Publication: Pastoral Letter, July 2004
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray that this letter is about a vital issue that will affect our future – yours and mine. In order to define this issue, I will review the story of Esau and Jacob. Abraham’s son, Isaac, had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the older of the two and was therefore eligible, under family tradition, to receive the “birthright.” This meant that he would receive twice as much as his younger brother, upon his father’s death. He would also become the spiritual leader.
There was a problem, however. Esau was careless about his place. One day, he returned from the field famished from hunger. He asked his brother, Jacob, for some food – a favorite meal which we will call a “red stew” (see Genesis 25:29-34 NKJ). Jacob offered a deal to Esau: “I’ll give you some of my red stew in exchange for your birthright.” Esau accepted with this foolish comment, “What is this birthright to me?” His physical appetite exceeded his spiritual hunger.
Sometime later, as father Isaac was blind, feeble, and near death, he asked Esau to go hunting, kill some wild game, and prepare Isaac’s favorite meal. Afterward, Isaac would pass on the blessing to Esau – the family birthright.
While Esau was hunting for game, Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, conspired with Jacob to deceive Isaac into believing that Jacob was really Esau. They prepared a meal, and Jacob took it into blind and feeble Isaac, and received the solemn blessing.
Later, Esau returned with his meal and only then did both he and Isaac realize what had occurred. But it was irrevocable; Jacob got the blessing.
In our culture, such an act is inconceivable; blessings obtained under false pretense would be revoked. But this was not our culture. The fact is that God allowed Jacob to get the blessing and God Himself blessed deceitful Jacob. Why? Jacob hungered for God even in his deceit. Esau was not hungry for God; only for stew.
BLESSED ARE THE HUNGRY
There are many historical and contemporary examples of those who are “hungry” getting rewards that “more able” people failed to get. In sports, even the “best” teams can lose for lack of hunger. The seemingly most qualified don’t always advance, if they have lost their hunger.
Jesus’ life and ministry give us numerous examples. Lazarus got it; the rich man did not. The publican (a sinner) got it; the Pharisees did not. The sick and oppressed got it; the well and prosperous did not. The Galilean disciples got it; the Judean religious leaders did not. It was not wealth and health that stopped the blessing – those are blessings! But it was the loss of appetite which prevented the flow of grace.
Luke chapter 1:46-55 records Mary, mother of Jesus, praising God that He had chosen her. She was a young girl, a virgin and an unknown person from Nazareth, a town of bad reputation. Here is what she said to God: “My soul magnifies the Lord for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” Mary “got it”.
Some thirty years later, Jesus began His ministry with these words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Those who hungered for what was right and realized their own spiritual need would get the blessing and the Kingdom. The least qualified got blessed because they understood their plight.
Jesus’ message was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah, chapter 61. The Messiah would bring Good News of deliverance to the poor and oppressed. Was Jesus partial to the poor? Did He ignore the wealthy because of their wealth? No – wealth and health are blessings – as long as they do not destroy our appetite for righteousness. Moses had warned Israel of this danger (see Deuteronomy 6:10-12).
Isaiah had also said that God would bless those who shared their bread with the hungry (see Isaiah 58:7), so a wealthy person like Abraham or David could continue to be blessed if they continued to be compassionate and gracious to the poor and hungry. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is consistent on this vital point. A hungry heart, or the gracious response to a hungry heart, will obtain favor from God.
It is not how much we have that matters; it is how much we give. When we forget how hungry we once were, we forget those that still are hungry.
Records from the infamous Nazi prisons in Germany indicate that food was so meager that many thousands died of starvation. Nevertheless, prisoners who were willing to share their meager supply with others in greater need, lived longer and healthier lives.
WHAT CREATES HUNGER?
