“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 didn’t 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. Doesn’t 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
God’s children are not meant to live in deprivation: this is God’s earth for
God’s 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 Job’s 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 Lord’s 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 God’s name,
God’s kingdom, and God’s 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 Spirit’s 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 doesn’t 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 John’s writings. But, more especially, the Bible expects us to
believe that the goal of God’s 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
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
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 God’s 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. Tolkien’s 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 today’s or tomorrow’s).
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 Lord’s prayer in Matthew’s 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 don’t 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
Contentment! This petition is a way of
saying, “Live by faith, one step at a time. Don’t expect to know too much about
next week, an still less about next year. Know that God will provide for what’s
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
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
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 Bible’s exhortation to
“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
Will you pray this?
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