Hunger and Thirst for God



As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, 

O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 

When shall I come and appear before God? 

My tears have been my food day and night, 

while they say to me all the day long, 

Where is your God? (Ps 42:1–3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The great irony of faith is that we approach God out of our poverty, not our riches. The riches of Babylon and Egypt flowed from their abundance of water and irrigation systems, while the poverty of Israel blew in with the dust storms from its deserts. Yet, Egypt and Babylon are known for their idolatry and sin, while Israel is known for its law and prophets (Card 2005, 16). What do the Books of the Law and the Prophets say about satisfying the hunger and thirst for righteousness?

The Books of the Law

Hungering and thirsting were not part of God’s original plan, which we know because food and water were abundant in the Garden of Eden, as we read:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. (Gen 2:8-10)

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in direct communion with God and righteousness was a fruit of that communion, which broke down when Adam and Eve sinned (Gen 3:23). When we mourn our sin and the loss of our communion with God, we hunger and thirst for the righteousness, which is a metaphor for the blessings and tangible fruit of that communion.

Restoration of this communion was a goal of the Mosaic covenant, as suggested in Deuteronomy:

And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. (Deut 11:13–15)

Obeying the commandments involves loving and serving God, who will respond by sending rain in its season granting you a full harvest and an abundant life for you and yours. By contrast, reluctant service to God will result in servitude, hunger, thirst and deprivation:

Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. (Deut 28:47–48)

Destruction follows from disobedience—under the law one literally reaps what one sows in respect to one’s relationship with God. In fact, God’s judgment follows from hungering and thirsting for mere physical things, even things like the law (Exod 17:3).

This is, in fact, the basis for the curse for not accepting the new covenant in Christ. Paul writes: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:28) To be given over to one’s passions is a curse and it leads to self-destruction because both the mind and the heart are corrupted by sin.

The Books of the Prophets

In the Law, one reaps what one sows; in the Prophets, the wise are clever and the foolish are ignorant of the ways of the world, as we read:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Prov 25:21–22)

This reward follows for respecting worldly wisdom, because God created both heaven and earth—all knowledge is God’s knowledge (Prov 1:7; 2 Chr 1:10–13). So the wise leave the door open for enemies to become friends by treating their enemies humanly, feeding them and offering them drink, as Jesus teaches (Matt 5:44–45).

Feeding and drinking find metaphorical uses in the Prophets, as we read: “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer 3:15) Jesus himself is this good shepherd (John 10:11–16), but this hunger is relieved metaphorically through “knowledge and understanding” rather than through physical consumption. Likewise, mere consumption is not the point when Isaiah alludes to abundant water and food, evoking the image of a return to Eden:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isa 55:1–2)

Isaiah offers spiritual water and food which, like their physical counterparts in Eden, were abundantly provided. He infers (as does the Fourth Beatitude) that by hungering and thirsting for righteousness, God will smile on our efforts and heaven will not be far off (Rev 22:17).


Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Hunger and Thirst for God

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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Wicks Honors the Image of God

Review of Robert Wicks, Touching the HolyRobert J. Wicks.[1] 2007. Touching the Holy: Ordinariness, Self-Esteem, and Friendship (Orig pub 1992). Notre Dame: Sorin Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One lesson that I learned in seminary revealed itself in a change in my Myers Briggs classification. Early in seminary I tested out as an ENTJ (extraverted, intuitive, thinking, judgmental), often referred to as the field-marshal. Later in seminary as I became more self-aware, my T became an F (feeling), often referred to as the counselor. While some people disputed my T to F transition, I realized that out of fear of failure I had been role-playing during my career as an economist, something that as an aspiring pastor was no longer necessary or appropriate.[2]What do you do when you discover yourself playing masquerades and it is not a game?


In his book,Touching the Holy, Robert Wicks (16-17) writes:

“Due to our lack of complete trust in God’s revelation that we are made in the divine image and likeness, most of us get caught up in trying to be extraordinary…The Spirit of ordinariness invites each of us to follow the will of God by trying to find out what our inner motivations and talents are and then to express them without reserve or self-consciousness.”

Accepting our limits (or just being ourselves) and receiving God’s love, according to Wicks, are keys to deep spiritual discernment, because until we do we cannot move forward with God or with other people (18-32).

