We all hunger and thirst for something – but have we dulled that sense in our distracted age?
At my church, Hope Fellowship, we’re going through a months long study focusing on the Sermon on the Mount. Like most exegetical churches, we are spending a week looking at each of the Beatitudes. Last Sunday, we looked at 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” In my small group, we worked out why we don’t hunger and thirst after righteousness quite as we ought to.
I proposed a simple idea at first: we are passive participants in a culture that actively suggests other things to fill our hunger and thirst for something more. Our search for something greater than ourselves is universally recognized and addressed: both Christian tradition and market forces speak into those impulses and suggest ultimate goals to aim those feelings towards. Scripture speaks to our impulse to seek something beyond ourselves in Ecclesiastes when the Teacher, son of David, notes that we “have eternity in our hearts”. The Teacher suggests that we follow these impulses, obeying God in our youth to see the fullness of life (Ecclesiastes 12). Marketing teams suggest that the latest fashion trends, handy items and gadgets, or TV show will fill that void.
In this post, I want to suggest another reason that we don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness as we ought: we are actively distracting ourselves from authentically engaging our emotions and needs, choosing instead to numb ourselves by constant engagement with our distraction-provided world. Psalm 42 is a beautiful thought: my soul pants for water, for God. But usually we don’t find ourselves in this position. In this post, I want to look at three practices we don’t participate in that may hamper our ability to hunger and thirst after righteousness.
One of the biggest problems today is how easy it is to be distracted. For one thing, almost everybody carries the equivalent to a super computer in their pockets! And some of us (not this author) has another computer around our wrists. And we’re probably sitting in front of another computer now. And our TVs can access the Internet. We are also extremely busy – even if you don’t have kids, there’s plenty to do that can occupy your time from sunrise to sunset. These all threaten to dull our sense of hunger and thirst, letting us be satisfied with less and less as time goes on. I want to bring our attention to Psalm 42 now in an effort to root out some problems that distract us from hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness.
First, notice how in touch the Choirmaster is with their own feelings. They’ve been crying all night, unable to eat anything except for the tears which fall into their mouths (v3). They probe the cause of their depression (vv 5, 11), wondering what exactly is causing their dour moods. Alan Noble, in his book, Distracted Witness, shares the story of a man he knows who wakes up with existential dread every morning (Noble, 12). Rather than dealing with the dread, he puts himself to work on the days’ tasks. This helps abate the dread, rather than dealing with it in a healthy way. How many of us are so distracted that we can’t possibly deal with our emotions? Not just with phones or computers, but with work, children, etc. Getting in touch with our emotional life can be hard, and scary, but it is a massively important step toward hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
Second, the Choirmaster preaches the Gospel to themselves. They remember the good times that they have had with God in their corporate gatherings (v4). They also remind themselves that God has been good before and will be good again (vv 5, 11). I think we block ourselves from feeling our emotions because we don’t know what to do with them. The Choirmaster shows that the Lord is happy to take our emotions and satisfy them in himself. But we’ll never hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness if we don’t remind ourselves of his prior faithfulness.
Finally, the Choirmaster prays! This whole Psalm is a conversation between the Choirmaster and God, where they go back and forth between addressing their own feelings and addressing the Lord and his goodness. iOS games, soccer practices, cooking dinner, and the latest season of a great show on Netflix all threaten our prayer lives. None of these are inherently bad things to do! We need to eat, and the Lord doesn’t mind when we take some time to play some games. But we have frequently turned these distractions into idols which prohibit our connection to the Lord. Only in spending time with the Lord can we hunger and thirst for his righteousness over his own.
Righteousness ultimately comes from Christ, who became sin who knew no sin that we might become his righteousness. We don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness because we need to earn it, but have it already in Christ. What we are hungering and thirsting for is God’s righteousness to be made manifest in our life and in the world, and when we do that, we will be satisfied. But first, we have to turn away from distraction and turn toward the living God.