Holy Desperation

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Holy Desperation


Today I want to talk about desperation. Do you know what it’s like to be desperate? Have you ever been in the place where you could say you are really desperate for something?

Let’s play the “what if?” game…

What if…

…You didn’t have any food and were starving? Would you be desperate?

  • Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger and ¾ are children under the age of 5.
  • It is estimated that some 854 million people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
  • About one third of all children in the world under five suffer from malnutrition.

…You didn’t have a job and were penniless? Would you be desperate?

  • Statistics Canada reports the unemployment rate for January of this year at 7.2%. That means roughly 7 out of every 100 people are without a job. Of course the safety net in Canada helps a lot of those people out. With welfare and employment insurance a lot of the unemployed don’t have reason to be desperate.
  • Still what if you were in the place where you had absolutely no income coming in would you be desperate?
  • Nearly one in four people, 1.3 billion – a majority of humanity – live on less than $1 per day, while the world’s 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world’s people. UNICEF

…You didn’t have clean water and were thirsty? Would you be desperate?

…Your child got accidentally locked in your car along with the keys with all the windows up on a hot day? Would you be desperate?

This “what if?” game helps to put a bit of a picture on what leads to desperation. Desperate people display an extreme urgency or intensity because of great need or desire.

I wonder how many of us have experienced desperation? The reason why I’m talking about desperation today is because I think it helps us to understanding something Jesus said while delivering what’s known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus understood the power of an image connected with an idea. The cross, a mustard seed, a lamp on a stand, a pearl are powerful images that reveal something even greater about Christ and His purposes for our life.

One day, early in His ministry, there was a crowd of people following Jesus around and Jesus went up on a nearby mountain. As his disciples gathered around, Jesus spoke and began to teach – delivering what is commonly known as the “be-attitudes” because they are things Jesus encourages His hearers to “be”. I want to focus in on a particular saying of Jesus that Matthew records,

Matthew 5:6 (NIV)
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Unless we know what it is to be desperate – I don’t think we’d understand this verse. Friend’s I want to present to you today my belief that to truly walk in the full blessing of God there must be a holy desperation for Him. Jesus attaches the image of someone who is hungry and thirsty for righteousness to the reward of God’s presence and blessing.

The one that God rewards hungers and thirsts for righteousness. It is not that he wants to be a little more righteous. The intensity with which Jesus states this pictures desperation. Jesus is saying such a person can’t get along without righteousness; it is as important to him as food and water. He is describing the kind of hunger we have when we say we are starving – the problem is few of us really know what that is. We really don’t know what it is to be desperately hungry or desperately thirsty. For many of us the food we eat and the water we drink is so readily available and so easily obtainable that we take it for granted. Sadly, that’s exactly how we approach our relationship with God and righteousness. If that’s the case then how are we going to cultivate this holy desperation? We need a picture of what that looks like.

What about Moses? Moses’ first encounter with God was at a bush that was on fire, but it wasn’t consumed. He took off his shoes and got on his face before God. Later he sees God perform ten plagues on Egypt, and Moses leads the Hebrews out of bondage without a single arrow being fired. Moses raised the rod of God into the air and saw the Red Sea split and a million plus people crossover on dry land. He saw the glory of God’s presence represented in a pillar of fire at night and a cloud during the day. He drank water that came from a rock and ate manna that came from heaven’s ovens. After all that, do you know what Moses said to the Lord? “Lord, I know I’ve seen all those miracles but would you show me Your glory?” (Exodus 33:18) Now wait a minute, Moses? I think you’ve seen enough, haven’t you? Not for Moses. His hunger and thirst for God were insatiable.

Then there’s the story of the prodigal son that Jesus shared one day. A son who got his inheritance from his father and squandered it away until he had nothing. In the lowest of lows when the Prodigal Son was hungry he sought to satisfy his hunger with the husks fed to the hogs. But it wasn’t until he began to starve that he decided to go back to his father.

Desperation is birthed from desire – the more empty the need the more desire to fill it.

The prodigal son remembered what it was like to eat at his father’s table. In fact he specifically remembered that the servants at his father’s house were a whole lot better off than he was at that moment.

The starting point in all achievement is desire. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small amount of fire makes a small amount of heat. The key to will power is want power. People who want something badly enough can usually find the will power to achieve it. Apathy isn’t a state of mind; it is a state of the heart. Just look at the word. It’s formed with the prefix “a,” which means “without.” The root word is pathos, passion. No love. Apathetic people are not people who don’t know; they are people who don’t care. They have lost their hunger and thirst. The desperation is just not there.

But here’s another important point. Desperation is multiplied when something we want is something we need but don’t have.

