Seth Godin wrote an insightful post about the difference between hunger with thirst in the corporate world.
Our culture of corporate consumption tries to persuade us that being hungry is all we need. Hungry to earn more, buy more, save more, spend more. It celebrates the hustler who doesn’t know how to stop, asserting that this person is getting all the fancy prizes because they’re contributing so much. Status is awarded to the unsated hungry person. But they might still be thirsty. Thirsty for meaning and connection. Thirsty for the satisfaction of creating beauty.
I like that! But he was writing specifically about the business world, about “corporate hunger,” which is legitimate in its own right. His words got me thinking on a deeper, spiritual level…
Do we confuse hunger and thirst on a spiritual level too?
What’s the difference?
Even more, does confusing spiritual hunger and thirst even matter?
Then, I realized that Jesus had something to say about both spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst in the Gospel of John, my favorite Gospel.
Are you spiritually thirsty?
First, it’s interesting to consider, What is spiritual thirst?
We find this question at issue in John 4, where Jesus’ disciples had left him at Jacob’s Well in Samaria to go out for lunch.
While Jesus waited, a woman came for water.
Jesus said to her, during their conversation: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13, NIV).
Instead of well water, though, the water Jesus offered her was from God. It was fresh, living water, just like the fresh, well water—but his water was for satisfying the soul.
Then later in John, on the greatest and last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus shouted in a loud voice:
If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow springs of fresh water. — John 7:38
Living water is a gift from God, and Jesus offers everyone the chance to satiate their spiritual thirst through him. This means that we find out satisfaction in him, our fulfillment in him, our deepest longings in him. Like we need physical water, we need God’s fresh water of life, and because of Jesus, we can gain access to this.
When our spiritual thirst is satiated, we don’t go looking in the wrong places to fulfill that need because we’ve been filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, humility, faithfulness, and self-control. We have “life abundant” (John 10:10), and we’re no longer searching for a cold glass of spiritual water elsewhere because we’ve been refreshed by the Fresh Water Spring himself.
So that’s spiritual thirst, but what about spiritual hunger?
Are you spiritually hungry?
Back at Jacob’s Well, after the disciples returned from lunch, they urged Jesus to eat, too. They surmised he must be hungry.
Jesus responded, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32, NIV).
The disciples thought someone else must have brought him food, so Jesus clarified: “My food … is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34, NIV).
This profound statement reveals that Jesus knew how to somehow get physical sustenance from the Father.
Now this is where metaphor and reality cross paths a little. Unlike with spiritual thirst, which to me is likely entirely metaphorical, I believe that Jesus knew how to gain actual physical energy from the Father (like Dallas Willard wrote about in Spirit of the Disciplines).
Jesus gained spiritual energy, according to John 4, by completing his Father’s work. I think it was even more than spiritual energy.
He knew how to fast and work at the same time. I often hear people push back to fasting on a work day. I understand the struggle because fasting can be challenging!
But perhaps it’s extra challenging for those who have only learned to fast from food and have not yet learned how to feast on God. Disciples of Jesus eventually learn to gain God’s energy as we work. And I don’t mean that God only energizes us when we do “God’s work” as in “ministry work”; I mean we gain energy from him by doing his will in general. That’s what I think Jesus was getting at here, in part.
Jesus knew how to fast while working; in fact, he knew how to gain energy from his work.
Learn more about satisfying spiritual hunger by fasting as you read Revival Starts Here: A Short Conversation on Prayer, Fasting, and Revival.
But it’s like when we get energy from physically working out. That makes sense to those who work out and experience the “runner’s high.” In the same way, we can gain spiritual energy from God’s non-physical work. That is totally possible, and we see this at work in Jesus’ life. It can become our life experience, too. Our spiritual bread comes from God.
Jesus’ work was not corporate work; it was kingdom work.
So that’s spiritual hunger.
Is there a difference between spiritual hunger and thirst?
Spiritually speaking, I think there’s a small difference between the two (and this is just my opinion). Here’s the difference to me:
- Spiritual hunger is our longing for spiritual substance and “meat.” It’s when we want to grow and gain energy, take ground and fight. It’s when we want to grow up.
- Spiritual thirst is our longing for vitality, peace, and delight in God, for the moment-by-moment refreshment that comes from his Spirit.
Those differences, though, are really one and the same: We want God’s life in us, even in our very bodies. That’s why people seek all sorts of alternatives in their bodies, because the connection between soul and spirit, mind and body really is not as distinct as we often make it. We are integrated persons in our longings, and in the fulfillment of our longings.
That’s why Jesus could say, “I am the bread of life” and “I am the fresh water spring” (John 6 and 4).
Does the difference matter?
I’m not sure the difference matters too much because whatever we seek—whether hunger or thirst—Jesus can fulfill it.
When we allow God into our lives to give us fullness of life, we’re no longer spiritually hungry or thirsty.
We’re simply satisfied.
It’s like what the Psalmist says of those who have found their hope in the Lord:
I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content. (131:2, NIV)
We can be satisfied in God like a little baby who’s been filled with their mother’s food—which is, in a sense, both food and water in one.
So Seth Godin makes a good point that there is a difference between corporate hunger and thirst.
But corporate longings just scratches the surface of what we really want, which is the vitality of God.
About this, Jesus makes the greater point: that we find our satisfaction and satiation in him alone.
So the difference between hunger and thirst doesn’t matter much because their source is the same.
We find our ultimate spiritual fulfillment in him alone, and that matters very much.