The Happiness of a Hungry Heart

Matthew 5:6

February 1, 2004 | Brian Bill

As Jesus continues to communicate the blessings that come from beatitude living, let’s summarize what we’ve learned so far

  • Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The Almighty applauds us when we see our condition as spiritually and morally bankrupt before Him.
  • Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  We’re blessed when we’re broken, when we exhibit contrition.
  • Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Last week we established the necessity of our compliance as we yield our power to the One who alone is meek and lowly of heart.

In the fourth beatitude, Jesus uses a metaphor that we can all relate to because the desire for food and water are the strongest cravings that we have.  Look at Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.”

Did you know that Super Bowl Sunday is the second-largest food consumption day of the year?  Here’s a breakdown of what we’ll consume today (from

  • 4 million pounds of popcorn
  • 9 million pounds of tortilla chips
  • 12 million pounds of potato chips
  • 13 million pounds of guacamole dip
  • And sales of antacid will increase 20%!

All that junk food will make us thirsty as well.  That reminds me of the man who is crawling through the Sahara desert when another man riding on a camel approaches him: “Water…please…can you give me…some water?”  The man on the camel replies, “I’m sorry.  I don’t have any water with me.  But I’d be delighted to sell you a necktie.”  The man responds, “I don’t need a necktie.  I need water.”  By now the man has lost all track of time, and crawls through the desert for what seems like days.  Finally, parched with thirst, his skin peeling under the relentless sun, he happens upon a restaurant.  With his last bit of strength he staggers to the door and grabs on to the headwaiter: “Water…can I get…water?”  The waiter smiles and says, “I’m sorry, sir.  Neckties required.”  

Have you ever been so famished and so parched that all you could think about was food and water?  

There are three parts to this beatitude and we’ll look at each one separately.

  • The Requirement “hunger and thirst”
  • The Reason “for righteousness”
  • The Reward “for they will be filled”

The Requirement

The word Jesus uses for “hunger” refers to the desperate craving that a starving person has for food.  He is so famished that he becomes desperate for a dinner.  The word “thirst” means to painfully feel the need for water.  This is more than just needing a sip, it means to be parched and dehydrated to the point of pain.

To hunger and thirst means to be dissatisfied with our present situation.  In essence, in order for our lives to change so that we can experience the spiritual satisfaction that only the Savior can provide, we must first admit that we are starving and thirsting.  We all need to change.  The reminds me of the guy who pleaded with his psychiatrist for help: “Doc, you’ve got to help me!  I can’t stop believing that I’m a dog.”  The psychiatrist followed up with a question: “How long have you had this problem?”  To which the man replied, “Ever since I was a puppy.”  While that might not be our problem today, my guess is that this series has messed with each of us.  We know we’re not who we’re supposed to be, and we realize that there’s more to life than this world can offer.

Do you want to change?  If so, then it’s time to develop an appetite for the Almighty.  I’m no expert on developing a good diet because I’m sure I’ll have my fair share of chips and guacamole tonight, but let me offer three guidelines that will help us design a diet that will cause us to hunger and thirst for the right things.  After all, we are what we eat.

1. Watch what you eat. 

Some of us have been consuming things that will not satisfy because they were never designed by the Creator to bring us fulfillment.  One reason you may not be hungering for holiness today is because frankly you feel pretty full.  Proverbs 27:7: “He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” Maybe its time to admit that some of us are spiritual junk food addicts.  

Have you heard about the guy who made a documentary in which he ate at a fast food restaurant three times a day for 30 days?  In his film called, “Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock, a formerly fit filmmaker, packed on 25 pounds.  When asked what happened to his body over the course of the 30 days, Spurlock responds, “My body just basically falls apart…I start to get tired; I start to get headaches…my blood sugar skyrockets, my cholesterol goes up off the charts…the doctors were like, ‘you have to stop.’”  When he was asked how he felt at the end of the month, he shouts out, “I felt terrible…I would eat and I would feel so good because I would get all that sugar and caffeine and fat…and an hour later I would just crash – I would hit the wall and be angry and depressed and upset.  I was a disaster to live with” ( 

The sooner we realize that our longings can only be filled by the Lover of our souls, the sooner we will be motivated to change

Friend, what have you been eating?  Perhaps you’re ingesting things that feel good at first, but later on they leave you disillusioned and depressed.  Or, maybe you feel pretty full today, but it may be because you’re just feeding your appetite with things that will never satisfy.  The sooner we realize that our longings can only be filled by the Lover of our souls, the sooner we will be motivated to change.  

