There’s a certain honesty that only comes in the early morning darkness. During the day it’s easier to find excuses for my spiritual struggles. I’m busy. I’m tired. Things and people pull at my attention. It’s easy to convince myself that the problem is out there. If I can just find the right set of circumstances and set up the right routines then everything will fall into place.
But lying awake at 3:00 AM I have to face the truth. The problem isn’t out there. The problem is in me.
Sometimes I don’t pursue God because I don’t want him enough. Like the seed fallen among thorns, my desires for other things chokes out my desire for God. I want to be liked, so I stay silent instead of speaking out. Or say yes instead of saying no because I fear letting someone else down. I’m tired of denying myself, so I justify a designer purchase and then worry about how to make the budget fit to cover it. My emotions are churning, so I let food calm the storm instead of turning to God. I don’t want to face my own sin, so I distract myself with a novel or movie. If I ignore it, maybe it will go away.
I don’t seek God because I’m not hungry enough.
When I realize the depth of my spiritual apathy in the 3:00 AM darkness, my first thought is usually to fix myself. I just need to try harder. Set the alarm earlier. Post a new memory verse on the fridge. Find a new accountability partner. My mind races to find a new plan because this time it’s going to be different.
That’s the voice of guilt, and I’m learning to silence it. Conviction points us to God; guilt separates us from him. And yes, turning to anything other than God to meet my deepest needs is sin. Food, stuff, friends, religious ritual, even my children—looking to these things to define who I am and feed my soul hunger turns them into idols. And like Dagon’s statue falling on its face before the ark, no idol can stand in the presence of the Lord (1 Sam. 5:1-5). The Lord God Almighty is the only one who can feed my soul.
There are times where we need to stand on what God says rather than what we feel. God says if we hunger and thirst after righteousness we will be satisfied. And he says if we ask we will receive. So what do I do when my problem is that I don’t hunger for God enough, when my desire for other things has choked out my desire for him? I ask. I ask God to increase my hunger. I ask God to renew my desire for him. It’s a prayer God has been faithful to answer.
What I’ve learned to do in those gray early morning hours of doubt is to run to God instead of from him. The insidious danger of guilt is that it keeps us from seeking the very medicine that can heal our souls. Spiritual apathy is sin. The good news is Jesus died for sin and when I confess my sin God is faithful to forgive me. I confess the idolatry of my heart and ask God to renew my spirit. And he does.
Ephesians says that even our faith is the gift of God (2:8). Faith is not something we muster up on our own. We can learn to walk in it and strengthen it over time, but ultimately God is both source and object of our faith. Similarly, God puts hunger for him in our hearts. When we lack hunger, the solution is not to try harder. The solution is to ask God to increase our hunger for him.
Asking God to increase my hunger increases my awareness of and desire for him. When I ask God to increase my hunger, I feel in my spirit the urgency to seek him. God opens my eyes to those windows of opportunity when I can steal away for a few moments to spend in the Word. He meets me in worship in surprising places—rocking a sleeping baby, or as I finish my walk and see the sun rising over the trees. God increases my sensitivity so I am aware of his presence with me in the quiet moments of my day. I begin to hear his voice even in the chaos. The miracle of it all is that the more I experience him, the more I desire him. Tasting God’s goodness makes us hunger for more.
If you find your hunger for God choked out by the weeds of this world, don’t start pulling weeds. Plant seed. Ask God to increase your hunger and listen to his promptings. It’s a prayer he is faithful to answer.
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