Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness

Our spiritual hunger can only be satisfied by righteousness, not worldly things. Consider what you're consuming spiritually, just as you do physically. Strive to nourish your spirit with prayer, scriptures, and meaningful service, aiming for a closer relationship with God.

Are You Hungry and Thirsty?

When I think of the title of this sermon — hungering and thirsting after righteousness — it reminds me of an old pun.

A hungry African lion was roaming through the savannah looking for something to eat. He came across two men. One was sitting under a baobab tree reading a book. Next to him the other was typing away on an old manual typewriter. The lion looked at the two men then quickly pounced on the man reading the book and gobbled him up. So why did the lion eat the reader and not the writer? Because even the king of the beasts knows that readers digest and writers cramp.

That’s an old joke because if you aren’t familiar with the Readers Digest magazine, you would think I was weird. So let me give you one that isn’t quite so old.

Two robins sat in a tree. “I’m really hungry,” said the first one. “Me, too,” said the second. “Let’s fly down and find some lunch.” They flew down to the ground and found a nice plot of newly plowed ground that was just full of worms. They ate and ate and ate until they could eat no more. “I’m so full I don’t think I can fly back up into the tree,” said the first one. “Me either. Let’s just lay back here and bask in the warm sun,” said the second. “OK,” said the first. So, they plopped down, basking in the sun. No sooner than they had fallen asleep, a big fat tomcat snuck up and gobbled them up. As the cat sat washing his face after his meal, he thought… “I just love baskin’ robins.”

I love food puns, they’re my flavorites. I better stop right there.

We’re talking about food today. And the scriptural foundation of my talk comes from one verse—one of the eight Beatitudes from the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount.

The 4th Beatitude

I love the Sermon on the Mount. The more I read it, the more I am convinced that it is a hermeneutical key that unlocks many spiritual things, including the temple texts. If is absolutely filled with a temple motif and vivid symbolism. In fact, like the temple, it tells us which Christlike virtues we need and how to acquire them, so that we can return to the presence of the Lord.

It even tells us how to build up the Kingdom of God on earth in the last days — our days. It is an extremely relevant passage of scripture that deserves a lot more attention than we normally give it.

But today we’re going to examine just one verse from this life-changing sermon. It is the 4th Beatitude as found in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 6.

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”


Let’s break down that verse a bit. Let’s start with the very first word, Blessed. A footnote at the bottom of our scriptures tells us that the word blessed is derived from the Greek word  (makários).

Unlike the Old Testament that was originally written in Hebrew, the New Testament was originally written in Koine (coy-nay) Greek. At that time, this word, makários, meant that God is conferring upon us benefits or advantages that others do not possess — benefits that bring true joy and eternal happiness. Benefits that are desirable and sought-after and prized. Benefits that set you apart from others and endow you with divine gifts. Benefits that are freely bestowed upon those who are walking the covenant path. So when you see the word, blessed, remember that it means much more than we think it does.

By the way, when that word, blessed is used as a verb, it is pronounced with one syllable, blest. When it is used as a noun or as a modifying adverb or as a descriptive adjective then it is pronounced with two syllables, as in bless-ed. So bless-ed are the poor, but the poor are blessed.

Sorry for the grammar lesson. I was ordained a teacher when I was 14 and can’t seem to shake the responsibility. Back to our verse of the day:

“Blessed are they…”

“Blessed are they” — actually, the Joseph Smith Translation and the Book of Mormon record this as “all they.” So rather than “y’all” it means “all y’all” its plural form.

“Blessed are all they that do hunger and thirst…”

We all hunger and thirst every single day of our lives. Some days involve a little more hungering and thirsting than others, like the first Sunday of each month. These feelings are hard-wired into our biology, because without water we’ll die in about 10 days, and without food, in about 40. And sooner than that if you’re trying to survive out in the wilderness.

What do you do when you get really hungry? I know when a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds, but what about you?