Listen to these words from Isaiah 55:2-3 as God wonders why we fill our lives with things that were never designed to be fulfilling: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”  And in Jeremiah 2:12-13, the Holy One is not pleased when He observes people looking to other sources for refreshment: “Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,’ declares the LORD.  ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’”

Are you munching on material things in the hopes that they will fill you up?  Are you snacking on a sexual sin thinking that this will satisfy?  Are you consuming your career as if that will meet your needs?  Do you salivate over sports more than you should? (That’s easy for me to say since the Packers aren’t in the Super Bowl).  Are you drinking to dull the despair you are feeling?  If so, it’s time to eat what is good so that your soul may live.  Gorge yourself on God and turn away from food and drink that will never satisfy.  John Piper writes: “The hunger and thirst of your life that cannot be satisfied by anything in this world is the constant beckoning of God to remember that we were made for another world, we were made for God” (

If we want to grow spiritually, we must crave the milk and the meat of God’s Word, like a famished man seeks food and water.  1 Peter 2:2-3: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 

2. Weigh what you eat. 

I’m told that one of the best ways to improve one’s diet is to weigh your portions before eating.  I don’t know much about this because I’m on a “see-food” diet, where I eat whatever I see!  Not only must we watch what we eat, we must also make sure that we’re eating the right amount of what is best for us.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t “super-size” our spiritual meals.  Our problem may be that we don’t take enough food in as we just nibble and snack on spiritual appetizers.  Franky Schaeffer identified this in his book called, “Addicted to Mediocrity.”  Too often we’re willing to settle for far too less.  Some of us might be apathetic toward God because we’re spiritually anemic.  

Do you feel spiritually hungry today?  If so, allow these desires to drive you to God.  Proverbs 16:26: “The laborer’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on.”  In God’s diet plan for us, He wants us to take the whole portion, not just the part.  In fact, that’s the sense in the Greek as we’re to hunger for the whole and thirst for a bucket of water.

Interestingly, if we continue to starve ourselves spiritually by refusing the food that God lays out for us, He may send a famine our way.  This happened to God’s people in Amos 8:11-12: “The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD,  ‘when I will send a famine through the land- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.  Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.  In that day the lovely young women and strong young men will faint because of thirst.’”  Some have suggested that this is what happened during the 400-year period of time between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.  As far as we know, God was silent until He spoke to Zechariah, and then to Mary and Joseph.  One author writes that God invoked a famine in order to provoke a hunger.  He used the withholding of His words to prepare for the revealing of His Word (from “Jesus, the One and Only”).  Do you feel like God is far away right now?  Maybe He is allowing this time of barrenness so that you will hunger and ache for Him like you once did.

3. Welcome what you eat.  

The third element of the divine diet plan is the best of all – eat and drink when you’re hungry, and enjoy it.  In the Greek grammar this is in the present tense, meaning that we should continuously hunger and thirst.  This is not something we just do once and then we’re satisfied.  Ruth Barton relays her experience of growing up in a Christian home: “I was taught that once Jesus comes into your heart, He will satisfy everything—once and for all.  This has not been my experience.  So I am grateful for this beatitude…to seekers, people like me who are baffled by the ongoing presence of hunger and thirst in their spiritual pilgrimage” (“Discipleship Journal,” Issue 138, page 57).

We must continually crave God, every day, at all times during the day.  Listen to the desperate sense of longing in these verses:

Psalm 42:1-2: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?”

Psalm 63:1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.”

Psalm 84:2: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Psalm 143:6: “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”

Just as we need to eat several times a day in order to stay physically healthy, so too, we need to consume spiritual food on a regular basis if we are to grow spiritually.  God never promises to give us all the food we need for the entire year so we can fill our fridges and then forget about Him.  Matthew 6:11 tells us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  The Israelites received manna every morning so that they would learn that God meets needs on a daily basis.  And, when God provided the manna, He was actually using this as an object lesson that represented a much deeper truth.  Deuteronomy 8:3: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

no matter how much you feed on God today, you’re going to need more of Him tomorrow

Have you ever had a big meal and felt like you never needed to eat again?  This happened to me recently when our family went to the Olive Garden.  We arrived about 2:00 in the afternoon and placed our orders.  I got the all-you-can-eat salad, bread sticks, and soup.  I had three big plates of salad, three large bowls of soup, and several bread sticks.  When we were done eating at about 3:00 p.m., I told my family that I wasn’t going to eat dinner because I was so full.  When we got home about 6:00, I immediately went to the cupboard to find some chips.  Here’s the principle: no matter how much you feed on God today, you’re going to need more of Him tomorrow.

Hebrews 5:12-14 reminds us that we need to eat solid food continuously, not just once in awhile, if we’re going to grow up in our faith: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” 

The Reason

Our appetites should ache and our thirst should be all consuming for righteousness.  One commentator put it this way: “Righteousness…must be the object of intense desire, earnest yearning and relentless pursuit” (Hendriksen, “Gospel of Matthew,” page 273).  Now, let’s admit that this term “righteousness” is a bit of a mystery to us.  We know it has something to do with being right before God and before others, but it’s still difficult to understand.  Whenever we come across something in Scripture that’s confusing, it’s always helpful to look at other passages that use the same word.  Ray Pritchard points out that there are four other uses of this word in the Sermon on Mount (adapted from the sermon, “Full Stomachs and Empty Hearts,” 1/28/96).

  • Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…” This is the eighth beatitude, and taken together with the fourth, we get something like this: righteousness is a lifestyle that distinguishes us as true Christians and invites opposition from the world.
  • Matthew 5:20: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The religious leaders of the day concocted a religious system built on intricate rules and regulations.  True righteousness starts in the heart and changes a person from the inside out.
  • Matthew 6:1: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  The Pharisees loved to be noticed by others, either by praying out loud or rattling their coins in the offering plate.  True disciples seek a righteousness that doesn’t need to be seen by others, but only by God.
  • Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Seeking God’s righteousness should come before anything else.

Now, let’s put these four passages together.  We are to hunger and thirst after…

A truly Christian lifestyle

That changes us from the inside out

So that we no longer seek the praise of others

But seek God’s approval above everything else.

More specifically, to hunger and thirst after righteousness is to do whatever it takes to be in a right relationship with Jesus.  1 Corinthians 1:30 refers to Jesus Christ as our righteousness.  Theologians make the distinction between imputed righteousness and imparted righteousness.  

  • Imputed Righteousness.  This is what is given to the unbeliever when they are converted.  The focus here is on being hungry and thirsty for salvation.  When you put your faith in what Christ did for you on the Cross, His righteousness is credited to your account.  This imputation of righteousness is always by faith, not by our deeds or actions.  We see this way back in Genesis 15:6 where we read that Abraham “…believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The Apostle Paul builds on this truth in Romans 4:22 and Galatians 3:6 to show that we are saved by faith, not by deeds.  This is amazing to me.  When we receive Jesus into our lives, His righteousness is reckoned to us!  Romans 10:10 in the New American Standard says this: “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”  Has your hunger for something beyond yourself led you yet to the only One who can satisfy your cravings?  Are you ready right now to receive the righteousness of Christ?  2 Corinthians 5:21 says that because Jesus died as our substitute, He will take our sin and in exchange, will give us His righteousness: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
  • Imparted Righteousness.  This is what believers are to live out in their lives.  If imputed righteousness comes as a result of salvation, the focus of imparted righteousness is hungering and thirsting for sanctification.  We could say it this way: Because I am righteous in position, I must now live righteously in practice.  We must not just “be right” with God, we must “do right” in our lives.  In fact, when we’re right with God, we will hunger to live rightly.  Hendriksen writes, “Though it is impossible for good works to justify anybody, it is just as impossible for a justified person to live without doing good works.”  Romans 6:18: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  Fellow believer, do you have an insatiable hunger and a relentless thirst to do what is right?  Do you have a genuine continual craving in your soul for that which honors holiness?  Do you have a passionate concern for God’s purposes to prevail?   On a scale of 1 to 10, how hungry and thirsty for righteousness are you?  In contrast to the self-righteousness of the religious leaders, Jesus wants us to live rightly, not as our duty, but as an outflow of a deep desire and an inconsolable longing.  I love the old Scottish prayer: “O God, make just as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.”

The Reward

Our requirement is to “hunger and thirst.”  The reason we do this is for the sake of “righteousness.”  The last part of this verse contains the reward: “for they will be filled.”  The word “filled” was originally used to describe the feeding of animals until they were so full they could eat no more.  It has the idea of being completely satiated.   Here are a few verses that describe the satisfaction that comes when we seek God with all our hearts.

Psalm 23:1: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” 

Psalm 34:10: “The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” 

Psalm 107:9: “For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” 

Jeremiah 31:14, 25: “I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty…I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” 

Here’s the key.  Until we come to the place where we are single-minded in our pursuit of God, we will never be satisfied.  We need to be so famished and so parched that we will become relentlessly passionate about seeking the Savior.  When the Prodigal Son was hungry he turned to the food the pigs were eating; when he was starving he turned to his father.  It’s only when we come to the end of ourselves that will allow God to have His way.

If you want righteousness, you can have it.  And for the most part, you are where you are right now because that’s where you want to be.  Rick Warren puts it this way in the Purpose Driven Life, “The truth is—you are as close to God as you choose to be.  Intimate friendship with God is a choice, not an accident   You must intentionally seek it.  Do you really want it—more than anything?  What is it worth to you?  Is it worth giving up other things?” (Page 98).  I like how the Message paraphrase renders Jeremiah 29:13: “When you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”

Remember the Cost

I’m convinced that one of the reasons we are addicted to mediocrity, and not famished or parched like we should be, is because we’ve forgotten how much Jesus has done for us.  As we prepare to celebrate communion, let’s remember what Jesus went through when He died as our substitute in order to give us His righteousness.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?