The 4 Spiritual Hungers of Our Time

Image result for hungry baby birds

By Joe LaGuardia

Writing as far back as 1947, O. O. Boggess hits on four spiritual hungers in his article “Your Body, The Temple of the Holy Ghost” that resonate today. Although the article is a bit dated, these hungers still drive us to find meaning and belonging in community; they engage us and create a yearning that leads us to the spiritual; these four hungers drive us to do things that sometimes defy reason–often at our peril.

If we can articulate them, and then focus on fulfilling them in a healthy way, then perhaps these spiritual hungers can make us more effective in fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives. If churches can meet all four needs in equal measure, perhaps our pews may fill too!

The first spiritual hunger is for safety and security. This hunger begins at the very start of life, as our parents nurture us and create a sanctuary within a loving environment. This carries into our adulthood, and we continue to crave stability and predictability. I used to tell people in ministry that I, as a pastor, seek to be predictable, if not perfect — because people find solace in predictability from their leaders!

If trust in the institutions, norms, and surroundings in which we find ourselves diminishe, then fear increases and we begin to do and say things that are unhealthy. We see the world as a hostile, combative place in which we pit ourselves against others, winners and losers. We seek protection at the expense of urgent profession, and we spend more time looking over our shoulder than we do putting our arm around someone else’s shoulder to guide them to the care and love of Jesus Christ.

How many of our churches and institutions have given into fear by trying to satiate this hunger by placing their trust in the ways of worldly culture and weapons of war? Yes, we need to make our institutions and places of worship safe–to do otherwise is nearsighted and naive–but putting processes in place will not ultimately quench this instinctive hunger. Only placing our faith and hope in Christ–the only constant and certainty in our world–will fulfill this yearning.

The Bible warns us against putting a disproportionate amount of faith in our man-made systems. Psalm 44:6 says, “For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me; but thou hast saved us from our foes.” And the prophets warn Israel against making alliances with other nations. God is our source of strength, and the Holy Spirit our source of power. We should not give into the politics of fear.

The second hunger is for companionship. How many of us fall in love with the wrong people because we are searching so diligently for a sense of belonging? Again, we place our trust in each other, as if our love for others will somehow bring a relief to our beating heart once and for all. The old adage is true: There is a Jesus-shaped hole in our heart that only Jesus can fill!

Do not look for love in all the wrong places, and submit to the Holy Spirit so that you’re empowered to live your life so you don’t become the subject of a country song. God makes us for friendship, companionship and love, but only within the bounds of kindred spirits. Set boundaries, create healthy relationships, and communicate with honesty. Trust that the closer you draw to Christ, then the more healthy your relationships with others will prove to be.

The third hunger is for knowledge. God put in us a drive to learn about the world around us, and curiosity should drive us to experience life with a sense of wonder, humility, and awe. We should be open to the Spirit’s movement in the world, and we should anticipate that God will surprise us as we seek to learn new things.

My wife and I are educators, so we commonly tell people that we are life-long learners. We learn in the things we experience, whether they result in blessings or failures. My greatest lessons came about when I saw circumstances as opportunities to grow, and when I’ve been open to learning something new about myself.

Of course, learning something new means being open to changing our minds and our hearts about things–this is critical in growing in knowledge; we cannot remain unchanged throughout our life. Stagnation hinders spiritual growth!

The last hunger is to know God personally. I’ve met countless individuals who know about God, know of God, and have studied a lot about God–but they do not know God personally. They see God as an idea or a worldview or as a lofty, inaccessible ethereal Being who has no time for us as individuals.

If there is one thing that has sustained my faith through the years, it hasn’t been from intense studies of scripture or time spent with other believers at church (though both are life-giving), but with regular, daily time spent abiding in Jesus Christ.

Christ calls us to be his family, and the Holy Spirit indwells within each of us so that we can walk with God on a personal level. Jesus said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-10, 11b).

As I reflect on these four hungers, I can’t help but think of how lopsided we’ve treated some of them. We are gaunt and malnourished in some areas, and we are too fat on others. We teeter too much to one, and neglect others so that we walk around like zombies, half-dead roaming the earth.