When most of us are hungry, we pull into our favorite Scottish restaurant, McDonalds, and scarf down an order of French Fries even though we just ate a few hours ago. But is that really hunger?

The hungriest and thirstiest I have ever been occurred when I was a 13-year-old Boy Scout leading a dozen boys through the deserts near Phoenix. There were no adults with us — they were back at our camp eating bon-bons. This was back in the 70s before they had policies against this sort of thing. It was early in the summer, so it was still relatively cool — around 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Well, to make a long story short, I got us lost. This was also the days before GPS and common sense. What was supposed to be an early-morning hour-long hike turned into a 15-hour near-death experience. We quickly ran out of food and water and energy and lame jokes.

When we finally trudged back into camp, you would think by our appearance that we were survivors of the abusive Bataan Death March back in 1942. Our leaders — who seemed sort-of surprised to see us — gave us food and water, which we scarfed down, then they drove us back to our homes 12 hours late. I don’t recall my parents saying much. This was also the days before anxiety was invented. Besides, I was the youngest of eight — I was a spare.

We called these kinds of events “learning experiences” and I definitely learned that rather than wandering around in hot deserts I ought to spend more time sitting on a bean bag chair on the shag carpet in a cool room reading stacks of books while incense burned in the corner. It was the 70s man — that’s what nerds did. Come to think of it, this is probably the time when I first started to develop the svelte physique you see here today.

But we weren’t really thirsty and really hungry.

Near the beginning of the sixth millennium, I had the privilege of traveling to Africa a few times to teach some teachers about my theories on personality and learning styles. On each trip I stayed in the largest city in Africa: Lagos Nigeria, with its population of 21 million — almost twice the size of the Los Angeles metro area. And each time as I was put up in a nice hotel and chauffeured around in an air-conditioned car, and sometimes with a lead Jeep that had a machine gun mounted to it, but that’s a story for another time.

But each day, as I traveled to the training facility, I saw tens of thousands of homeless people lining the side of the road, begging, selling, and sometimes stealing just to get enough money to get some food and water for that day.

But what was shocking was that the group was mostly composed of young people. I saw seminary-aged teenagers. I saw primary-aged kids. I saw nursery-aged children. And sadly, every day I saw a handful of bodies belonging to those who got too close to the cars, or who were attacked by the “area boy” gangs, or who just couldn’t manage to survive another day on their own.

The Nigerian government says there are over a hundred thousand “street kids” in that city — kids who were kicked out of their homes for economic reasons, or because they suffered some sort of physical or mental disability and the family just couldn’t take care of them. These kids grew up in bus stops, markets, beaches, under buildings and bridges, and in the landfills. Hunger, malnutrition, and the lack of safe drinking water is the principal cause of death among these children.

This was a shocking site to me, but to my native hosts it was just another day in the life in the third-world, where it is estimated that 120 million people under the age of 18 live on the streets.

These kids know hunger. They understand thirst. I pray that you and I will never have to experience that kind of hunger and thirst. But we may. Prior to the Second Coming, we know that the world at large will experience a degree of famine and drought and pestilence and plague that has never been seen before. And it will move at least a billion people over to the spirit world. But if we are prepared — we need not fear.

As we talk about hungering and thirsting, I’m not sure we give these words enough gravitas. To a truly hungry and thirsty individual, their most important goal is to find something to eat and drink. Nothing is more important. It trumps their desire for other needs, like sleep, safety, shelter, and security. Nothing gets in their way. Food and water are the only things that would prevent their imminent death. If they were offered a ton of gold or a humble potato, they would choose the spud.

Jesus knows from first-hand experience all about this degree of deprivation. Remember he fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judaean or Jordanian desert. He was on the brink of death when he was tempted to turn some stones into bread. But he withstood the temptation and was subsequently transformed into the bread of life.

What is it that we are to hunger and thirst for?

“Blessed are all they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness…”

Righteousness is the correct answer. But is righteousness simply keeping the commandments? Nope. The Pharisees had been doing that for some time. They were known for obeying the letter of the law with near perfection. Or at least they thought they did. But Jesus repeatedly condemned this entire group of people for their rigid obedience.