Jesus said we are to be desperate for righteousness. The Bible speaks of righteousness in three ways. There is positional, public and pure righteousness.

Positional righteousness.

Refers to our relationship to God based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. When a sinner repents of his sin and surrenders to Jesus as his God he goes from being separated from God to being a child of God. Everything has been made right between him and God because of the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Public Righteousness

Refers to the will and standards of God being practiced in society. God wants society to be just and merciful. God wants people to live at peace with one another. Christians work to see that laws and social standards reflect God’s will. That’s public righteousness.

Pure righteousness

Refers to the individual Christian living a holy life, a life of purity. This is to live a life being set free from the power of sin. They want to be set free from selfishness and empowered to live selflessly like Jesus. They want to be free from revenge taking and be big-hearted people of forgiveness like Jesus. They want to stop disbelieving God and start growing in faith in god. Sin and its consequences are progressively being removed from their lives.

Is Jesus telling us in this beatitude we are to be parched for positional, public and purity of righteousness? I think that is part of it. But one way to understand what Jesus means is to see how He used the word in the context of the rest of His message. Look at v. 10-11.

Matthew 5:10-11 (NIV)
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Jesus is saying, the reason Christian’s are persecuted is because of righteous living and identification with Him.

This reminds me of the distinction between Christianity and all other religions. At the heart of every religion there is a major figure. With Buddhism it is Buddha. With Islam there is Mohammed. With Hinduism it is Krishna. And with Christianity it is Jesus Christ. That’s where the comparison ends. If you ask adherents of these other faiths where you find salvation, they point to a way of living. A Muslim will not point you to Mohammed. He will point you to the Koran. It is not Buddha who delivers you, it is his “noble Truths” that instruct you.

By contrast, Jesus not only taught the truth, He said He is the Truth. He didn’t just point the way to salvation; He said He is the Way. That’s why for a Christian it is not a way of living, it is Him living in and through us!

Ultimately, the Bible teaches that Jesus is righteousness. So Jesus is saying that a blessed life is found when we are desperate for HIM. This is holy desperation.

When people are desperate:

Masks are shattered – there’s no time for pretense.

We live in a world where people wear masks. Now I’m not talking about actual physical masks that cover your face – I’m talking about the invisible masks we place between people and who we really are. We wear masks to promote who we want to be, or we wear masks to protect us from pain, or we wear masks because we are ashamed of something in who we are. But whatever the reason, all of us wear masks to some degree. The purpose of masks is present something different than what’s really present.

Now there are different situations where some of those masks come off. One example is when we learn to trust someone enough and they see us without our mask. A time of trial or difficulty will sometimes lead to the mask slipping off. Then there’s the desperate. When someone is desperate – their masks are shattered.

Desperate people don’t worry about what other people think. They don’t worry about how they look and a lot of times they aren’t even really thinking about what they are doing. There’s no pretending when someone is desperate.

That’s why Jesus wants us to hunger and thirst for Him. The masks have to come off – the pretense needs to disappear. The artificial behaviour and halfhearted apathetic conduct has got to go. Holy Desperation helps us to come to Christ on the most intimate level – heart to heart, spirit to spirit. It prompts us to cry, “Abba Father”.

When people are desperate…

True character is shown – their foundation is exposed.

The core of a person’s being is revealed when they are desperate. Because the mask is shattered and there’s no time for pretense the character of who you really are is painted on the outside. The truth is, desperation is the crucible of your inner being. It brings out the best and worst of people.

Take for example the “what if” scenario I posed at the beginning of the message with your child accidentally locked in the car. Desperation will bring out the best and worst of the loving mother wanting to get her child out of the car. The best is she will do everything she can to get those doors open. The worst is she might scream at a few people in the process.

That’s just a small example but friends, the core of who you are is revealed by desperation.

There’s a cyclical quality to holy desperation. Those who are desperate for Christ (hunger and thirst after righteousness) have their true character exposed – in the midst of their pursuit after Him all kinds of character flaws, and rotten behaviour will be revealed. As this happens it can fuel an increasing awareness of our lostness and depravity without Christ. This in turn fires the furnace of Holy Desperation for the only one who can build the solid foundation of life in our being.

It’s interesting that Jesus concluded His Sermon on the Mount with a parable about a man who built his house on rock vs. the man who built his house on sand. The point of the parable is that hearing the words of Christ and putting them into practice is like building your house on rock vs. those who hear but don’t put into practice which is like building a house on sand. The wind, rain, and floods slamming against the construction will reveal the foundation. The difference between those who hear and put into practice and those who hear and don’t is this – holy desperation. That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled!”

When people are desperate

Focus is sharpened – thoughts and activity are pinpointed.

