By David Cannistraci

Times of famine may touch our spiritual lives, but confessing root issues will restore our harvest of joy.

The Great Irish Famine invaded Ireland between 1845 and 1849, bringing indescribable suffering to the brave island nation.  It’s estimated that over a million lives were lost as a result of starvation and disease, but the human suffering was greater than the numbers convey.  Families were torn apart, children languished in their mothers arms, and the cries of helpless masses went unanswered by a world ill-equipped to respond. 

What could have caused such devastation? The pages of modern history are filled with similar stories in China, Cambodia, Ethiopia and North Korea—each with their own cause.  But in the case of the Great Irish Famine, the suffering began with a tiny spore that silently multiplied and almost instantly destroyed Ireland’s potato crops.  Without warning, a nation’s food supply simply rotted, toppling its economy.  The lives and dreams of the Irish were traumatized for decades to come.

Sometimes hidden things unleash famine on our lives.  King David discovered this near the end of his long reign over Israel (2 Samuel 21:1-9, 14).  A mysterious and relentless famine had struck his people.  Year after year passed, and still the painful plague wouldn’t lift.  Rain didn’t fall, seed couldn’t take root, and the harvest never came.  God’s people were drowning in a flood of lack.

David inquired of the Lord, who revealed the root of the problem.  He reminded David of Saul’s injustice toward the Gibeonites.  Centuries before, Joshua and the elders of Israel had sworn a covenant to protect this minority people in exchange for their surrender and service (see Joshua chapter 9).  But Saul was blind to the value of relationships—even those sheltered by sacred promise.  To him, the needs of outsiders were irrelevant.  Saul gave the order to wipe them out, and in so doing, infected his nation with an invisible spore of sin that resulted in a tragic famine.

The Famine of the Heart

Naturally speaking, famines are extended times of lack.  They begin with a disruption of the food supply, often brought on by a period of drought or war.  The process of sowing seed and reaping for harvest is interrupted.  Malnutrition, disease and death come quickly.

Over my years of ministry, I’ve seen how times of emotional and spiritual famine can afflict good people. The famine of the heart is a season of distress, often the result of spiritual attacks or periods of dryness. The prophet Amos spoke of times when there would be a “famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11).  We’ve all have bad days or weeks, but famines of the heart are longer and far more serious.  We run short of joy.  Our peace dries up, and we search in vain for a sense of God’s presence.  Nothing we plant seems to prosper.  

The suffering during these seasons can be devastating.  It goes deeper than the inconvenience of lack.  When our heart is famished, we grow more confused, hopeless and weary with each day.  The seeds of faith shrivel, and our hearts lack the Spirit’s fruit of love, joy, and peace.  When long seasons pass without the Spirit’s refreshing rain, we are in a famine of the heart.  

Yet famines lift when we listen to God.  When David inquired of the Lord, it was the beginning of a breakthrough.  There is a brilliant openness about David.  He was willing to follow the truth, no matter where it took him.  He didn’t detach from God or blame Him for the pain.  He didn’t pass his suffering off as mere time and chance.  He was willing to ask the Lord about the cause.  Was it possible that Israel had become infected deep within?  What could break the famine and restore the harvest of blessing?

Root Issues and Hidden Causes

Root issues are critical.  It is useless for us to try to fix our famines by fussing around with surface things while ignoring the true causes deep inside.  A woman who has endured a lifetime of rejection may find antidepressants useful in numbing her pain, but until she is deals with her root issues, she can’t be free.  A man who struggles to commit to his wife’s needs may find an escape from his guilt and confusion in endless hours of television, but until he allows God to work on his root issues, his marriage will never flourish.

Israel’s famine was rooted in the issue of the broken covenant with the Gibeonites.  It was a sin problem that required a spiritual solution.  Understanding this, David asked them what could be done to heal the pain.  The Gibeonites sought neither the payback of revenge nor a payoff of money— they wanted Saul’s sin acknowledged and made right.  They wanted justice.

In a solution that might seem harsh at first, Saul’s descendants paid the price with their lives. This was no mob lynching—it was a remission of sin, sanctioned by heaven (2 Samuel 21:9).  The messy business of broken covenants had opened the door to famine.  Only a sacrifice could close that door and settle the sin-debt Saul had created.

Right now, the Holy Spirit is digging deep in our lives, helping us to understand root issues.  Because He loves us, He’s revealing the hidden causes of our lack and pain.  John the Baptist described times like this when he said, “And even now the ax is being laid to the root of the trees…” (Matthew 3:10).  It’s time to stop putting band-aids on tumors.  The Great Physician longs to do a surgical work that brings healing the root of our needs.

The Power of the Cross

The Bible is clear that sin can only be remitted by the sacrifice (Hebrews 9:22). Thankfully, the blood of our Deliverer-King was shed at the cross to satisfy divine justice and restore our famished hearts.   

Isaiah foresaw the sin-remitting power of Christ’s sacrifice: “…It was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering… After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied…My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:10-11, NIV)  Christ also understood His sacrifice as full payment for sin.  As He poured the wine, He told His disciples: “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)   

The sons of Saul no longer have to die to end our famines.  Christ has settled our sin-debt forever, bringing us the promise that we can also be free from the spiritual famines of this sin-infected world.  

One day a broken woman stumbled in to our church office.  She had just been released from jail.  She was penniless, hopeless, and clueless of Christ’s desire to repair her tormented life.  She came to us because her car had broken down in front of our building, and she didn’t know what else to do.  Can anyone help me?  I have nothing left but pain.

As we ministered to her famished heart, she confessed her sins and accepted Jesus.  We dealt with lifelong roots of rejection, shame and fear.  Her hurts were washed away in a stream of tears, and we watched as her famine lifted.  Today she is happily married and leads a successful ministry in our church to emotionally broken people. 

To activate Christ’s famine-breaking power in our lives, we must be willing to confront our failures through honest confession. Like David, we must come clean with God.  Are we holding on to unconfessed sin?  Are we violating God’s Word? Are we perpetrating injustice? Have we withheld forgiveness, broken covenant, or given place to bitterness, pride, lust or greed?  Dishonesty and denial only shelter the spores that impoverish our hearts.  Coming clean with God connects us with the power of the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus, breaking the root of sin and releasing us back to our harvest of joy:  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

Restoring the Harvest of Joy

Once Israel’s sin-root was cut, the famine lifted (2 Samuel 21:14).  What a release!  The rains fell again, watering and reviving the dormant seeds of blessing.  The nation’s anxiety lifted.  Prosperity returned, and David’s song rang out:  “[The righteous] shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.” (Psalm 37:19)

This story speaks to our lives:  Hidden things create pain.  Root issues are important.  Sin creates suffering.  Confession brings healing.  But most importantly, because of Christ, there is hope for the famished heart.  He promises to “satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones.  He reassures us: “You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11)

If your heart is famished, run to these promises.  Don’t cut yourself off from God or blame Him for the pain.  Dig deeper and ask the Lord to lay His ax to the root.  Come to the cross, and let the rain of His presence restore you.  Your famine will end.  The once dead seeds of faith and hope will take root again, and your harvest of joy will return.