Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
“WAAAAA!” When I heard this sound a half dozen times a day I undoubtedly could look down to find my 18-month-old son, Josiah, jabbing his right index finger into the palm of his left hand. In case you don’t speak Josiah-ese, that was sign language for “more”—or, more literally: “I’m hungry!”
Josiah usually knows that a simple pat on my wife’s leg or my leg or a quiet sign of “more” or “please” is likely to get better results than a wail, but now, at 20 months old, he tends to forgo the sign language altogether and simply scream. He wants his Cheerios or a bite of banana—and he will do just about anything to get immediate results. Why? At the end of the day, he has one core desire in his heart: to be filled up.
In Matthew 5:6, Jesus makes a profound promise that should give us pause:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
His words imply that a foundational cause and effect relationship exists between being filled and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Which means we should be safe in making two key inferences.
1. Not everyone will be truly filled.
Jesus says that in order to experience fullness, a hunger and thirst for righteousness must be present inside a person. Put another way, the people who experience true satisfaction in life are those who have a deep, driving desire to be right before Almighty God.
Josiah knows the handfuls of Cheerios will fill him up, and he knows my wife and I are the ones who can give him what he wants. Few things distract him from that quest. But unlike Josiah, who knows exactly what will take away his hunger and goes straight to the appropriate source, I frequently find myself living only partially filled because right standing with God is not my soul hunger in that season. Being generous with our resources or loving people extravagantly is not the same thing as “hungering for righteousness.” Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our sin can be canceled and we can stand blameless before the Father. Experiencing this freely given gift of God through regular confession and repentance—a turning away from sin and toward righteousness—will produce fullness in me.
2. The fullness Jesus offers must be better than anything else available.
Scripture testifies to this very truth:
The LORD . . . satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:5)
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. (John 4:13-14)
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)
And yet we often don’t live like we believe Jesus’ words are true. We gravitate toward the world’s pleasures, enjoying them in both healthy and unhealthy ways, seemingly unaware of the richness—the true fullness—that is offered to us in Christ.
In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis helps us wrap our minds around one of Scripture’s most profound truths related to these worldly pleasures:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
On a recent three-hour drive home from visiting family, Josiah was sleeping, which meant I had some space to reflect on a busy season of life that had coincidentally been marred by some old temptations cropping up and gaining more of my attention than I’m proud to admit. As I reflected on those desires that seemed so strong in the moment, I found myself praying two phrases over and over: “Fill me with your presence, Lord” and “Change my desires, Father.”
As I drove along I-70, I remembered something I know but have forgotten many times: the deep sustaining joy I find in God’s presence is unlike any other “pleasure” this world offers. Those things leave me empty, but God overflows my cup (Psalm 23:5). Those pleasures produce guilt, but God’s presence produces peace (Philippians 4:7). How easy it is for me to forget these promises!
Trampling Jesus’ Promise
If all of us desire to be filled and if it’s true that (1) not everyone will actually be filled and (2) Jesus offers a deeper filling than anything the world has to offer, then we must repeatedly answer a few critical questions:
What am I trying to fill myself up with in life?
How thoroughly will the things of the world fill me?
On a soul level, what am I truly hungry and thirsty for?
How I answer these questions in a given season of life or on a particular day dramatically affects not only my behavior in the moment but also those influenced by my lifestyle. Each time I believe the lie that extramarital sex or gorging myself at a buffet or an intense social calendar or pornography or being the hub of gossip will fill me up, I trample Jesus’ consistent promise to fill me up. As I grow in my hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus himself will fill me.
Andrew McCarty has completed five years on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Indiana State University. He also serves on the director team for InterVarsity Soul Surf, a spring break evangelism project to Panama City Beach, Florida. Andrew is the husband of Steph and father to Josiah and loves to read and play sports of all kinds. His labors as an Indiana 49er fan have become increasing difficult in the past few months, but his hope is still alive.
Images by Matt Kirk. Graphic by Laura Li-Barbour. Thanks to all the kids who volunteered for the images, and whose expressions helped us more deeply understand the Beatitudes.
This is the fourth in a series of posts exploring the Beatitudes, pronounced by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount and then recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Check back each week for a new post in the series, and catch up on what you missed.