I have just returned from a few weeks in Myanmar, for the fourth year in a row. Every time I go, I am sent into a sort of spiritual “culture shock”, one that keeps me going back. It has to do with what I describe as extreme spiritual hunger.
The people will sit for hours, with Bible and notebook, listening to teaching. Eagerly, indeed noisily, they raise their voices in corporate worship, and come forward en masse for prayer at the end of a meeting.
Frankly, this sort of eagerness makes me feel embarrassed concerning my own spirituality and that of our nation. Why is such zeal for the Lord so absent from the Australian Church? Partly because the physical can lead into the spiritual.
Jesus knew acute hunger, “after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matthew chapter 4 verse 2). This was an entrée into his teaching, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew chapter 5 verse 6).
Since real hunger isn’t to be confused with a good appetite, or the minor deprivation of having to go without a meal before a medical procedure, most of us have never experienced true hunger. It’s hard for us to even to imagine the sort of craving Christ was referring to in the Beatitudes.
When I go to Myanmar I intentionally restrict my eating so I am constantly on the edge of hunger, to remind myself,“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mathew chapter 4 verse 4).
Even here in Australia I won’t eat before a speaking engagement, or what I anticipate to be a difficult counselling session. Hunger is a gift to remind us that our ultimate dependency isn’t on material things but on the Lord. Sadly, our mainstream physical prosperity has blinded us to our spiritual poverty.
One of the most startling Old Testament texts for people like us testifies of the impact of prosperity on the Israelites after they entered the Promised Land, “Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation.” (Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 15).
The New Testament equivalent might be Jesus’ words to the wealthy church in Laodicea, “you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation chapter 3 verse 17). In both these cases the people didn’t realise their spiritual dullness until they were told! Surely most of us are like them? To deny this would be to confirm it.
Deprived for Us
Pastoral practice teaches me that simply telling people there’s something wrong with them doesn’t move their hearts to change. What we need is to receive help from heaven by divine revelation. Paul’s declaration explains the source of his own holy motivation, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
He was so overwhelmed by the sacrifice of Jesus that he was moved to lay down his life for others, no matter what the cost. Evangelical Christians find it easy to talk about the power of the cross but much harder to live lives of self-deprivation that image its power.
The sort of spiritual hunger we feel in our guts that moves us to cry out to God for a supernatural answer is a spiritual gift. This is a charism that very few Aussie believers seem to be asking for.
By grace however I believe that the Lord will soon raise up from across the Church a contingent of zealous young people with a hunger and thirst for his kingdom that cannot be satisfied by contemporary forms of Christianity. Whether that is the entertainment spectacles of trendy megachurches, the pragmatism of “corporate church”, or the head-heavy didacticism of conservativism.
No-one can predict exactly what this move of God will look like, but its unconventional forms will be birthed in the sort of red-hot prayer, restless passionate worship and “whatever the cost” type of commitment I witness overseas. Its time those who truly know Jesus separated themselves from the lazy laid back aspects of Australian culture, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Revelation chapter 18 verse 4) is an injunction to be heeded in our day. May the Lord have mercy on us all, speedily.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html