Twenty years ago, I remember singing a song in church:
We have come into his house and gathered in his name to worship Him…
The second verse went like this:
Let’s forget about ourselves and concentrate on Him and worship Him…
I used to sing that verse with quite a bit of enthusiasm. It seemed like the right thing to do was to push out regular life and make room for worshiping God. You still hear that in churches. Sometimes, at the start of the service, someone will say, “I hope you’re able to push out of your mind the details of your week and simply focus on worshiping God today.” That’s a hard thing to do, and some of us have gotten quite good at it.
There’s a prayer that they used in the synagogue in Jesus’ day that would fit into this approach. It was a prayer all about God and nothing else:
Magnified and sanctified be His great name in the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom during your life and during your days, and during your life of the whole house of Israel, even swiftly and soon, and say Amen.
Let His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
And it would go on and continue all about God.
There’s nothing wrong with this prayer. In fact, a lot of people have noticed that the prayer that Jesus taught is very similar. Some people think that Jesus patterned the Lord’s Prayer after this one. The Lord’s Prayer begins praying about the same things:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
I’ve really needed this part of the prayer in my life, because I find that my prayers are too often about me. It’s easy to slip into a pattern of just coming to God when we need him, and to talk to him about our favorite subject: us. This part of the prayer gets us used to focusing on God and what he wants, praying for his kingdom and his will.
But if we just pray about the kingdom, then that has problems too. The synagogue prayer ends without praying for our needs. Contrast that to the prayer that Jesus taught. It prays for God and the kingdom, but then it also moves on to us and our needs:
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not to temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
This is very different from the synagogue prayer. Jesus spends half his prayer on God, and he spends half the time talking about us and our needs: what we eat, our relationships, our struggles. You can see parallels between this and what Jesus said is at the core of following him: loving God (the first part of the prayer) and loving our neighbor as ourself (the second part of the prayer). Following God isn’t just about spiritual things. Following God encompasses every part of life.
You could almost rewrite that song, “Let’s not forget about ourselves as we concentrate on Him and worship Him.” Faith is about all of life – diapers, bills, mortgages, car repairs, schedules, taxes, everything you can think of.
Today I’d like to look at the first line of this second part of the prayer: “Give us today our daily bread.” I think all of us recognize that a large part of our lives is spent trying to make sure that we have enough to live on. For a lot of us, we spend at least forty hours a week trying to provide enough for ourselves and our families. We would live very differently if we were independently wealthy. If we’re retired, we try to make sure we live in such a way that we’ll have enough income to last as long as we’ll need it.
We also spend a lot of time taking care of what we have. I read this week that the average person owns over ten thousand things. All of those things that we own need maintenance. We have to store everything that we have, maintain what we have. As an extreme, I heard of a couple that owned so much stuff that they had to move out of their house into a trailer, because there was no room for them anymore in the house. Sounds extreme, but a lot of us have garages and basements full of excess stuff.
Today’s prayer tells us something important about our stuff. First, it tells us that God is in the stuff business. Sometimes we live as if God is just about the first part of the Lord’s prayer. When Jesus teaches us to pray about what we eat, he reminds us that God is just as concerned about our daily lives – feeding our kids, paying our bills, going to work – as he is about us going to church. A theology that doesn’t cover all of life isn’t a theology at all.
This prayer also teaches us that God has specific things he’d like us to pray about our stuff. God is concerned about our stuff, and he wants us to pray certain things that might not have occurred to us on our own. If you’ve read through the Gospels, you know that Jesus had a lot to say about our relationship with our possessions. In this short phrase, Jesus gives us a theology of our stuff that is simple and yet unbelievably deep. We’re just going to be able to skim the surface of what he says today.
So if you are overwhelmed with earning enough, and taking care of yourselves and those who depend on you, or just frustrated by looking after all that you have, or if you find yourself continually wanting more, Jesus tells us to transform our relationship with our stuff by regularly praying about it the way that God wants us to pray. I’m going to ask three questions of the phrase, “Give us today our daily bread”: what, who, and when. These are three questions we need to keep in mind as we pray about our stuff.
The first question is what to pray for. I guess the real question is, what does bread mean? It’s a deceptively simple question, but there’s been a lot of debate about that over the centuries.