Righteousness means more than that. Yes, it means you obey God’s commandments and avoid sin, but it also means being just, holy, honorable, and upright. It means you are virtuous and are always looking to eliminate vice and add virtues to your life.

It means you are trying to reach for a degree of goodness and worthiness and purity that is possessed by saints and angels, and gods and goddesses, and those striving to become such.

“Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled”

Filled with what? For centuries Christians have wondered what they are filled with. Some say they should be filled with righteousness. But others, like the Apostle Paul, said that only one person was ever completely righteous, and that would be our Savior. Thus, it would be wrong to call ourselves righteous.

Others say that the word filled should be removed and substituted with the word satisfied. They think that passage means that they will be given whatever they want until they are completely satisfied. But I’m not sure the purpose of life is to become satisfied or content with the way things are or the way things have been.

Still others say that it means that we are filled with good things, because this scripture parallels what we find in Psalms 107:9.

“For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

While these may be true statements, they aren’t quite what the Savior was saying. Fortunately for us, because of ancient and modern prophets, we now have the rest of that statement. It is recorded in the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible as well as in the Book of Mormon. Here’s what those versions say:

“Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.”

In this case, the gift that comes from daily seeking for righteousness is the supernal gift of the Holy Ghost — the possibility to constantly walk and talk and listen to a member of the Godhead. Could there be any greater gift?

If we want to become more righteous, more like God the Father, and more like the Savior, who are the epitome of righteousness — then all we need to do is be worthy and able to listen to the Holy Spirit.

This third member of the Godhead is also perfectly righteous but has the incredible ability to interface directly with our minds and with our hearts and teach us what we need when we need it. Sort of like Google.

No, actually, he’s the anti-Google. We type in a question into Google and we immediately get the most popular or most paid-for answer that the world has to offer. But when we pray to the Father, to whom we have access though the Son, then their messenger, the Holy Ghost, can relay to us their response. It is a perfect response. It is 100% true and accurate.

Furthermore, he will deliver a customized message that tells you and I exactly what we need to know to be able to righteously resolve whatever crisis we are presently facing. And if it is beyond on our power to resolve, he will give us peace and comfort that tells us that it’s okay, that God has it all under control, that we can stop worrying about this particular thing, and gently remind us that the Savior has carried, and is still carrying this burden for us.

The Holy Ghost is the antidote to discouragement and despair. He is the antidote to fear and anxiety. He is the antidote to confusion, disorder, chaos, and misunderstanding. He is the antidote to misery and misunderstanding.

So if we want his constant guidance, his constant influence, his constant offerings of peace and joy, then all we have to do is hunger and thirst — really hunger and thirst — after righteousness. We have to really want to follow Jesus and act as he did — no matter what price has to be paid — because nothing is more important to us.

Are you hungry and thirsty?

How do we know if you’re hungry enough and thirsty enough? Or better yet, how do we get even more hungry and thirsty than we are right now? What is holding us back from wanting to be become more righteous?

If you want to know the answer, pray for it, because this type of prayer is always answered. We may not like the answer, and it may gnaw at us day and night until we give into it, but this particular thing — whatever it may be — this is what is holding us back from reaching our divine destiny.

Wednesday night I was reviewing what I had written for this talk. But before going to sleep, during my prayers, I asked our Heavenly Father what else I should say today. I was tired, and it was past my bedtime, and I had to get up in six hours for work, but that was my bedtime prayer.

And the Lord answered it, proving that he really does love you more than he loves me, because for the next couple of hours, just as I was drifting off, a thought would come to my mind. So I rolled over, turned on a light, and scribbled it down on one of the cards from my stack of index cards that I keep next to my bed. I turned off the light, then a few minutes later another thought came. I turned on the light, wrote it down, turned off the light. This pattern repeated itself about a dozen times into the wee hours of that night.