Hunger is an important issue to God – He responds to a hungry heart. How then is spiritual hunger created? The one word answer is: need. As a teenager, I worked several jobs that demanded heavy physical labor. Soon after dawn, I was in the potato fields. On another job, I was up very early every day to work construction. Some of you know what I mean. Labor creates a need for food. I ate a huge breakfast: three eggs, grits, biscuits, bacon, gravy, and everything I could hold. I knew it would all be burned up by mid-morning. In the evening, I ate a large dinner. Even with such eating, I often lost weight during the summers.
When I was 19, I began preaching. During one summer revival in a rural area, I stayed in the home of a couple who lived on a farm. Again, we ate a large breakfast. At noon, I was a guest in another home for lunch. And then, at supper before church, we ate again. Each host tried to top the previous one. At first it was great. I was 19 and still eating like I had when I was actually doing manual labor. But after a few days, I thought that I might die. I was eating way more than I needed. When one’s needs are met, it is hard to pretend to be hungry.
This raises a question: Is the Church hungry? Is it overfed and under worked? If it ceases to be hungry, will God bless it? And how can we regain our hunger?
I have observed that giving out to others keeps me in need and hungry. I need “bread” for others. I have also noticed that God gives me more when those to whom I minister are hungry. When people are not hungry, ministry is difficult.
CONSUMERS OR SUPPLIERS
Whenever we receive something from God, we immediately become stewards. We are required to give it to those who hunger (see First Corinthians 4:1-2). If we merely become consumers, we soon lose our appetite. We get full and lazy. We become “religious tasters,” and critics of even gourmet quality meals. The hungry are less “choosy”. The God we serve is not like Isaac; God is neither feeble nor is He blind. He cannot be fooled about our real hunger or lack thereof.
I remember a favorite church song from forty years ago, “Fill My Cup.” It was a prayer for more of God’s Spirit. But there was a line in it that I question: “Feed me ‘til I want no more.” Apparently, many got their desire, and now they want no more. “Make it short and sweet” they say and they look for entertainment instead of enrichment.
Why are so many ministers trapped in this environment? Church leaders use a lot of time, energy and resources “stuffing” people who really have little or no appetite, who “sit at the table” just because it is Sunday morning. The reason is that the Church too often sees itself as a consumer and not a supplier. The needs are outside. There are millions of people whose physical appetite has led them astray and they hunger for real food. They are our market.
We need a revival – an appetite revival. What can revive our hunger?
- Remembering our own need, and how God met us
- Seeing those around us who hunger
- Seeing the condition of our youth and our nation
- Realizing how hungry our adversaries are
- Understanding what is at stake during this strategic moment in history
On a positive note, I have seen and listened to many hungry youth. I believe that this young generation is looking for life’s answers. We cannot afford to leave them to the secularists, deceiving media, ungodly entertainers, scheming humanist “educators,” and any others who would fill them with empty words.
A few days ago, I had a meal with a group of young men who are hungry for God. We are preparing to launch a new phase in our Ministry Institute, and these young men will take part in the first class that I will teach, which is about our history. As we ate together, we reviewed some of the words that God gave to me and others which moved us forward in Him…words that God gave us in times when we were spiritually hungry. As this course proceeds, I will attempt to convey the importance of what Jesus said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
In the above reference, Jesus was quoting Moses who said the same to Israel (see Deuteronomy 8:3). Israel received bread in the wilderness, but they failed to hear the Word of God – so they perished. We must examine our appetite. What is it we truly hunger for? The odds are that whatever that is, we will get it.
Please keep us in your prayers as we give our bread to the hungry. Thanks for giving seed to the sower. If the Lord leads you to support us in a special way this month, we will deeply appreciate it. In addition to launching the Ministry Institute (which I will be telling you more about soon), we are focusing on a number of new ministry initiatives. All of these steps of faith present special financial challenges, but the cause is great. The hungry are out there; we must go to them.
May the Lord bless you and yours this month and always!
Scripture References: Genesis 25:29-34; Deuteronomy 6:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Isaish 58:7; Isaiah 61; Luke 1:46-55