The earliest church scholars couldn’t believe that Jesus really meant bread, so they spiritualized the meaning of bread – to refer to the bread at the Eucharist or Lord’s Table, or to the future messianic feast. You can see why they would do this. It’s what we do sometimes too. God surely can’t be in the bread business.
I was driving with a very godly man once. We were looking for a parking spot. He found one pretty quickly, and as he pulled in, he said, “Praise the Lord!” I remember thinking, “Surely God’s got better things to worry about than parking spots.” It’s easy to keep God in charge of the big stuff – the spiritual stuff – and to leave the rest of the stuff to ourselves.
But bread isn’t meant to be taken spiritually here, although it can mean more than just bread. When Jesus says bread, it’s a figure of speech for food. It actually stands for more than food: for all of our needs, in every area: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Somebody’s said that if Jesus had given this prayer in Italy, he would have said, “Give us today our daily pasta.” If it was in the Philippines, it would have been rice. If you’re following Atkins, maybe it would be protein. It’s a prayer that God would meet our needs.
Listen to what Martin Luther answered when asked, “What is daily bread?”
Everything that is required to satisfy our bodily needs; such as food and raiment, house and home, fields and flocks, money and goods; pious parents, children, and servants; godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health; order and honor; true friends, good neighbors, and the like.
It’s a prayer for everything that we need.
Some of us have lots of needs today. It’s encouraging to know that God knows about our needs and promises to provide for them. I don’t know how he does it, but he does. I’ve seen this in my own family, in all kinds of stories I’ve heard from other people. When my father left, my mother raised four kids on our own. She started out with no job, no car, and mortgage payments. Looking back, she has no idea how God stretched every dollar to meet our needs. We never had a lot left over, but God met our needs. Now that we’re in a better situation, it’s amazing how more money doesn’t seem to go as far. God has a way of looking after our needs, whatever they are – spiritual, physical, emotional. We can pray to him to do this.
It reminds me of what happened with Israel as they wandered through the wilderness for forty years: “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet” (Deuteronomy 29:5). God has always been in the business of making sure his children have enough. I’m not sure how he does it, but he does in ways that we can’t explain. This prayer is good news for those of us who come with needs today.
The reality, though, is that a lot of us don’t feel too needy. I guess I have a question I think we need to ask. Why should we pray for what we need when we already have enough? We don’t really need more stuff. It seems crazy to pray for bread when some of us are trying to cut back on our carbs. You can get three loaves for three dollars at Costco. We may not need more bread, but we need other things this prayer offers.
One is gratitude. This prayer reminds us that everything we have is from God. There’s nothing that we have that didn’t come from him. Even the things that we think we earned ourselves are gifts from him. This prayer offers us gratitude and satisfaction. When we see that what we have is all a gift from God, it allows us to accept and enjoy it all as a gift.
A second thing this prayer offers us is perspective on our stuff. When we have more than enough, and we think we don’t need more bread, it reminds us that we have more than we need, and we don’t need to cling to it. It reminds us that our problem may be that we already have too much. Proverbs 30:7-9 says:
Two things I ask of you, LORD:
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor 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.
Our problem may not be that we need bread. Our problem may be that we have too much, and it’s keeping us from simplicity and satisfaction and dependence on God. Praying for no more than our needs should remind us that we should hold our stuff loosely, or else it will weigh us down and keep us from the satisfaction that God wants to give us. We don’t have to hold on to our stuff when God has promised to provide for our needs.
The third thing that this prayer offers us is the ability to see other people’s needs. I’ve hardly noticed this before, but this line is in the plural: “Give us today our daily bread.” Somebody’s said that if we have two loaves and our brother or sister has none, you can’t assume that you have one loaf for eating and the other one for storing. This prayer is not just a prayer that our needs would be met. It is a prayer that the needs of all Christ’s followers would be met.
This one has really hit me this past year. I find it so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t even think of the needs of God’s people, not just locally but around the world. One of the things we’re going to focus on this year is capturing a global perspective on what God is doing around the world, and to pray for the needs – the daily bread – of the church around the world. Of course, it’s dangerous to pray, because when we start to pray for their needs, we become personally involved, and we might find ourselves sharing some of what we have. It’s a dangerous and yet an exciting prayer.
