Those Darn Cravings

Cravings are a daily challenge in my life, like the craving for dark chocolate. I have to manage that one and a few others so I can keep losing and relosing the same five pounds  that are my old “frenemies.” After the Lord helped me quit smoking in 1987, I thought I’d never meet the likes of those overwhelming cravings again, but then along came Downton Abbey.

We usually think of cravings in connection with things that aren’t so good for us, but there are some good ones out there. I have never, ever craved the healthy green stuff that tastes like my front lawn, which I force myself to drink regularly, but in the days when I did regular aerobic workouts my body did actually crave more of how it felt when I did that.

Yearnings, cravings and longings tell a lot about us — where we’ve been, what we’ve tasted, and even what we’ve been deprived of.

When I read the words of the priest who wrote “My soul longs and yearns for the courts of the Lord,” and “My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God,” in Psalm 84:2, I wanted to know why he felt all that.

This is one reason I love to read the Psalms so very much; the expression of sincere human passion lurks in every nook and cranny!

Why did this writer hunger so for the house of God? And what is it like to have one’s heart as well as one’s flesh sing for joy? Because we all know what it’s like to sing the words from a heart that is not really joyful at all, or even bored, or even pretty disappointed at God.

Stained Glass and PewsThese are some of the many words in Scripture that blew away dry doctrine and left me unsatisfied with the status quo of religious experience in my early days of being a Christian. Words like these made me jealous, as they should, for an authentic experience of life with God so compelling and nourishing that I had to have it on a regular basis. I went looking for that experience, and I found it in the Holy Spirit. When I received Him fully into my life and began paying attention to His faithful Presence, everything changed.

How did that happen? The Spirit gave me daily tastes of the real love and wonderfulness of my heavenly Father and Jesus. They’re addictive. They’re nourishing. Their fellowship gives, and never takes away. They’re happy and they love me! God’s sheer goodness and the pleasantness of His Personality blow away the competition for my craving button.

Many things are addictive in this life, and we all have them in some degree or another. My prayer is that you all could all have the opportunity to be addicted to JOY because of your experience of the Living God.

The Fountain That Satisfies

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14 NIV).

More than any other book in the New Testament, the gospel of John drives home the fact that our relationship with God is meant to be a deeply satisfying one. Jesus repeatedly acknowledged man’s hunger and thirst, always promising they would be satisfied. Although Jesus was surely referring God’s promises, I think it even more likely that he was speaking from his experience as a human being on this earth, having to live by faith like the rest of us, knowing hunger of body and soul, and discovering the rewards of offering his hunger to the Father.

When Jesus spoke the above words to the Samaritan woman at her well, he not only promised her a drink of water, he claimed that his water would become in her a spring of water. The original Greek describes a spring-fed well that is not politely bubbling, but gushing up profusely!

Again, Christ later assured his disciples, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35 NIV).

The word “life” in these and most New Testament verses is the Greek word zoe. Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines zoe as “the absolute fullness of life” which belongs to God. It refers to a vitality that goes well beyond just existing, living and breathing. Zoe life is the life only God can give, and what he longs for us to have.

The promise that we would never remain in our thirst or hunger again is so startling that we dare not believe it, lest we be disappointed in Christ. But the greatest sin we can commit against God is to not believe him. The life we are promised through Christ is intended to satisfy our souls and heal us of all neediness, that we may live contented and at peace, no matter what our circumstances.

God does not want us to dig or construct our own fountains. In fact, he complained through Jeremiah: 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. (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV).

Jesus echoed this same complaint against the religious leaders of his day: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIV)

Surely it breaks God’s heart to offer every means of satisfying the souls of his children and have them live such mean, lonely, frustrated lives. Many Christians wear themselves out trying to give themselves life, focusing on religious formulas or programs, teachers, or ministries. These can be excellent aids to growth, but will never substitute for going to the fountain of life. Such spiritual pursuits can become the means for building one’s own cistern that will never satisfy.

How do we drink from the fountain of life? Jesus revealed this would come only through the Holy Spirit: Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39 NIV).

But for us who believe, the Spirit HAS been given, and Christianity 101 should teach us how to live by that stream of living water. David knew this very well. His life and writings reveal a human soul who knew and understood God through the Holy Spirit’s help. He suffered just about every problem a man could have: danger, betrayal, hatred, rejection, long-suffering (waiting years for God’s promises to be fulfilled). Without benefit of Bible, church programs and podcasts, he experienced such a deeply satisfying relationship with God through the Spirit that he uttered ecstatically:

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Psalm 63:2-5 NIV).

A hungry soul is a vulnerable soul. The honest man who goes hungry long enough may even become a thief to get a piece of bread. An unsatisfied soul is exposed to myriad dangers as it reaches for something to make it feel okay: wrong relationships, addictions, perverted lifestyles, dead-end careers. Being saved doesn’t automatically keep you from these dangers, but being satisfied by the bread and water of Christ does. Only the person who is free of need is safe from that which would possess and rule his soul. You will find some neediness of soul at the root of all man’s problems. Jesus’ message is simple: Come to me; I can satisfy your soul.

