by Jeff Finely
Near the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). What does it mean to pursue righteousness in the confusing and challenging world of 2020, and what does it mean to “be filled”? For guidance, LIGHT + LIFE turned to two experts, Pastors Estelle Martin and Laura Warth who help people experience God’s righteousness at Chapel of Change — a rapidly growing, multiethnic, multicampus Free Methodist congregation in Southern California — and on the National Prayer Ministry’s leadership team. Here are excerpts of our discussion.
L+L: What do you think it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Estelle Martin: When there is a physical hunger or thirst, there is an intense desire to satisfy that longing for food by eating something and slaking the thirst by drinking something to quench the thirst. When you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you are reminded that Jesus is all our righteousness, and God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on our faith in Christ alone. We will be satisfied by our response to His open invitation to be in right relationship with Him as we long for His righteous character to be evident not only in our own personal lives, but in the lives of others here on earth.
Laura Warth: My encounter with this scripture was in 2013 when God woke me up, and He said, “Wake up. It’s time.” Those were His words to me, and I woke up out of a deep sleep. One of the first things God would teach me as He was leading me in prayer was how to hunger and thirst for righteousness. As I read this verse, and I really began to ask God to change my desires to what He desires. I began to pray, “God give me a love for the things that you love and a hate for the things that you hate.” So I began to ask Him to fill me with His desire to love righteousness and to hate wickedness. We become righteous because that’s what Christ Jesus is, and that’s our position, but then we’re to pursue righteousness. That was really what I was focusing on, because I knew who I was, but I wasn’t doing what I should have been doing. I had to really learn how to approach God and how to pray in order for me to experience a righteous lifestyle.
L+L: Do you think Christians in 2020 have lost their hunger and thirst for righteousness? If so, what are ways we can regain that hunger and thirst?
Laura Warth: Absolutely, because I’ve seen it, and I’ve experienced it even in my own life. So much in Christianity of what people think is in line with what the world thinks, even their goals. I do believe that Christians are not praying like they should, and that’s why they’re not experiencing high levels of righteousness in their own lives. They’ve not been pursuing God intentionally or passionately. They’ve not spent time in the secret place of prayer in order to get to know Him and let Him reveal to us what His righteousness is. Prayer is the key. When we pray in line with God’s will, we can and should expect to encounter God in a personal and powerful way. When we encounter God in those ways, God meets us there, and He begins to deal with us specifically. Now we’ve entered into a place of prayer where we can have these deep, long and heartfelt conversations with God, and He can begin to speak to us about areas. God is very specific. He won’t give us a general assignment. … In that [television] show that I was watching, He began to say to me, “What is taking place? I want you to open your eyes and see. [The wife on the show] gossips. She lies. She dishonors her husband. Does that amuse you? Because it doesn’t amuse Me.” … He started telling me about the music that I had, and it wasn’t crazy or cursing music. Here’s what He began to download into my Spirit. A lot of those songs that I still had, even though they were not what I consider bad, some of them were still tied to my life before Christ. The memories, the sounds and the rhythms of those songs would immediately trigger an emotion and take me back to what I was doing — the party lifestyle, the carnal lifestyle.
Estelle Martin: While I cannot speak for all Christians losing their hunger and thirst for righteousness, I can say that during this global pandemic and the racial uprisings we have experienced this year, we have all certainly been challenged to re-examine our relationship with God as opposed to our service in His kingdom. Personally, I have had to consider and evaluate how much time I spend in His presence and in His Word and compare it with how much time I spend doing the work of the ministry. To regain my hunger and thirst for more of Him, I must make it a priority to climb up into my Daddy’s (Abba Father’s) lap just because I want to be there, gaze upon His glory, and soak in His presence. Once I am there and receive the joy and kisses of His fragrant Spirit, and even His chastening, I will come back for more for there’s no other place where I can find real peace, rest, joy and strength for the journey that completely satisfies. Also delighting in His Word and obeying His commandments are ways I know I can always get my hunger and thirst back.
L+L: The New Living Translation renders Matthew 5:6 as, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” Justice is a hot topic these days. Do you see a difference between righteousness and justice? If so, what do you think it means to hunger and thirst for justice?