Churches would also do well to attend to each hunger, and provide balance in meeting each hunger in community. Its not a matter of having gifts to fill one or two of these hungers, but approaching God so that Jesus nourishes us completely, in the abundance of life he has promised so long ago.

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Source: O. O. Boggess, “Your Body, The Temple of the Holy Ghost,” in The Holy Spirit (Anderson IN: Warner Press, 1947), pp. 109-115.

When silence is the only language you can speak

Photo by Samara Doole

By Joe LaGuardia

I did not preach much Sunday, September 3.   I tried, but all I was able to do was give testimony.  When we preachers have nothing to say about a biblical text, it is just best to testify.  It does not have to be scholarly or well-organized, but it does have to be true.

My week was like that: A cycle of trying and failing, of finding words to say and confronting silence instead.

I began the week excited about joining my sisters in Orlando for a few days.  It was the first time our families got together in years: Three days with nieces, nephews, and the big Mouse at Bueno Vista.

Over the weekend, however–the weekend before my vacation–I received word that one of our parishioners fell victim to cancer and passed away.  I was heartbroken for the family.  It was sudden.  The man had one son, so when I met with the family and he spoke about his father, I was reminded about the loss of my own dad.

Funerals have a way of keeping us preachers nimble.  Instead of having one sermon to write before I went to Orlando, I now had two: one for Sunday and another for the funeral, which was scheduled for the day after my return.

I did something a little different for the funeral sermon: I wrote an outline. I always write manuscripts for funerals to insure that each word is intentional, thoughtful, sensitive and concise.   But I did not want a complicated sermon.  I was co-officiating and eulogies were planned, so what more needed to be said?

With sermons out of the way, I went off to Orlando. My trip  went well except for the fact that, now, every time I get together with my sisters, there exists the lingering absence of my father who had passed four years ago this August 5th.

My sisters and I had fun.  We laughed.  There were no conflicts, but our father was missing.  We didn’t have anyone to complain to about our jobs, our finances, about one another.  My dad was good about that, he absorbed everyone’s trials and tears and hardships.

I was quiet most of the trip as a result of my melancholy.  Why was I so quiet?  I hadn’t seen my sisters in ages, there must be more to talk about.

After I returned from Orlando, I headed to the funeral for our parishioner, but another oddity happened, although I am not sure if anyone noticed: I did not finish preaching my funeral sermon.  No, really–literally!  I literally stopped short in the middle of the homily!  I blanked out and I left off the conclusion before stopping mid-sermon and calling the congregation to join me in a closing prayer.

Later that afternoon, home with Kristina, I broke.  My wife and I had a long discussion about my anxieties and stress, about missing my father, and about how my words kept failing me–on my trip, at the funeral, in expressing a cloud that followed me all week long.

Sunday morning came, and off to church I went with two services to preach.  But as I mentioned already, I did not preach.  I testified.  I did not speak of my trouble with words.  I did not confess that I blanked out during the funeral sermon.  I only told a story about trying to find joy in unexpected places and about how one person from church with whom I met the previous week (who had lost her husband three months ago) ministered to me in the midst of my own hardships this week.

This evening I continued reading a book that I can never read for long sittings.  Its one of those books where you savor a sentence or two (or a whole page if you’re lucky), and then you have to stop and pray and reflect or wipe tears to see more clearly.  Its When God is Silent by Barbara Brown Taylor, and what I read tonight resonated.  In fact, it sums up my emotions this week perfectly, although the situation is different:

I met a man last summer–a preacher–who nursed his wife until her death, at fifty-something, from cancer.  When she stopped breathing, he said, the silence in the room destroyed all language for him.  No words could get into him and none could get out. . . Months and months later, his voice is still raspy. . . He did not sound angry when he said that.  He sounded like someone who had been scorched by the living God and who knew better than to try and talk about it.”

I think that is my problem, one that Taylor sums up well.  There are times when I encounter God and I, along with many others, expect that I can put that into words.  I don’t blame anyone–that’s my vocation, after all.  But sometimes I need to know better.  Sometimes I need to stop trying so hard to talk about things that I can’t talk about.

