For many years Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ questions on a wide variety of topics.
This question came to Isabella in a letter from a woman named Jessie:
What is the meaning of the Bible verse: “He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness”?
I am not satisfied and I don't know what I want. I have asked God to help me find out, but I don't get help. I try to do what I think is right, but I seem to be as badly off today as I was yesterday. The soul hunger is still there, and I don't know where to look in the Bible, or out of it. How can I satisfy this hunger, or this longing for something that I haven't got? Can you help me?
Here is Isabella’s advice:
I think the Bible verse you quoted means exactly what it says; it is the out-pouring of a glad heart in thankful song because God has made good his promise.
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
That is the promise, and there are multitudes who can testify to its truth. The first step in securing its fulfillment to the individual soul is to believe it unquestioningly.
As to the reasons why some Christians (who think they are hungry for righteousness) continue from day to day to be “as bad off today as they were yesterday,” they are various. There is a state of longing, of unrest, of desire for something—one hardly knows what—that has very little to do with God. It merely represents a dissatisfied heart that thinks itself willing to take God, or anything else, in order to find happiness; but that is not hunger for righteousness.
The Bible verses quoted have to do, I think, with those who have already had an actual Christian experience that abides. They have settled it once and for all that they belong to the Lord Jesus Christ in covenant relations. That is, they have seen themselves as sinners, and Christ as the only Savior, and have definitely accepted him as their substitute. They recognize that they are not their own, that they have been “bought, with a price,” and have ratified the transaction; that henceforth their time, their talents, their possessions are his—lent to them for use, but absolutely under his control. Such an experience leaves no room for dissatisfaction and vague unrest.
Their days begin with prayer, real prayer—a definite commitment of each hour and each bit of work, each responsibility, each “thorn in the flesh,” each trifle to God, asking and expecting his minute and continuous attention.
Sometime during the progress of their day there is definite Bible study. Not simply the reading of a few verses in succession, or scattered here and there, without giving careful attention to their meaning, but a real feeding of the mind:
“Whose word is this that I am reading? Is it my Lord’s?”
“Just what does he say here, and how?”
“What part of this is assuredly for me? Is it a promise? Can I claim it? Have I done so, definitely?
“Is there a direction here? Am I obeying it?”
“Is the meaning obscure?
“Am I using my best endeavors to find out just what he meant me to get from this portion?
“Has he explained it somewhere else in my Bible?”
Remember that he will work no miracles for you except those of which you stand in need. He has given you the book and a capacity for studying it; he will no more do the studying for you than he will make the bread in your kitchen while you fold your hands and wait for it.
I speak intentionally of daily Bible study, remembering, as I use the phrase, that there are some lives so crowded with what are known to be duties, that not even a small portion of their day can be claimed for what they call actual study.
In those situations there is a delightful and helpful “study,” which one dear saint calls “feeding upon a Bible verse.” Take a little verse, or a piece of a verse, into the duties and perplexities and pin-pricks of the busiest day, and it will often prove a veritable armor.
Think of going into the thick of a Monday morning with a cantankerous parent to appease, with a wide-awake and deeply interested baby at the mischievous age to watch, with two or three heedless and belated children to be buttoned and brushed and smoothed and sent happily off to school; with door bells and telephone bells to answer, with luncheon to manage for seven or eight persons, with a tardy announcement that a friend is coming for luncheon and to spend the afternoon with the neighbor next door running in to borrow, and chat and hinder, with the thousand and one besetments of a wife, and mother, and housekeeper. Think of her as taking hold of all these duties, freshly armored with the verse:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear; God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able: but will, with the temptation, make also the way of escape that ye may be able to endure it.
You can imagine one’s temptations to the hasty word, to undue fault-finding, to feeling sure that she simply cannot endure any more of this.
“No,” says the Word upon which she is feeding, “you must not say that. God will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able. He says so. He knows the temptations; he will make the way of escape. He says so.”
Did he mean her? Oh, yes, indeed! He had her in mind. “Neither pray I for these alone,” said Jesus, “but for them also which shall believe on me.” That includes her, and she knows that “he ever liveth to make intercession for her.”
Who is going to estimate the effect on the world of that day’s soul-food, as the busy daughter, wife and mother, with quiet face and sweet, low voice, meets and endures her multiform temptations with the armor that her Lord has supplied!
Such Bible reading is Bible study reduced to living. Such a life will grow; will feel more intimate acquaintance with the Lord today than it had yesterday, more joy in his service.
Such a soul will learn to long after fellowship with Jesus Christ, and will daily be given more and more of his felt presence.
Such a soul will “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” not in a sickly, sentimental, dissatisfied way, but with an eagerness and a hopefulness born of experience, and an experience that will refuse to be satisfied with anything less.
I believe real soul-hunger to be a pleasant experience: as when one with a healthy, normal appetite sits down to a well-filled table, knowing that he is very hungry, and knowing, also, that his hunger will be satisfied.
What do you think of Isabella’s advice?
Have you ever tried her method of memorizing a single Bible verse to carry with you throughout the day?
Isabella based some of her novels on the advice she gave here about “feeding upon a Bible verse.”
In Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence, for example, Frank learns that memorizing one Bible verse a day, and keeping it top of mind all day long, can make a big difference in his outlook and his walk with God. You can get your copy of the book by clicking here.
She used a variation of the method in A Dozen of Them, where a boy named Joseph promised his sister he would choose one Bible verse a month and make it a rule to live by. You can read the book for free by clicking here.