by Kris MacQueen
What is hunger? It may seem like a ridiculous question at first glance, I know. The easy answer is that it’s that uncomfortable feeling in our bellies when we haven’t eaten anything for more than a couple of hours. But the essence of hunger is far more complex than the physical manifestation that we associate it with. I have become convinced that hunger is a part of the central core of our being, influencing our choices and directions in subtle, yet powerful ways. Hunger tests the deepest motives of the heart, and our response to it can be the difference between a life of fear, as we flee from it, or a life of desire as we embrace it. It has become the question that has captured my heart lately and brought new sense of life to my journey with God. Am I hungry?
This journey began on a Sunday morning a couple of months ago as one of our pastors at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard, Brian Creary, was sharing. He was speaking out of Revelation 3:14-22, where Jesus brings His Word to the Church in Laodicea. I had read this passage a number of times in the past, but never had it impacted me so directly as when we read through it that morning. It was as if I had never truly seen it before.
‘To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
What first struck me that day was how it seemed that Jesus was speaking directly into the life and struggles of the modern day Western Church. The parallels between the Church of Laodicea and the Church of North America are staggering. Jesus, echoing what he said in Matthew 6:21 about the heart following after it’s treasure, charged the Laodicean Church with being blinded by their wealth. They were fooled into thinking they were well fed because their bodies were fat, and well clothed because the linens on their backs were costly (my paraphrase). In reality, however, they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”. While I would be hard pressed to say that the Church of North America has succumbed utterly to these mentalities, I think that we can safely say that we are surrounded by a culture that has. I believe that much of Western Christian subculture isn’t too far off. I don’t have exact figures or statistics, but my powers of observation tell me that our spending habits, debt loads, and the way we allot our time between work and family, all seem pretty much on par with the rest of white upper-middle class culture . As an experiment, take stock of the average church parking lot on Sunday morning, then go to the mall and see if there is much similarity in terms of make and year of the cars parked there. Our lifestyles and our consumer habits reflect our values in ways that far surpass the things we give lip service too. By taking a close look at where our money and time is going, and using the world’s standard as a measuring stick, I think that it’ll become clear that many of us are as caught up in the rat race as the rest of our society. It’s not my intent to bring judgment on the heads of all of us who own nice cars. However, I will say that if the Church does indeed mirror the rest of society in the consumption of “stuff”, we ought to pay close attention to what Jesus has to say to this Church that existed almost two millennia ago. He might be speaking to us as well.
The common thread woven throughout this passage in Revelation is one of sustenance, one of hunger. First, God speaks of His own sustenance. He says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm…. I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Reading that in the past, I always thought that God was charging the Church with being a bunch of fence sitters. I read, “hot” as meaning “on fire for Jesus” and “cold” as meaning “of the world”, while “lukewarm” meant “nominal Christian”. So it seemed to me that God was saying, “I wish you were either for me or against me. If you have a hard time picking, you’re out.” It seemed inconsistent with who I believed God to be, but I figured that there was a side to Him I was unfamiliar with, (something I still hold to). With the help of Brian’s talk that Sunday morning, an alternative occurred to me that has forever altered the way I read this scripture. Rather than drawing a line in the sand, Jesus is really saying that the degree to which we understand our need for Him is directly tied to how we taste on God’s proverbial tongue. God longs for our relationship with Him to be like water to the thirsty. He is speaking to us in earthy terms. When He is cold, He longs for His Church to be a piping-hot tea to help bring feeling back into His toes. And when it’s hot out and the great air-conditioner in the sky is broken, there is nothing He would rather consume than an ice-cold glass of water. Understanding this, the charge He brings against the Church of Laodicea is all the more sobering, heartbreaking even. For Him to say “…you are lukewarm…I am about to spit you out of my mouth”, He is saying that their offering to Him is of no comfort or satisfaction. They are neither hot nor cold. Jesus remains parched for them.