The Wilderness

After the people of Israel left Egypt, they entered the wilderness, learned to depend on God, and could not enter Canaan until they did. Speaking of the desert fathers, Wicks writes:

“The desert provided a place where it was difficult to hide from the most basic realities of ordinary Christian life.”(37)

He sees three threats to our own spiritual growth as being:

  1. Projecting our blame onto others;
  2. Being deaf to God’s presence; and
  3. Unconsciously yielding to secular values. (38)

The wilderness provides an environment fertile for spiritual growth because in the desert we are not surrounded by the usual idols (wealth, people, work, distractions) that we are attached to and we are forced to focus on the basics of life. (62) According to Wicks, clerical workers (priests, pastors, and the like) usually suffers burnout, a kind of self-imposed wilderness, after they have let go of their prayer life. (66)

Who is Robert Wicks?

Robert Wicks received his doctorate in Psychology from Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital, is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University Maryland, and has published over 50 books. His particular interest is secondary trauma and as a pastoral care worker has helped to serve care givers during a number of high-profile crises, such as the civil war in Rwanda and in Cambodia. In 1996, Pope John Paul II awarded him with a papal medal for his service to the Catholic Church.


Robert Wicks’ Touching the Holyis written in six chapters, proceeded by an introduction and followed by notes:

  1. Embracing Ordinariness
  2. Lessons from the Desert
  3. What is my True Face?
  4. Friends
  5. A Simple Caring Presence(vii)

It is short (188 5”x7” pages) and accessible, a good read for a quiet day.


Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2017. Called Along the Way: A Spiritual Memoir.Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Keirsey, David. 1998. Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, and Intelligence. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company.



[2]In my memoir, Called Along the Way(2017), my role playing took the form of dressing more formally than I had previously (“Dress for Success”,185-187) and, later, finding the need to shed the “Doctor Hiemstra” image (“Looking the Part”,312-314).

Wicks Honors the Image of God

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Wicks Seeks Availability Deepens Faith

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

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VanDuivendyk: Working with Instead of Against Grief

Gift_of_Grief_review_07242014Tim P. VanDuivendyk [1]. 2006. The Unwanted Gift of Grief:  A Ministry Approach.  New York:  Haworth Press Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you give grieving people permission to grieve?  Or do you try to sweep grief under the rug?

In his book, The Unwanted Gift of Grief, chaplain Tim P. VanDuivendyk advises us to walk with people in their grief and help them complete the process of grief work (12).  He observes:

So many well-meaning friends and loved ones may try to cheer us up rather than just be with us in our sadness. Rather than help us grieve through and talk out our pain, they may attempt to talk us out of pain.  Rather than be sojourners with us in the wilderness, they may attempt to find us a shortcut…This book is not designed to take you out of your pain but to invite you into and through your pain to transformation and new life (3).

In this context, a sojourner is:  one who is willing to support, listen, and compassionately walk with another through their wilderness of grief (5).  VanDuivendyk further observes:

[This] wilderness is not just a physical place but also a spiritual and emotional place.  In the wilderness of grief we may not know which direction to take.  Feelings of fear may paralyze us.  We may not be able to see through the thick forest to tomorrow (9).

VanDuivendyk characterizes grief almost like a scab on a wound.  He writes:

Grief fills up the vacuum of empty space left by our deceased loved one until we can adjust to and accept the reality that the person is no longer with us (12).

Grief is a gift because it helps us transform towards differentiating ourselves from our loved one (16).  Because they have passed, we must learn to live in their absence (the process of differentiation).  A scab protects us while the skin underneath grows to close up the wound.

VanDuivendyk sees 3 passageways through grief, depending on whether we prefer thinking, feeling, or acting (24-26).  Think people follow a cognitive pathway; feel people track emotions but may not be able to reason through what is going on; act people stay busy doing tasks during grief. Each pathway offers strengths and weaknesses. An act person, for example, may develop into a workaholic in response to grief (29) while a think person may worry obsessively and a feel person may slip into depression (28-29). VanDuivendyk suggests that we should learn to employ and work with each approach as a way to balance out (27).