My only regret is that I had some collateral damage along the way: A funeral sermon brought to a screeching halt, an online prayer I since deleted because it turned into a debate that was a waste of time anyway, and a Sunday sermon-testimony I hoped did not ramble on as much as I had feared.

Sometimes we are scorched and it just best to let the Holy Spirit speak in the silence instead.

It takes a village to raise a minister

By Matt Sapp

This reflection is in response to the Reverend Sapp’s move to a new pulpit at Central Baptist Church, Newnan, Georgia.

It takes a village to raise a minister. Transitions are natural times for reflection, so as I’ve packed up books and files this week to get ready to move from one church to another, I’ve been reminded of how fortunate I am to be surrounded by the people who support me. I have a pretty great village.

Books on my shelves, now in boxes, remind me of college professors whose classroom lectures changed my life–people who were passionate about the things I was passionate about and who awakened new passions within me.

I’ve packed away papers that remind me of seminary professors whose critique and editing of my writing showed careful attention to my work and encouraged me in my thinking and study.

I ran across a file from Professor Peter Rhea Jones who offered this advice on my first day of seminary: When someone offers you any chance, however small, to preach or teach, say yes if you can. I took his advice to heart and it has been invaluable.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

This week, I packed up a ministerial robe that was given to me by minister and mentor George McCune. I met him at Wieuca Road Baptist Church. He’s passed away now, but he used to take me to lunch, write me notes, and call me on the phone just to say how much he appreciated me and that he was praying for me.

Later, when I moved to Canton and doctor’s appointments brought him my way, he would call to let me know he would be in town and come by just to say hello. During my first few months at HERITAGE he and I stood alone one morning in the sanctuary and he prayed over me and for my ministry. It was holy moment.

His profound faith and deep spirituality left a mark on me. I’m proud to wear his robe.

The robe still hangs from a Muse’s hanger, which lets me know that it was ordered and altered by George Henry. I never knew Mr. Henry, but his children and grandchildren continue to be important parts of my village, and I remember them, too, every time I put my robe on.

Before Rev. McCune offered me his robe I was fortunate enough to wear the robe of Oliver Wilbanks, the late father of my mentor and former boss, Mark Wilbanks. As the associate pastor at Wieuca Road Baptist Church, Rev. Wilbanks wore that robe to marry half of Buckhead, GA in the 1970s.

To have worn the robes of great men and ministers like Rev. Wilbanks and Rev. McCune makes me feel ten feet tall and very lucky.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

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As I’ve packed up my office I’ve seen gifts and notes from long-time family friends who in different ways and at different times have been great encouragers to me.

I’ve been reminded of friends from childhood, high school and college whose continued interest in my work and ministry provides a steady drip of encouragement that keeps me going.

I’ve remembered those who regularly encourage my writing and preaching by reading and listening—family members, friends, partners in ministry and fellow travelers now scattered across the globe.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

I’ve thought of all the people who have been patient with me as I found my way, who nurtured and taught me, and whose examples of leadership continue to make me a better minister.

I’ve paused to be grateful for my peers in ministry who invest in me by taking the time to listen, encourage, support and advise—and who provide a necessary outlet for laughter and commiseration!

And, I’ve thought, of course, of family. My wife and her family. My parents, my brother, my sister-in-law. Cousins and aunts and uncles.

It takes a village to raise a minster.

The one group of people I haven’t mentioned so far is my current church. There is no single group of people more important to my formation as a pastor than the people of HERITAGE Fellowship. In a thousand ways, large and small, the care and love of HERITAGE has formed me.

I can say without exaggeration that each member at HERITAGE has shaped me in a unique and specific way–so much so that to mention even one person by name would force me to mention them all.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

As I reflect on my village, I have a question for you: Who is in your village and when have you last paused to be thankful for them?

And even more importantly, how can you be a part of someone else’s village?

The most remarkable thing about the influence that so many important people have had on my life is how meaningful seemingly small gestures of encouragement have been to me.

There is no such thing as an insignificant act of kindness.

Never underestimate your ability to change a life. Today I’m grateful for the village of people who have changed mine.

It takes a village to raise a minister.