My neighbors must have wondered what I was doing. It was like a strobe light. And the miraculous thing was, I had no problem getting up the next morning and wasn’t sleepy at all that day at work. God has a way of compensating us for our efforts — always giving us back far more than we give him.

Would you like to know the thoughts that came to mind? We’ve already talked about some of them, but here are some more.

Are you hungry for the right things?

Sometimes, we don’t hunger and thirst after righteousness because we have filled up on other things. Our appetites and passions have been satiated with things that are more carnal or sensual in nature — earthly things. Things that are only pleasurable for a moment, and then you crave more and more because you are never completely satisfied.

This is because they do not possess the ability to satisfy you. You are a celestial being living in a telestial world. Nothing this world has to offer will ever fill the void in your physical and spiritual soul. Nothing will take away the heavenly homesickness that we fill from time-to-time. Nothing but things of the Spirit. The things that reflect and radiate the righteousness of God.

Spiritual hunger comes when we realize that we have fallen massively short of our potential. It drives us to fill remorse, and repent, and renew covenants. And then lather, rinse, and repeat this process as many times as is necessary until we are finally refreshed and redeemed and restored to all that we can be.

Do you have a bad diet?

A steady diet of junk food makes you feel sick inside. If all you ate every day was Krispy Kreme doughnuts, you’d grow terrifically sick of doughnuts in a few days — or weeks. Plus, your physical health would plummet while your body fat ratio ascends into the luminiferous aether.

A weeklong vacation spent binging in front of your favorite streaming network may be entertaining, but after you’ve watched all the seasons of Midsomer Murders, the only thing you’ve learned is to never move to the British countryside — the murder rate there is through the roof. Other than that, you’re left with an empty feeling, like maybe you should have done something more worthwhile with those 183 hours. By way of comparison, you could listen to entire standard works, all 2,468 pages, in less time than that.

Will you accept this feeding challenge?

How much time to you spend each day feeding your body? According to the US government, the average American spends 67 minutes per day. Which brings us to the challenge I felt inspired to share with you. This week, will you attempt to spend the same amount of time feeding your spirit as you do feeding your body? If not a full hour each day, then maybe seven hours over the course of the week. And to make it easier, the two hours you’ve spend here today will count towards that number. That leaves 300 minutes between now and next Sunday. By the way, that’s the same amount of exercise time that is recommended to stay in shape. Not my shape, of course—that roundness took me years to perfect.

Will you consume the right things?

When we feed our bodies, we “try” to eat some balanced meals with fruits, veggies, proteins, and complex carbs. Perhaps we should also feed our spirits a variety of things too. Not only should we consume our scriptures, but also sacred music, and the temple, and conference talks, and devotionals, and probably most important: meaningful personal prayer and contemplation.

When we consume spiritual food, it will then give us spiritual strength. The strength we need to attend all our meetings, go the extra mile, magnify our callings, lift up the feeble knees, exercise the priesthood, and serve and love one another as Jesus would serve us.

But if we don’t have daily doses of spirituality, we just won’t have the strength we need. We will start to lose our spiritual battles. And brothers and sisters, in our days, the last days, these spiritual battles have a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect them. Satan’s minions will stab you wherever and whenever you’re most vulnerable. We cannot afford to wait to do this, because the scriptures are clear that half of us won’t make it to the party.

How can I say that? Consider the parable of the ten virgins. Half had their lamps filled and trimmed when it came time to meet the bridegroom and partake of the feast; the other half ran out of spiritual fuel and were not allowed to attend the feast, let alone find shelter within its walls. The bridegroom is the Savior. The virgins represent the church. Our church. Our ward. Our families.

Which one do you want to be? If you’re not that person yet, it is time to bulk up on spiritual food. Once you’re nourished, and have made it a daily habit, don’t give up. When you’re up to it, you may want to start working on your year’s supply. Because as sure as the sun is shining as bright as it is today, a storm is brewing and heading our way. You’ll need those spiritual reserves to keep you going when times get tougher.