VanDuivendyk’s The Unwanted Gift of Grief is written in 17 chapters preceded by a forward, acknowledgments, and an introduction and followed by notes, suggested readings, and an index.  These chapters are:

  1. Grief as Gratitude, Grief as a Gift;
  2. Everyone Grieves Differently;
  3. Factors that affect the Wilderness of Grief;
  4. Unbelievable Darkness;
  5. Frustration and Anger Amid “Why?”
  6. Praying for a Miracle;
  7. Wrestling with Sadness and Depression;
  8. Healing: Experiencing the Light Again;
  9. And Yet…We Never Forget!
  10. Being a Sojourner;
  11. Sojourning with Those in Unbelievable Darkness;
  12. Sojourning with Those Frustrated and Angry Amid “Why?”
  13. Sojourning with Those Praying for a Miracle;
  14. Sojourning with Those Wrestling with Sadness and Depression;
  15. Sojourning with Those in Healing and Light;
  16. Marriage : Tough Enough without Grief;
  17. Ways of Making it Through the Wilderness of Grief (vii-ix).

Clearly, VanDuivendyk writes using a topical approach.

In my own work as a chaplain intern, I found that the majority of patients that I visited with suffered from grief at some level.  For some it was active and obvious; for others it was repressed and a source of physical complication.  Helping people become more aware of their grief was one of the ways to facilitate their journey with it.

More than anything, VanDuivendyk convinced me of the need to give people permission to grieve, particularly at funerals.  That one insight was worth the ticket of admission.  After all, ours is a religion that began in a graveyard, not a church. We grieve and can give permission to grieve because with the resurrection of Jesus Christ we know the graveyard is not the end of the story.  The end of the story is not sadness, but joy—in Christ.



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Walking in the Wilderness, Luke 15:11-24

By Stephen W. Hiemstradesert_sign

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA


Father Almighty. Make your presence known to us here this morning. Grant us wisdom, grant us consolation. In the power of his Holy Spirit, inspire the words that are spoken and illuminate the words heard, in the precious name of Jesus, amen.


Who here enjoys risks and uncertainty? (2X)

Unless you have a gambling habit you probably prefer stability, not risk or uncertainty. Unfortunately, life is often marked by many stressful changes.

Over the past year, I worked at Providence Hospital in Washington DC as a chaplain intern. In working with patients in the emergency department, I started seeing hospital visits as a special type of change called a transition.

A transition has three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Initially, patients come to the hospital with a problem and focus on the things that used to be. In the middle, patients receive their treatment and worry about how things will work out. In the end, almost all patients return to their old lives. At this point, the question is: what comes after the hospital?

This last question is inherently spiritual. For patients who came to the hospital because of a poor lifestyle choice, a better question is:  what will be different when you leave the hospital? (2X)

In life there are many transitions. During periods of uncertainty my prayer typically is:

Why did God bring me to this time and this place? (2X)


The book of Exodus tells of a great transition in the history of the nation of Israel, the departure from Egypt and entry into the wilderness, and, then, the departure out of the desert and the entry into the Promised Land.

Listen to what Moses said to Pharaoh:  “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness” (Exodus 7:16 ESV) (2X). Where does Moses see the people who serve God? Ironically, it is not in Egypt, nor in the Promised Land. Rather, it is in the desert where we more often encounter God. This is because in the desert we are more likely to look for God and depend on him, exactly during these stressful periods of risk and uncertainty. It is in the middle of a transition.

Why did God bring me to this time and this place? (2X)

Jesus tells the story of a man who had two sons. The younger son came to him one day and asked for his inheritance in cash. He then left town with the money and began living with style. This reckless lifestyle did not last long and soon the young man had to get a job. Not being one to plan ahead, he was forced to accept a degrading job for Jews – feeding pigs. As the son’s mind began to wander, he began to reflect on how good things had been with his parents and he decided to return home. When his father found out he was coming, he went out to meet him and wrapped his arms around him. As the son began to apologize for his horrible behavior, his father would hear none of it. He took his son, cleaned him up, brought him some new clothes and threw him a party (Luke 15:11-24 NIV).

We all often behave like the younger son. Things must be really bad in the desert before we arrive at our senses and recognize that we need our Heavenly Father. The good news is that our Father is waiting for us, will forgive us, and will take us back into the family. Amen.


Heavenly Father. We thank you for your care during transitions of life, but especially in times of uncertainty. In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us strength for the day and hope for the future. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

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