"Give us today our daily bread"
When I was first converted, almost 30 years ago now, ѕ I was, as you say, a college freshman ѕ my great consuming need, or so I thought, was a car. And I did what I thought the Bible expected of me, I prayed for one. My prayers were simple and earnest: I didnt ask for a Cadillac, just a vehicle with four wheels and an ability get from A to B without the need for an advanced knowledge of motor mechanics. Something dependable. And cheap! The Lord did not answer my prayers. At least, not at first. It was to be at least three years before I was in a position to purchase and run a car. I recall it well: it cost me, roughly, $50. It had done some 150,000 miles, I think, and it lasted all of three months. It died on a highway, unceremoniously belching out smoke that signaled its unrecoverable demise. I was on my to preach and it failed to get me there.
I puzzle over that story now, as I did then. Doesnt the Bible lead us to expect that God will give us what we ask of him? Does not the Bible say, "Ask and you shall receive?" Have not Christian writers published books with titles such as, How to Write Your Own Check with God? Do not TV-evangelists insist that Gods children are not meant to live in deprivation: this is Gods earth for Gods children. "Name it claim it" is their formula. So, why did God take so long to give me a car? And why did He take it away so quickly?
This story may not interest you to the degree it interests me: but I venture to suggest that it is modern parable teaching some valuable truths. Of course, the answer, according to the modern-counterparts of Jobs comforters, is simple: my sin got in the way! And that is altogether possible. I do not wish to deny the very real possibility that the Lord did not hear me, because my sin got in the way (c.f. Psa 66:18). But, need it always be thus? Is the premise true, that God gives us whatever we ask Him, so long as it is "in faith"? The answer to this is a resounding "No!" It is to be found everywhere in Scripture, not least in this, the fourth petition of the Lords Prayer. We are to ask for, and thereby receive, daily bread. But, we run ahead of ourselves. We first of all need to ask some more elementary questions about this prayer so that we may see what it does say rather than what it does not say.
There is a certain logic to the prayer: three petitions extolling Gods name, Gods kingdom, and Gods will underline the truth that life is meant to be lived for one purpose ѕ to glorify God for all that He is worth. Now in the fourth petition, the tables are turned, so to speak, and we are concerned with ourselves. Having worshiped, we now ask for something. And the first thing we ask for is strength to do the kind of God-focused living described in the first half of the prayer.
Honor your bodies as the Spirits temple
To some, the spiritual descendants of the third century ascetic and mystic Mani (his theology has been called Manichaeism), who believed that sin inherently adheres to the physical and that spirituality involves separating from it as much as possible, find a petition asking for food problematic. I am reminded of the witty, but wise, words of Samuel Johnson who, when criticized for caring to much for his stomach, replied that those who did not would soon find that they were in no position to care about much else! No, the Bible is as concerned about the physical as it is about the spiritual. It is critical of those who care for the body and not the soul, but not in such a way as to suggest that the body doesnt matter very much. Indeed, the Bible witnesses to the fact that Adam reflected the image of God, not just in a soul-ish way, but in his bodily form, too (c.f. Gen 1:26-27). Jesus took human flesh ѕ He was not an apparition or ghostly figure as Docetists like Cerinthus taught, something which may well lie behind the emphasis on Jesus physical nature in Johns writings. But, more especially, the Bible expects us to believe that the goal of Gods redemptive work is the creation of "a new heavens and a new earth." Jesus may well have been alluding to this in His resurrection body whereby He ate breakfast, bread and fish, with the disciples (John 21:13; c.f. Luke 24:30). What this brief sketch summarizes is that God is deeply concerned about the physical body. He made it thus, and sends His Spirit to dwell in it as a temple (1 Cor 6:19).
The fourth petition, then, reminds us that our salvation in Jesus Christ has a physical dimension. Our adoption as sons of God anticipates, Paul argues, "the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23). Though Paul argues elsewhere that what is raised in the resurrection body is "spiritual," it is nevertheless, a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:44). Paul is not denying the physicality of it; he is eager to emphasize that, on the one hand, it will be a body free from sin, and on the other hand, it is a body that is raised in power and glory. That is why Paul shows such concern for the body: he knows that Christ is to be exalted in his body (Phil 1:20). Thus, Paul is concerned to mortify the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13), even to the extent of keeping a watch over the parts, or "instruments" of the body (Rom 6:13), so that he may present himself to God as holy in his body.
The fourth petition in signaling food is saying: the body matters. We pray about the body and its needs. And more especially, God is concerned with our bodies. In the words of the author of Hebrews: " we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are ѕ yet was without sin" (Heb. 4:15). He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust (Psa 103:14).
This means that there is nothing unspiritual about praying for food, or clothes or whatever else we may need in order to live our lives here in this world. We forget too easily that Paul was taken up for a good part of his ministry with collecting money for the believers in Jerusalem so that they could purchase food in the famine they suffered. And whilst the early church thought it unwise for the elders to be preoccupied with such things when other things were more important (such as prayer and preaching), in electing men to serve as proto-deacons to administer food relief to the widows in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-7). "To wait on tables" may be less important on the scale of things than preaching the gospel; but, it is not unimportant. The apostolic church ensured that it be done efficiently and comprehensively.
The body matters enormously. Then again, the petition has something else to teach us: in telling us that we should we pray for bread, ѕ one of the most common food items, then as now, ѕ it is saying that we should pray to God for everything.
Trusting God for all things
What we have here is an argument for the lesser to the greater: if we are to pray for a loaf of bread, we must pray for absolutely everything.