Things begin to take on incredible clarity with desperate people. Desperation crowds out the irrelevant and the insignificant. The desperate person’s world becomes defined by what they are desperate for. Priorities, timetables, and resources are funneled towards the object of their desperation.

Those who are hunger and thirst after righteousness are marked by lives of purity, purpose, and power. Prayer isn’t an option – its connection. Reading the Word of God isn’t a chore, it’s feasting. Worship isn’t a song – it’s living. Witnessing isn’t sharing – it’s infecting.

There’s nothing that brings clarity of purpose, and focuses your priorities more than when you are desperate for something. That’s why I believe Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. Why? Because the desperate lose the baggage and pursue the things that help them reach the object of their desire.

Finally, when people are desperate…

Obstacles are shrunk – the truly desperate will look for and push away any obstacle in their way.

When the object of a person’s desperation is before them the obstacle that appear in front of them are endangered. You don’t want to get in the way of a desperate person! A desperately hungry person looking at a full-course dinner across a crocodile infested river will eventually cross that river (or be eaten on the attempt across). Seemingly superhuman feats are often accomplished by the desperate.

Yet, on the other side of the coin is the fact that incredibly foolish things have been done as well. The point is, however, that a desperate person weighs the consequences of not obtaining their need or desire greater than the obstacles in their path to obtain it.

When it comes to this be-attitude – the greatest obstacle to the pursuit of Christ is ourselves.

C.S. Lewis pictured this craving for God and our resistance to it in an episode from The Silver Chair. The lion is symbolic of Christ and Jill is a picture of us.

When Jill stopped, she found she was dreadfully thirsty…She listened carefully and felt almost sure she heard the sound of running water. Jill…looked around her very carefully. There was no sign of the Lion; so she plucked up her courage to …look for running water.

…she came to an open glade and saw the stream, bright as glass…[A]lthough the sight of the water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward and drink. She stood still as if she had been turned to stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: just this side of the stream lay the Lion…

“Are you thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion.

“I dare not come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh, dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.


There is no other stream. And yet the world is full of thirsty people looking for water to quench their thirst – but are either unaware of the stream that will quench it or refusing to drink out of fear or pride.

Then there may be some of you who are here today who are thirsty for God. Maybe you are not interested in just a sip. You want the whole glass. What grace He has bestowed on you this morning. This passage beckons you to come to Him and to be filled. Don’t let fear turn you away. You will only go away thirsty.

Jesus says those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. It means completely. You don’t just get a taste of bread but the whole loaf. You don’t just get a sip of water you get the whole bucket.

This is written in the passive voice, which means it is not something we do. It is something that God does. It is limited to those who hunger and thirst for Christ. Our responsibility is not to pursue satisfaction but the Saviour. Jesus reinforced this later in this message to the people gathered around Him on the mountain when He said,

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

One other thing – hunger and thirst are written in the present tense, which describes a continuing, on-going activity. Just like physical hunger and thirst can be satisfied, if you are healthy it will break out anew. In fact, as in the example of Moses and the Prodigal son it will break out with greater intensity. As long as you feed it, it will grow until it is fully met in God’s presence (tonight I’m going to spend some more time talking about cultivating Holy Desperation).

Folks, our community needs individuals with holy desperation, a church with holy desperation. Our country needs a church with holy desperation. Our world needs a church with holy desperation!

Are you desperate? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled”. This offer was made on a hillside in the backwater country of Judea. It’s the same offer made her this morning, today in this church in Waterloo. A mother raising small children can know this filling. Working folks and retired folks can know this filling. It can happen to anyone, anywhere and at anytime. The offer is good today. If you are hungry or thirsty that’s good. If you’re desperate that’s good. You can be filled. You can know Him. Come to Jesus.

This Book (point to Bible) is not primarily about the desire of people to be with God. The Bible is about God’s desire to be with you. The most frequent promise in the Bible is not “I forgive you”. It is “I will be with you”

God so wanted to be with you that He left heaven to come to earth as a man. He so wanted you to be with Him He died on the cross for your sin and rose from the dead as proof that you can be forgiven – that He has conquered sin, satan, and death. But you must desire and repent of sin. You must accept Him as your God. If you want to be with Him, know that He already wants to be with you!

Let’s get desperate folks! PRAY

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2 Responses to Holy Desperation

  1. Henry Joseph says:

    I was praying and searching for thoughts on being hungry for God. Your website and many more came up – but clearly your sermon capture what I was feeling in my spirit.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Pastor J

  2. Shally Sinkala Simwanza says:

    I have really been ministered unto, I have had a clearer understanding of thirsting and hungering for God. Stay blessed as you receive more revelation from God

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