You’ve heard it. Maybe you’ve even said it. “You’ll never succeed until you really want it.” But is this statement biblical?
The short answer is, “Yes”. But do you remember how Jesus phrased it?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt. 5:6)
In an addictions context, Jesus appears to be saying that if someone whose starting point is a real desire to be free, He promises He’ll be on the other end of that desire—but that’s not necessarily correct. Let’s unpack the key terms.
- “Righteousness”. Simply put, righteousness is living rightly, to be in a right relationship with God.
- “Hunger”. While the word can mean literal hunger, here it means to desire intensely to do what God desires.
- “Thirst”. While the word can mean literal thirst, here it means a passionate longing to do good.
Both hunger and thirst are present tense verbs, action words, so the idea is doing something now. That active “doing” is a sincere and intense “right now” desire to do something—and that something is to live righteously. Therefore, a paraphrase of the verse could read, “Blessed are those who are [right now, actively] hungering and thirsting for right living”.
What is important to note here is that the verse is not talking about an attitude. It’s talking about a sincere and intense “right now” desire to do something—and that something is to live righteously. It is extremely helpful when we are able to determine when someone has an attitude versus a desire.
I know this sounds technical, but it’s actually very important if we don’t want to waste time trying to help those who are only giving mental assent to an idea (see Matt. 7:6). Merriam Webster* defines attitude as “a mental position with regard to a fact or state”. An attitude. From a biblical perspective, earnestly wanting to stop addictive behavior is not sufficient. Earnestly wanting to live righteously is. The goal is not to stop. The goal is, as always, to be like Christ.
Here we have a difference in emphasis. Earnestly wanting to stop is seeking to arrive at a passive state. It’s no longer doing something, the addictive behavior. Earnestly wanting to live righteously is seeking to arrive at an active state. It is doing something, living righteously. There is considerably more emphasis given in the Bible about what “to do” rather than what “not to do”.
So, how can we determine who will succeed?
- Look for actions. In marriage counseling, when discussing love, I tell couples that “love is as love does”. Love is a verb, an action word. So it is with hunger and thirst. We need to see it happening, not just expressed.
- Does the person keep appointments?
- Are they completing assignments (homework) on time?
- Ask them if they not only understand what it means to be free in Christ, but are they actually living that way.
- Do they seem to be dragging out the counseling experience without any sign of progress stemming from active desire?
Desire is as desire does. If the hunger and thirst are invisible, it’s probably best to tell the person to come back when they really want it. This isn’t being insensitive. It’s stepping aside to allow the Holy Spirit to continue working to bring the person to a place of repentance.
What suggestions would you add to this list? Please comment below and let me know how you counsel the addicted.
*MW Collegiate Dict. (11th Ed.)