Estelle Martin: “Justice” is making things right that are unfair in society and is more about legal and systemic problems. “Righteousness” is doing right by people, especially the vulnerable. It is more about our good deeds, acts of generosity toward those in need. To hunger and thirst for justice is to deeply desire things in society and in our legal system to be right, equal and fair for all people and not ignore the cries for social equity. I think of the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, “… Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” It means I want what God wants. My heart breaks for what breaks His, and I know He would want us, His people, called by His name, to pray and seek to long for His answers to the problems of injustice and not satisfy an agenda.
Laura Warth: I have the New King James Version that I’ve had since I got saved at 18 years old, so I’ve only seen that version as “righteousness.” God says we are to love justice. God is a just God and makes things right, but I think that word “justice,” in people’s modern eyes, seems just to make things right for the underprivileged and those who have been mistreated — handling things in legal matters more so than in heart matters.
L+L: What are some times in your life when you’ve sought or experienced God’s righteousness or justice?
Laura Warth: That [2013 experience] was just the beginning. God began to reveal to me other areas of my life. Obviously from then to now, I’ve remained with God and am spending a lot of time in a place of prayer regularly. There’s always something that God is revealing. A lot of Christians and pastors who are married and doing ministry, they don’t understand we are to honor one another. God began to deal with me. He said, “Honor your husband.” I said, “Lord, teach me how to honor him.” It’s part of righteousness, because it’s doing what’s right in God’s eyes. I was the breadwinner for the first three years of launching the church [where Laura’s husband, Brian, serves as the lead pastor]. I just had this perspective of it’s whoever makes the most money, or I know more because I’ve been out here working and taking care of business. God began to rewire my perspective, and He began to speak to me about the little things that we don’t even realize.
Estelle Martin: The first time I sought and experienced God’s righteousness and justice was when I cried out to receive His Son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to save me from my life of sin and separation from Him. The blood of Jesus covered me, His amazing grace came in and flooded my soul with love, mercy and forgiveness. I did not deserve (justice), and I was made righteous by the righteousness of Christ. There are numerous times when I have had to earnestly seek His righteousness because, as a flawed human being, I depend on His perfect Word and His Holy Spirit to help me live a life holy and acceptable unto Him. When I seek Him through prayer, He opens doors to show me how to demonstrate His righteousness and justice toward others by doing the right thing and foregoing the tendency to judge them. If I listen, He imparts godly wisdom and discernment that is fair, equitable and God-honoring.
L+L: What do you think Jesus meant by the word “filled” or “satisfied”?
Estelle Martin: After Jesus ministered to the woman at the well in John 4, He responded to the disciples who were urging Him to eat and said, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (NKJV). Then He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” I believe He meant that being filled or satisfied physically is not enough and cannot be compared to the infilling and indwelling of God’s abiding presence, which comes from hungering and thirsting for what pleases Him and having a willingness to hear and obey His voice no matter how much the carnal nature cries to be fed. There is a holy peace and connection with God and a humbling of my spirit knowing that the safest place in all the world is to be in the will of God who has sent us forth and commissioned us in ministry. I believe Jesus used the words “filled” or “satisfied” to mean that the more we stay in tune to the Spirit of God and focus on His plan, will and purpose for our lives, we will want to willingly and gladly walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Laura Warth: When I began to seek God purposely and intentionally, He began to satisfy the needs that I thought Brian, my husband, should have satisfied. God began to satisfy me with peace and in understanding who I was. God became everything that I needed so that when it came time for my husband, he was just the icing on the cake. He was no longer the cake. It took the burden off of Brian. I had him on this pedestal, and I took him off. Only God belonged there. I came to a place where God began to satisfy and fulfill every need that I had, so when it came to Brian, I was happy and content with what he was able to offer me. I know it sounds radical, but that’s what happens when you spend hours with God every single day. You begin to know Him personally.
L+L: How have you sensed that filling or satisfaction in your own life?
Laura Warth: I don’t want people to think it’s easy to say that [about being filled] because I’m married. Keep in mind that Brian was in prison 16 years. I didn’t have a husband out here with me. I was living on my own alone for almost the entire 16 years. At 16, he went in; at 19, I moved out on my own. For most of the time that he was in there, I was alone, and so I know what it feels like to not have somebody out here and with you as a family. Now [after Brian’s release] I had to come back the other way, and God had to show me all over again what it was to make sure that I understood that God was first.