Bread! Many of us have discovered the joys of bread-making! One of my friends naughtily calls it sacramental. What he means by that is that there is something about the whole process of making bread that reminds us of very basic things. Things like life and death. Yeast is alive and though we may ruin it by chemically describing what happens to yeast at certain temperatures whenever it comes into contact with salt and sugar, the process of watching dough rise can be fascinating. From some very basic ingredients can emerge something which still sustains and nourishes in a way that, quite frankly, nothing else does. Bread still constitutes a basic food item in almost every part of the world.
Praying for bread is a way of reminding us that God is provider of all things; His providence is universal. To ensure that bread ends up on our tables, He must order the climactic, agricultural and economic conditions that ensure that bread is the result of it all.
Bread comes from the supermarket. True. However, there are limitless number of factors that must come together to ensure that the supermarket can supply it and we have the means to purchase it. And the process whereby this is accomplished is covenantal. It is breathtaking to consider that Gods covenant with Noah ѕ that seed-time and harvest will not fail ѕ lies behind a simple loaf of bread. Praying this petition for daily bread is praying that God would fulfill what he has covenanted (c.f. Gen 8:22).
Have you noticed how Jesus warns the rich about the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23)? It is not impossible, of course. Abraham and Job were renowned for their wealth, to name but two godly folk in the Bible. And, were it not for the ministry of wealthy women, Jesus own ministry would have been severely curtailed. The issue is not wealth in and of itself. The issue is one of godliness. Wealth makes it hard for a person to depend on God. If you are accustomed to getting everything you want it is hard to develop good spiritual attitudes of a servant-like heart that waits on the Master to provide. Cyprian (c. 20-258 a.d.) wrote about the wealthy in his day in terms that shock us now as it must have then:
"Their property held them in chains chains which shackled their courage and choked their faith and hampered their judgment and throttled their souls They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they rather who are owned; enslaved as they are to their own property, they are not the masters of their money but its slaves."
That captures it well. Riches choke out the spirit of waiting upon God. It fosters prayerlessness, ingratitude, and self-absorption. It encourages us to think of riches as "my treasure"ѕ to cite Gollum in J. R. R. Tolkiens epic saga, Lord of the Rings. There is a blessing that attends the need to have to pray for the next meal that outweighs the blessing of earthly resources. It helps us see that God is giver of all good things.
Horatius Bonar caught it well in his hymn, Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God whenever he wrote the lines:
Praise in the common things of life,
Its goings out and in;
Praise in each duty and each deed,
However small and mean.
Even in the mean things, God is the great Provider. "He loves thee too little, who loves anything as well as thee which he does not love for thy sake," wrote Augustine. Seeing in a loaf of bread the sovereign providence of God is a lesson that is designed to keep us humble.
But why do we pray for daily bread?
Living one day at a time
It would be interesting if the prayer read, "Give us this day our weekly, or monthly bread"! Why did Jesus so word this prayer to ensure that we focus on the needs of one day at a time? Actually, the petition has been subjected to some severe analysis at this point. The original Greek uses a hapax legomenon at this point. That is, the word translated "daily" only occurs here in the New Testament. The New Living Translation, for example, suggests a marginal reading, "Give us our food for tomorrow."
Whatever the exact translation may be, the point remains the same: we are to pray for only sufficient bread for one day (whether it be todays or tomorrows). Context helps us a little here. Bread is notorious for getting stale quickly. We moderns think we have cracked that problem through additives that prolong shelf life, but at the expense of taste and quality some of us would argue. Hording bread before the days of deep freezers, was a pointless exercise. But the issue is not really about bread, of course; it is about attitude. What this petition fosters is a spirit of dependence, of living a day at a time, of keeping short accounts with God. We are not boast about tomorrow because we do not know what it might bring forth (Prov 27:1).
In the setting of the Lords prayer in Matthews Gospel, Jesus goes on to teach about treasures and the futility of putting all our stock in this world, adding that we are not to worry about tomorrow, "for tomorrow will worry about itself" (Matt 6:34). It is interesting to think of this in terms of what Jesus has told us in the third petition in which we pray for guidance, or better, submission to his revealed will. The problem with guidance is that we dont know the future! If God were to reveal more of it, we would find it easier to see what we are meant to do. Perhaps! But it would also, most likely, make it all the harder to submit to if that guidance contained hardship and suffering. It is a great blessing not to know what lies ahead.
Contentment! This petition is a way of saying, "Live by faith, one step at a time. Dont expect to know too much about next week, an still less about next year. Know that God will provide for whats ahead even though it may appear that the jar may be running empty. Trust Me."
And that is hard. Hard, because we instinctively want to cushion the future. Protestantism has always encouraged saving and money management and forward planning. And nothing that is said here is meant in way to discourage that. But the promise is for one day at a time and for those who forget it, God may bring them up short and remind them by causing their "treasure" ѕ not their true treasure, but their perceived one ѕ to dissipate and shrivel.
The provision of daily bread fosters prayerfulness in a way that nothing else does. Sensing need around the corner bends us in servant-like shapes.
Greed destroys. Wanting more than we need is what bends our lives out of shape. It destroys us; but it harms others too. We teach our children the difference between "want" and "need," but we are slow to learn the lesson ourselves. We see others with their toys and we envy them. Envy is followed quickly by resentment and bitterness. Death ѕ spiritual death ѕ is just around the corner. Hence the prayer of the Book of Proverbs:
Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
Do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty or riches,
But give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
And say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or I may become poor and steal,
And so dishonor the name of my God.
There are few Christians that handle wealth well, just as there are few Christians that handle poverty well. That is why we need to be careful in embarking on a life-style that is designed to bring along with it increased temptations to conform to the spirit of the world. Be holy, that is different here is the Bibles exhortation to us.
"Give us this day our daily bread" is code language for, "Lord, help me to be content with whatever You are pleased to give me. I will not ask for more than I need. Forgive me for all forms of self-indulgence and distrust."
Will you pray this?
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