In reading Abandoned Faith, a book on the millennial generation’s abandonment of the Christian faith, while doing research for my book, one of the authors recalled moving to North Carolina to plant a church. He writes that when he first arrived, he was excited because there were so many Christians around. However, like me when I moved to the same state, he soon discovered that the faith he saw was merely a veneer. It appeared real on the surface, from what many people said and from the fact that so many were faithful church attenders, but it didn’t go deeper. They believed in God, believed they were saved because they had once prayed “the sinner’s prayer,” but their lives, on the whole, were no different from the rest of the unbelieving culture.
If I could summarize what I have witnessed in my years in vocational ministry, and particularly living in the Bible Belt, it is that there is so little hunger for God. Rather, people are content with their belief they are saved and are, on the whole, good people. They go to church, perhaps pray at meals, and do some good works to help other people. They are, in their minds, “good Christians,” but their passions lie elsewhere—perhaps in their careers, their kids or grandkids, sports, or their hobbies. And this is why, as Abandoned Faith and other books conclude, much of a generation abandoned the faith in which they were raised, because there was no hunger or passion for God that led their parents to live differently from the culture at-large. Rather, their faith was a set of beliefs and practices that had little transformative effect.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5: 6) And David writes, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:2); “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.” (Psalm 63:1) “I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” (Psalm 143:6)
The Scriptures over and over make clear that we need God and that he longs for us to cry out to him. It is what he wants and longs for. (II Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 44:21-22; Jeremiah 29:10-13) Yet, they also chronicle people who claim to know God who are content with the mere show of religiosity instead of a sincere love for the Lord. (Amos 5:21-23; Matthew 13:23-28) And perhaps the most dire warning of empty religious activity is when Jesus talks about the Day of Judgment,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4) is instructive. She was surprised that a Jewish man would even speak to her and that led to a conversation about worship. The Jews believed worship needed to take place at the Temple in Jerusalem and the Samaritans believed it was to happen on Mt. Gerizim. And then Jesus said to her, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)
The Lord wants people to seek him in “spirit and truth.” In other words, not half-heartedly or hypocritically. Too often, we settle for what will not satisfy our deepest longings. In their discussion about the well water, Jesus told the woman, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-15) Too often, we settle for the water that never replenishes our spiritual thirst. The rituals and works of the religious life can never satisfy our deepest longings, but we so often seek them anyway, as did the Samaritan woman, the Pharisees, and the Apostle Paul, until he discovered the Source of spiritual satisfaction and power.
Our enemy offers us a buffet of options that he promises will fulfill us, and so many join the line to satisfy their hunger, but the hunger is far more acute than can be satisfied by worldly or religious pursuits. Ultimately, we will continue to go hungry, no matter how much we indulge ourselves. Only in pursuing the Lord will we find true life and fulfillment.
In discipling students, I often use the example of a poor child who is malnourished, but at first glance, looks healthy. Often, particularly in Third World countries, this child will eat grass to satisfy its hunger. His stomach will bulge and he will feel full, but he will remain malnourished because grass cannot satisfy his body’s nutritional needs. The same is true of going to church, being a good person, and doing good works. They may in the short term make us feel spiritually full, but the reality will be that we are spiritually malnourished, or even starving.
The truth is, if we are to have a spiritual impact on our children, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and our culture, we must hunger for God above all else. Only he can truly satisfy our deepest longings; only he can truly transform our lives.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version.