Most of us have no idea what it means to truly be hungry and thirsty. As Americans we are so privileged compared to most of the world,which lives in poverty and famine and in restrictive governments. Yet, Jesus taught about a spiritual thirsting and hungering after something, which many Christians fail to truly understand. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with the Beatitudes and in Matthew 5:6 He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
The words “hunger” and “thirst” are in the present tense in the original language, which means they are to be continuous actions. What does it mean to be continually hungry and thirsty? Augustine said these famous words, “God, You made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find rest in You.”
In other words, as humans we were created with a spiritual hunger. We were created to worship and love God. And yet because of sin, we find that we have to fulfill that longing in so many other places besides God. But true rest for our souls comes in finding rest in Jesus. C. S. Lewis also said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
This hunger and thirst for righteousness is not some passing feeling or desire. It is a deep consciousness of our great need to the point of pain. We are desperate. We are hurting for this righteousness. Psalm 42:1–2 says, “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?” In Psalm 63:1 we see the desperation and desire for God: “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.”
So this righteousness, this desire to live a holy life, this desire for godliness, to look more like Jesus, this longing to be like Christ is a chief attribute of a Christian. He or she pants after it painfully. You won’t stop until you are satisfied. It is constant, it is continuous, it is passionate, it is purposeful, it is persistent, and it is desperate. You hunger and thirst for righteousness. You long to look more and more like Jesus in holiness and right living.
The promise from Jesus is that if you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be satisfied. The word “satisfied’ in the original language was used of the fattening of animals. It means to be stuffed and to be completely satisfied.
And notice the wording of Jesus. We don’t produce this righteousness and we don’t fill ourselves. The wording is in the passive voice, which means that God is the one who provides the filling or satisfaction. He alone gives it to us in his grace. You can’t earn it nor work for it nor be good enough for it. You just have to be hungry for it and God in His grace will give it to you.
You may be asking, “How do I know I’m truly hungry and thirsty?” How do I know that I have this longing? There are a few tests or evidences that you can use to determine this. Do you have an appetite for God’s Word? Do you want to immerse yourself in it and devour it and meditate upon it? Do you find yourself thinking about and dwelling upon godly things? What does your mind focus upon? What whets the appetite of your mind? (Philippians 4:8).
Now, here’s another question you may be asking as well: “What if I don’t feel righteous? What if I fail? What if I backslide or go back into sin? Am I truly saved if I struggle with sin and don’t walk in this righteousness? Notice the wording of Jesus very carefully. He does NOT say, “Blessed are they that are full of righteousness.” Instead, He blesses us for the hunger and thirst for this righteousness.
Do you have the desire? Do you have the thirst? That is evidence that God is at work in your life. Is this the cry of your heart from Psalm 73:25–26: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”