Estelle Martin: If I truly hunger and thirst for righteousness, He keeps His promise and a well of living water springs up inside of me that spills over and fills every empty place and replaces every need and desire for anything but more of Him. When I seek Him earnestly and sincerely with all my heart, mind, body, soul and spirit, He does not disappoint. How badly do I want Him? Sometimes I crave and yearn so hungrily for Him after I get busy and caught up in the ministry where I am too tired to spend quality time with Him. Then when I come humbly before His throne with a repentant heart and earnestly ask Him to fill and satisfy the thirsting of my soul, He lovingly responds by emptying the essence of His Spirit and depositing it inside the core of my being to overflow. When Jesus fills and satisfies, He graciously gratifies, satiates, provides and supplies all that I need to stand and live a victorious, holy and blameless life without reproach. I also know too that being hungry and thirsty means I will always want to come back to Him for more of Him when I find myself empty and dry, which is a good thing. Why do you think Starbucks, McDonald’s, Kroger, Walmart and other companies are successful in keeping the consumer coming back for more? They have something that we all like and continue to need. Lord, may I never lose sight of my need to always come to You when I am hungry and dry for Your righteousness. Thank you for never turning me away and for Your faithful promise to fill me and satisfy me. You are more than enough and everything I need.
L+L: Chapel of Change is bringing together people of many different races, ethnicities and backgrounds. In what ways are you seeing people pursuing righteousness and justice, and how do you see them being filled or satisfied?
Estelle Martin: The teaching and preaching ministry of Pastors Brian and Laura Warth, the ministry teams, emerging leaders and staff at Chapel of Change are making a significant impact in the kingdom of God, and the devil is not happy at all. Praise God! First, prayer is the most important foundation on which everything else is centered around. As leaders in the church, we are called to engage in intense “boiler room” prayer times like Charles Spurgeon initiated. The church body is encouraged to raise up prayer altars in our hearts, in our homes and wherever we go. There are weekly Zoom prayer times and Wednesday evening prayer with Pastors Brian and Laura. … Second, the emphasis is not only on receiving the Word of God but teaching others to teach others the Word of God. There are over 30 small groups via Zoom that have been meeting each week to go over the lessons taught in the School of Spiritual Foundation available online every Thursday evening for seven weeks. We are intentional in our praying and getting the Word out, expressing our love and extending an invitation to Christ, all via airwaves, texting, Zoom, online and every way we can during this time of the pandemic. As a result, we are experiencing record attendance in all our outdoor services at the various campuses of Chapel of Change. We have also witnessed several water baptisms and received many reports of deliverance and salvation. All people of every nation, tribe and tongue are welcome, and many have sensed the call to come to Jesus, which is ultimately the pursuit of righteousness and justice. They have expressed a desire to be filled and satisfied with something more than what the world has to offer. On Oct. 30, we will have a tent revival in our new tent, and we are expecting a great harvest to the glory of God.
Laura Warth: Brian himself is very multiethnic. When he was in prison, because he was in the chapel and was serving God early on when he went in, his friends were mixed of all different types of ethnicities. He didn’t know what it was like to only have one set of friends. He had an African American chaplain who mentored him for several years. There was diversity in ethnicity and age. For myself, I was very active in my community in different organizations, mainly for helping society. The community was diverse as well. I didn’t isolate myself. He didn’t isolate himself. This was part of who we were, and actually that’s who our friends are. Sometimes people ask us, “How are you able to bring different ethnicities, races and backgrounds together?” Well, first Brian was a gang member, and he went in prison, and he was converted. I was a businesswoman, a real estate broker. I owned a company. Those are two different types of economic backgrounds. It was natural for us to bring together people that didn’t look the same, that didn’t have the same type of status socially or economically. We’ve got executives in our church, and we have people that are former drug addicts.
Chapel of Change’s vision is to “see a diverse people deeply connected to God, one another and kingdom mission.” Visit chapelofchange.org to learn more about the church and its ministries and leadership.+
Light + Life Executive Editor
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.