We would much rather hang a cross on the wall to show how Christian we are than to take up our own crosses every day and display our faith by our works (as James says). Instead of hungering for God, we hunger for anything else which we think will fill that God-shaped void in our life. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes,

 “What Satan put into the head of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ — could set up on their own as if they had created themselves — be their own masters — invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

And he’s quite right. By hungering for power, or sex, or status, or even happiness for the sake of happiness, we have invented unspeakable evils such as those Lewis lists. If our society continues to desire other things above God, then we will continue a steady decline into precisely these sorts of atrocities. War. Famine. Pornography. Poverty. You name it. And let’s face it: our culture doesn’t even want to want God. We’d rather want those other things, our bread and circuses, and continue a downward spiral involving conveyance in a handbasket.

Until such time as we truly hunger for God, until we take up our crosses daily, until we truly strive towards personal and communal holiness, then we will have an existence plagued by the pains of a hunger which will never be sated. Today, of all days, we must be about the Father’s business, sharing the gospel with those who need it, encouraging one another in holiness, and working for the poor, the neglected, and the oppressed.