‘Hanger’ is a real thing. Somehow, an empty belly affects our ability to stay calm and think happy thoughts. When our stomachs grumble, so do we. But more often than not, hanger is avoidable. It’s not that we don’t have enough to eat, but that we don’t have time to eat. There are things to be done, places to be, people to meet, and although our bodies (and increasing moodiness) tell us to stop and take a bite, we heroically press on. When we fail to recognise our utter dependence on food, we get hangry.
Spiritual hanger is real too. Not in the sense of being hungry for spiritual things, but in the way we can forget how utterly dependent we are on God’s word. Sometimes, in our attempts to lead faithful and godly lives, we let ourselves go hungry for too long. Sure, we know that reading and meditating on God’s word is crucial to our spiritual health and activity. But on the day-to-day basis, does this conviction shape the way we use our time? As our to-do lists get longer and the needs of our loved ones demand our attention, do we recognise our own need to feed on God’s word? Or do we tell ourselves that we’ll be okay, that somehow we’ll get through the day—on yesterday’s (or last week’s) bread?
Time and time again, God describes his word as life-giving food for his people. He provides; they eat and are satisfied. As Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, God taught them to depend on his word by giving them manna on a daily basis: “And [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna… that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3). The illustration is found in the New Testament as well. Jesus, having gone without food for forty days, quotes this very passage from Deuteronomy (Matt 4:4). The apostle Peter likens young believers as “newborn infants” who “long for the pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet 2:2), while the writer of Hebrews speaks of solid food for those who are mature in Christ (Heb 5:12-14).
On the most basic level, food is essential to life. Regardless of what culture or society you live in, you need to eat to live. Food is also essential for health—it nourishes us and helps our bodies to function properly. Food is like fuel, in that it gives us energy to work and stay active. Too little food with too much activity leads to weariness and exhaustion, while the reverse is equally undesirable. But unlike fuel, food is not merely functional. Just think of what life would be like if we simply ‘refuelled’ at the dinner table like we do at the petrol station. No, God has designed food to be a delightful and satisfying part of life! Eating is a social activity—food is better shared than eaten alone, whether vicariously via Instagram, or properly on a picnic rug. And finally, eating is a daily (multiple-times-a-day) activity. Our bodies are designed to continually go back for more, not to store food like water in a camel’s hump.
So what does this reveal about God’s design for our need and consumption of spiritual food? For starters, his word is essential to spiritual life and health. Jesus, God’s Word in the flesh says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 1:14; 6:35). Only Jesus has the words of eternal life—without him, we cannot live (John 6:68). God’s word also nourishes us and grows us up into salvation (1 Pet 2:2). It is perfect for what we need (2 Tim 3:16), and revives the soul (Ps 19:7).
Not only does God’s word sustain our spiritual lives, it also sustains our spiritual activity. The Bible makes it clear that the Christian life is not sedentary but requires vigour and exertion. As those alive in Christ, we are called to train in godliness (1 Tim 4:8), fight the good fight (1 Tim 6:12), and run with endurance the race that is before us (Heb 12:1). But if we are to avoid weariness and exhaustion, we must remember to eat regularly. Don’t fall into the trap of living on yesterday’s bread—God intends for us to be continually replenished by his word. At the same time, James warns us not to be like those who merely hear the word but fail to act on what they hear (Jas 1:22). Too much food with too little activity is just as unhealthy. Our knowledge, if it does not lead to love that builds up, puts us in danger of becoming puffed up (1 Cor 8:1).
In God’s kindness, eating is an enjoyable part of life. Just think of the pictures we take of what we eat (another shout out to Instagram), the ways we use food to celebrate and enjoy life, and the extra money we happily pay for food that simply tastes better. We love food. Food makes us happy. And so it should be for God’s word. As the psalmist exclaims, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:103). And hear the words of Jeremiah: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16).
What better way to express the joy and delight that God’s word brings us, than to share it with thankfulness. Just as eating is what family and friends do together, we as members of God’s family should share the encouragement of God’s word with one another. Paul puts it this way: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).
In God’s wisdom, he has made us dependent beings. And in his kindness, he has also sufficiently provided for all our needs (2 Tim 3:16). Let’s let our musings about food remind us of the delight it is to feed on God’s word and share it with others. When we feel weary from serving, and our joy turns to grumbling—when the warning signs of spiritual hanger begin to show, let us remember to feast continually on God’s word, and replenish our energy to live and serve well. What a hangry person needs is food. Good food, nourishing food, life-giving food—now.