When you prepare to spiritual feast, pay as much attention to it as you would a physical feast, say, Thanksgiving Day. It takes hours and hours to prepare. You consider each person who will dine with you, and prepare foods that they enjoy, and leave out the foods that cause allergic reactions. You set out the nice dishes, iron the tablecloth, prepare a table decoration. You invite your loved ones to the table, fill up their plates with food, say a prayer, and enjoy the meal together. You laugh, you share funny thoughts, you smile, you have a good time. Then, before you know it, there’s nothing left to do but the dishes.

In the same way, you can prepare a spiritual feast for you and your family. Serve up spiritual food the way others like it served. This may take experimentation and lots of taste tests, but eventually you’ll get it right. Just like cooks have books and instructional videos to help them with their recipes, we have our own media channels too. Church websites, channels, podcasts, BYU TV, ESPN — well maybe not the last one — these will help us serve up more appetizing and nourishing and interesting spiritual meals. You can also learn a lot from our friends and neighbors in the ward — we just have to start sharing our spiritual recipes and doing our spiritual prep work.

If you want some help — and who doesn’t — please invite your ministering brothers and sisters to help out from time-to-time. They can provide instruction, encouragement, advice, counsel, a hand to hold on to, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. They won’t force themselves into your life. They need to be invited. Please invite them into your home regularly.

If Jesus was a member of our ward, wouldn’t you invite him to your house as often as possible? In a way, our assigned ministers represent Jesus. While imperfect, they are desperately trying to follow his example. So give them a chance to bless you and your family. Let them take part in a Come, Follow Me lesson in your home. Invite them to regularly interact with your family. Try to love them. If you do that, you will be given additional strength to go out and do the same thing for someone else.

Before you know it, people will love partaking of what you have to offer them. The grumpiness and anger and misery that accompanies those who fast from the things of the Spirit, will be replaced with joy and true satisfaction.

Will you go on a diet from worldly things?

Currently, some of us may be spiritually malnourished. It happens to the best of us. Don’t fret. To combat this, we need to go on a diet from worldly treats — the empty calories that make us spiritually sick, sluggish, and self-centered.

There are lots of things that fall in this category. I’m not sure what your particular treat is, but for some it may be spending too much time peeping in the windows provided by social media. For others, it may be playing too many video games or watching too much TV. For some, it may be spending more time earning more money so you can spend it more quickly. Whatever your favorite worldly snack is, maybe you should consider cutting back on it a bit if it is filling you up with emptiness.

Will you go to a trusted and reliable vendor?

If I want to eat something good, I go to a chef who loves to cook and has perfected her cuisine. Someone who has spent her life creating tasty food. It brings her joy, and she invites all around her to eat with her. And it needs to be obvious that she likes it too; I never trust a skinny chef.

I also don’t go to a Vegan chef to learn how to cook a steak. Or a Mexican restaurant to eat some Pad Thai. Likewise, I certainly don’t go to an anti-Mormon source for information about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And don’t you do it either. What you eat from those bad sources will make you sicker faster than chugging down an entire gallon of milk. It is possible to do it. But don’t. You will regret it. Explosively.

Will you help yourself then help others?

Like every religious principle, focus on you first — don’t try to force everyone else around you to start your new diet too. No one likes dictators and dietitians — it’s a fact. It is best to gain a testimony of this principle yourself. There’s a reason the home-centered curriculum is called Come, Follow Me: For Individuals and Families. Individuals come first. Then your family. Besides, you really can’t and shouldn’t force anyone to do anything. It violates the divine principle of agency.

Lead by example, just like Jesus did. Make your offerings as appetizing as possible, catering it to the wants and needs of each unique individual, and they will return to the supper of the Lord and eat and drink until they too are filled.

Finally, please return here every single week. We zealously need to be here, in front of this table, and partake of the bread and water of the sacrament, and renew commitments, refresh our memories, rekindle our faith, and receive forgiveness from he who is the bread of life and the water of salvation.

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