My own understanding of how powerfully God can satisfy came when he helped me overcome a hopeless 18-year addiction to cigarettes in 1986. In the process of laying those down, I learned to turn my longings — of body, soul and spirit — to the Holy Spirit. I learned firsthand that the Lord is delighted to step into any opportunity to give life to his child and set him free from temptation by satisfying him deeply.

We will experience God’s zoe life only when the Spirit lives in us, and as we learn to turn to him for a drink, expecting to have our neediness sated and our souls brought to rest. Spirit life is living with a fountain that really satisfies, and going often for a long drink.

(This is an excerpt from “Meditations on Spirit Life,” a devotional book Tonia plans to publish in 2011).

Hunger: An Invitation to God’s Table

We cannot bear to feel empty for very long. In America we often have fast food restaurants every few yards, as capitalists cash in on our reluctance to experience hunger for more than a few minutes. The obesity epidemic confirms that we cannot bear the sensation of emptiness, that we are driven to satisfy the physical discomfort of hunger and the emotional discomfort of life: we want it NOW and we want it to wow the mouth.

We crave our junk food, however devoid it may be of real life-giving nourishment. We eat that which satisfies only briefly and makes us hungrier still. Eventually we may learn that what we’ve consistently fed ourselves has not only failed to nourish us, it has slowly stolen all vitality and strength of life; all because we cannot bear to be hungry.

But hunger is a gift, given by God to cause us to seek the nourishment we require for living. We must learn not to be afraid of it, or rush to fill the discomfort of it, with candy for the soul. God uses the word hunger as a metaphor for the neediness of the soul. We tend to do the same thing with the hunger of the soul that we do with physical hunger: finding it uncomfortable, we rush to fill our emptiness.

Our souls need love…peace…contentment…connection. Absent these for very long, we become frustrated and reach for anything to distract us from that hunger, like a Twinkie for the soul. Repeatedly turning to things which satisfy only briefly does not nourish our souls, and may even leave us addicted…to food, drugs, gaming, wrong relationships, and every other compulsion. Fast food is deceptive: it not only fails to give life, it actually steals life from us, day by day.

Don’t run away from your hunger, or rush to fill it with that which leaves you even more needy. Offer your hunger to God, of whom the ancients wrote,  “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalms 145:16, NIV)

Wait upon God in trust, and give Him a chance to satisfy your soul…for he cries out to his children, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour 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.” (Isaiah 55:2-3, NIV)

A Satisfied Heart

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12, NIV.

Anyone who knows me through friendship, teaching, counseling or books, knows that my experience of God has been measured from the beginning by His ability to satisfy my heart. I learned early on that God doesn’t provide a charmed, perfect life; but He does offer in friendship and fatherhood and kingship everything my heart needs. He doesn’t promise to remove every enemy, but he does set a table before me even in their presence, undaunted, faithful, able.

My confidence in God’s ability to satisfy my heart arose from simply reading the Psalms and Proverbs for each morning’s devotions, where the language of this truth lurks around every page.

Consider a few excerpts from Psalm 62 and 63; first, an instruction to oneself and others: “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him….Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Being satisfied by God requires two things. First, one must believe that he can and will satisfy the heart; and two, bringing every need of the heart to him, offering him the opportunity to do so. This requires refusing to turn to other things and people to meet these needs — which is usually futile anyway — and turning your face to the Father in trust.

The needs I speak of are more difficult to reach than needing rent money or a new job. The needs I have taken to my Father are the need to be satisfied in my longing for justice when I have been treated unjustly; to be understood when misunderstood; to be heard when no one else is listening; to find rest for my heart in a storm of unruly emotions; to have fullness of heart while waiting for God or others to come with what has been promised.

Returning to Psalms 62 and 63 we find this declaration: “My soul finds rest in God alone.” It teaches us the greatest lesson: that cultivating a longing for God himself is the sure path to a heart that lives full:

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water….I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

In the deepest places where there aren’t even words to describe my need, God pours his life into my cup. As a daughter of Eve I have learned from her mistake; my goal is to never run to the tree of knowledge of good and evil to satisfy myself. And I refuse to listen to the devil’s lies, that God may be holding out on me or that he is unable or unwilling to give me His best.

I learned from the beginning that God can, and will, love me better than I can love myself. Jesus Christ is my tree of life, and his fruit is never deceptive. It never looks good in the hand and disappoints in the mouth — though the opposite may be true on occasion — it may be disappointing to the eye and taste like heaven.

May the Lord satisfy your heart in every way, and set you free of the neediness that makes you a beggar in body, soul or spirit. May the expectation that he will fill you up overtake every fear or false religion notion about God’s motives and responses to you. May the Holy Spirit stir in you a deeper hunger for the Lord himself, whose love tastes better than the richest chocolate cheesecake!