When God describes the Laodiceans as lukewarm, what is He specifically referring too? Lukewarm could be defined here as being fat on junk food and having no hunger left for God. He states, “You say ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” I believe that he is essentially saying “YOU ARE NOT HUNGRY, YET YOU ARE STARVING!” How can that be? It doesn’t make sense does it? I think to my own experiences with hunger. How many times have I felt a twinge of hunger and, for whatever reason, probably convenience, bought a bag of chips? The sensation of hunger is alleviated, yet my body has not been nourished. Were I to try to quench my hunger with potato chips exclusively, I would get fat and eventually die of malnutrition. In the same way, God is identifying a form of malnutrition that leads to spiritual blindness, and apparently it is a symptom of overly affluent societies.
We live in a society that hasn’t any true notion of hunger or famine. We can’t even recognize the difference between hunger and craving, which is why we are the fattest society in the history of the world. We are terrified of hunger, it seems, so we give into every craving. The problem with cravings is that they feed us before we ever feel the need for the real thing. The U2 song “Even Better than the Real Thing” instantly pops into my head as a mock-anthem to this “comfort-addiction” that scars our culture. Six weeks ago I took up a challenge in our community to fast one day a week, indefinitely. Since then, my eyes have been opening to something that I never could have known on a full stomach: I have never, ever been hungry. I’ve felt hunger pangs, but I have always had the means to quell them, usually within a few minutes of their onset. In taking up a weekly fast consisting of two meals on Mondays, I am discovering the lost sense of hunger. As it begins to rip through my body, my spirit finally finds a concrete language with which to communicate and it comes alive and shouts “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD FEED ME! THE HUNGER OF YOUR FLESH PALES IN COMPARISON WITH YOUR HUNGER FOR THE SPIRIT OF GOD!!” For years I have fed my spirit with television, movies, games, junk food, and music. I’ve stuffed it full, whenever I felt needy, or inadequate. Even church, in it’s struggle to compete with this world for my attention, has fed these social addictions. My culture has equipped me with the tools to keep any true sense of hunger at bay. I have, on occasion, responded to the advances of God. But even then, I was so fat on this comfort food that my spirit couldn’t recognize just how much I needed Him. I’ve known intellectually, of course, but my spirit has been blind to its true need of the Giver of Life. Knowledge without heart is useless.
Listening to what Jesus spoke to the Laodiceans, we can start to see that God is delighted by our hunger, as it leads us to know just how much we need Him. Not as a sustainer of the American dream, as we often ask Him to be, but as the giver of faith, hope and love. It is ministry to God when we come to Him as the source of all life. I believe His extreme response to Laodicea has not so much to do with His being offended, but rather it reflects the intense concern that He has for the Church that is blinded by a love of fool’s gold. I amazed by that, yet it speaks of His great love for us.
The remedy that He offered to the Church of Laodicea, I believe He also offers to us, though there is a cost involved. He says to come to Him and buy tested gold. He calls us to buy clothes from Him, and also salve for our eyes so we can see. What He does not say it what we are to buy with. I suggest that there is a barter of sorts taking place in this passage, the bartering of the false for the real. We must purge our lives of that which feeds our cravings, or we will never know hunger; and hungering for God is necessary to knowing Him. The challenge here is this. We must ask God to make us hungry. As we identify our cravings and starve them, allowing true hunger to be revealed, we can begin to revel in our need of God. We know that He will satisfy us every time. In times of worship, when God seems distant, even then (especially then) we can revel in our need of His Presence. If He is distant, it is purposefully in pursuit of us. As we truly long for Him, His arrival will be all the sweeter.
Anticipation is an essential part of hunger. It causes us to focus on the means by which our hunger will be satisfied. It causes us to wait on God. The final part of this passage talks about what happens when we open the door to Him. He says that He stands at the door knocking, and that whoever hears His knock, and opens the door, He will come and dine with them; He feeds us and we feed Him. Oh the satisfaction we have to look forward too! Hunger is the sharpener of our senses; it causes us to be focused singularly on Him who nourishes us. A hungry man waiting for nourishment is far more attentive to who is knocking at his doorstep than a man in the throes of excess. Hunger always, for God is good.
Kris is on the worship leadership team at WCV.