Death Bed Confessions
My father died about a month ago. Watching him suffer in those last few days reminded me something about hunger. When we are sick, I mean really sick, we don't really think about food very much. Sure we're in need of sustenance, but we don't feel hungry, or we feel hungry but are too sick and weak to want food. When we are in pain we also don't think about eating. We don't really care about food. So pain and sickness mask our hunger, our need for what sustains us and even promotes healing in us. When my dad was in the hospital, cancer and kidney failure slowly taking the life from him, he was in such pain for those last few days that he did not even care about eating. Food wasn’t on his mind – he was just suffering and wanted relief. He did not feel the debilitating pain of his cancer and failing organs, but he also had no cravings; he did not eat for a couple of days but did not feel any hunger Sure he needed food, but the hunger, the desire for food was not there, not important. Or maybe he did feel hungry, but he did not have the desire or capacity to do anything to satisfy that craving. Finally they put him on some pretty heavy medication and he was completely out of it - so anesthetized that he no longer recognized his hunger or his desire for food. So for 4 or 5 days either because of pain or because of being anesthetized, hunger and the desire for food were not realities for him.
I never made the connection, but that is a spiritual reality too. I think when we are hurting, when we feel the pain of a betrayal or loss or from some sin, our hunger and our desire escapes us. And maybe at some point we turn to things of this world to fill that hunger void but the reality is that just leads to anesthetizing us to the point where we don't feel the need or desire for real spiritual food, real satisfaction, real healing any longer. Pain and apathy and being anesthetized by the pleasures of this world remove hunger and desire for God from our heart. Is that us? Are we so doped up on the pleasures of this world that we no long even feel our true craving / desires / hunger? So how do we rip out the IV, awaken from our coma and feel our deep cravings once again? How do we really, deeply turn our hearts towards God and his abundant supply for our satisfaction? How do we learn again to hunger and thirst after righteousness (Mt. 5:6)? What will it take to get us to the point of thirsting, panting and yearning for God (Ps. 42, 63, 84)?
That's why we actually need to fight for hunger and fight for desire. We know that sin, pain and suffering are going to be a part of our existence in this world. We know that pain and cares from this world are going to steal hunger from us. So we need to take steps to cultivate hunger, if that makes sense. George Verwer wrote a book called “Hunger for Reality” and in it he said that hunger was the true mark of discipleship. In verse 11 of 1 Peter chapter 2 we are told to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against our souls. Theses desires or lusts are the negative form of the longings/cravings/desires found in verse 2: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” How does a baby crave? It only knows the pain of its hunger and the satisfaction of the milk. Hunger drives the craving, but what drives our hunger? We hunger for something to satisfy but we grab onto all the wrong things. Why? Convenience? Marketing? We are sold things that kill and they are called the “good life.” This is why the Kingdom of God is seen as upside down. We have to remove the veil, heal our eyes to see clearly what can really satisfy. We need to awaken, detox from the drugs of this world, turn off the distractions. OR are we so anesthetized that all we feel now is an itch, an uncomfortable distraction, when we are really starving, desperate, craving, hungry for something life giving?
At the moment, I want what He wants. But I know my desires will change – I am fickle. I fail often in my pursuit. Often enough, I don’t even pursue. In truth, I get more pleasure for the “stuff” of God then from God himself. I find myself in pursuit of God’s benefits and not in pursuit of God himself. God has to change my heart, God will have to grant me the strength to desire him. He will have to ignite the spark. But what part do I play? So how do I stay focused on who He is, who I am, and keep my desires aligned? When it comes to spiritual renewal, desire is the fuel that drives us so how can I increase my thirst, my desire, my longing for God? This is the question, as John Piper puts it in his book, “When I Don’t Desire God:” “How can I obtain or recover a joy in Christ that is so deep and so strong that it will free me from bondage to Western comforts and security, and will impel me into sacrifices of mercy and missions, and will sustain me in the face of martyrdom?”
I stumbled across Psalm 27 and it has given me a few pointers to how I can (and have) increased my hunger for God. The desire and hunger for God is found in the pursuit of him. It will require some tenacity and perseverance. I have found this to be true: pursue hardest when you feel nothing. Set your mind and your heart to have a dogged determination to not let go or let up and ignore your “feelings.” Emotion will follow your heart. Do not allow your heart to follow your emotions. So here are a few weapons I have taken up in my fight for desire.
- 1 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Repentance is key. I do a lot of saying ‘I’m sorry, God,” but here I mean that deep down, realization that I desperately need him and cry out to him for salvation. Try to stir up real remorse. Again, this is not about feelings but about confessing your desperate need.
- 1-3 – “The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?” Fight off fear.
- 4 – “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Dwell on God. Go to church, study his word, focus your heart and mind on him daily.
- 4 – “gaze on the beauty of the Lord.” Spend time in nature. When you become a part of the world He has create and in awe experience all that He has created for our enjoyment, you cannot help but humbly submit to such a strong and loving Father.
- 6 – “at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.” Sacrifice – make use of the spiritual disciplines. Pursue joy. Worship the Lord.
- 7 & 8 – “Hear my voice when I call, Lord.” “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Cry out to God. Pray…and pray some more. Ask for more of God. Ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking…
- 11 – “Teach me your way, Lord” Humble yourself to his teachings and leading. The best way to do this is to be a part of a local body – listen to sound preaching, participate in Bible studies. Read the Bible!
- 13 – “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Remember his promises and hold on to your faith. Trust him, He is good. You have tasted his goodness in the past, and like tasting your favorite food, that taste generates in you a long for more. Remember that taste and let him increase your craving for more of Him. God is unbelievably generous.
- 14 – “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Do you want to hear his voice? Ask him to speak and be silent. Wait, listen. Be a part of a community that knows how to wait on God to speak. He is always up to something we just have to sit down and shut up long enough to hear him. Practice silence, solitude and fasting.
And so I pray. God, grant me the ability to grow in my hunger and desire for more of you. Give me strength to take small steps in and thru your power and grace to actively pursue you. Light the spark and fan into flame a deep and sustained longing for you and your glory. Reveal your glory to me, in me, and through me. Help me to die to myself and the comforts of this world. Make the pleasures of this place distasteful to me and let me know the sweetness of how good you are. As it says in Isaiah 55: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” Rain on me your presence that I may flourish and find my joy in you.
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