This prayer means a lot to me when I think of what we’re praying for. If you find yourself in need this morning, it’s encouraging to know that God is in the bread business. He cares about our needs and promises to supply them. I’ve been in situations of great need, and God has always come through. God delights in looking after his people.
This prayer means a lot to us who already have more than we need. It reminds us that what we need more than our stuff is gratitude and satisfaction. It reminds us to hold our stuff loosely, since it can get in the way. It reminds us to share with those who don’t have enough. That’s what this prayer is all about.
The second question I want to ask is who is behind this request. It’s an obvious answer. We’re praying to God to provide our needs. It’s easy to skip past this and go on to the next point, because it’s so obvious. But sometimes what is so obvious needs to be explored because otherwise we’ll miss an important point. This prayer is not ultimately about us and our needs. It’s all about God and what he is like.
It is always tough to sign up for something. I looked into upgrading my fitness membership recently. The membership representative called me and said, “Good news, it will cost you nothing to upgrade your membership. It’s no charge, and only an extra $50 per month.” I have a hard time giving my credit card number to a company that thinks $600 a year is the same as no charge. When you sign up for something, you want some assurance that what you’re signing up for is worth the price.
Jesus was very clear that following him is going to cost us. It costs us severely. Jesus said that following him requires complete obedience, and a willingness to give up everything else. Whenever Jesus spoke on this, people fled because the cost was so high. The ultimate question is, “Can I trust this God who wants everything I am and have to provide for me?” The answer, of course, is yes. Praying, “Give us today our daily bread” reminds us that God can be trusted to provide us with everything we need. We can trust God to provide.
Some of us have theologies of God that make us want to hold back. We see God as someone who is out to spoil our fun and to take away all that we love. Jesus says that we come to a God who always provides what we need:
- “God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” (Genesis 1:29)
- “The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:10)
- “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or their children begging for bread.” (Psalm 37:25)
- “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1)
- “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)
- “Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap, they have no storehouse or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 11:24)
Praying this prayer drives us to see past our needs to see the who behind the one who provides all of our needs. God is the one who provides everything that everybody has, but only we get to see who it is. God is the provider, the one who can be trusted to meet every need we have and more.
One New Year’s Day, in the Tournament of Roses parade, a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit. It was out of gas. The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas. The amusing thing was this float represented the Standard Oil Company. With its vast oil resources, its truck was out of gas.
We are in relationship with God, the one who loves to provide. He provides us with everything we need. We never have to worry about his willingness or his resources.
The last question I want to ask is the when question, “When?” Jesus told us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” The word that Jesus used for the frequency is virtually unknown. It’s used only here in Scripture and in all of ancient Greek literature. There’s been all kinds of debate on what it means. Earlier this century they found a fragment that looked like a list of expenses for a household, and it was used for the things that you buy that are perishable: chick peas, straw, stuff that would spoil.
The meaning seems to be a day at a time. If we pray this prayer in the morning, we are asking God to provide for that day. If we pray it at night, we’re asking him to provide for us for the next day.
This doesn’t make a lot of sense to us today, but it would have made lots of sense back then. Employees were paid daily back then. They were always a day away from needing something if their needs were going to be met. We are to have the same daily reliance on God as if we were completely out of resources, and needed him to provide for tomorrow. The reality – despite freezers full of food – is that we do.
Earlier, we read the story of God providing manna for Israel. It’s fascinating that he only provided enough for that day. I think what God really wants more than anything else when he provides for us is our trust. The goal is that we come to him as children, trusting him to provide for that day. When my kids wake up in the morning, they never worry about whether there’s enough food for the day. They trust that their parents will provide. One of the ways that God provides is for us to work. He’s not condemning hard work in this prayer, but he is condemning worry. He wants us to come, a day at a time, and ask God to provide.
When you get right down to it the issue isn’t so much the provision as it is the relationship, the trust. Anybody could feed my kids, but only parents feed their kids – day in and day out – out of love. God could have thought of a different way for our needs to be met, but he’s chosen to provide for us himself – day in and day out – not out of duty but out of love. He provides the needs of those who serve him.
The issue for us is whether we will trust him even when we are in need.
A couple went into debt trying to run their farm. They had lost a farm previously, and didn’t want to repeat the experience. They spent sleepless nights trying to figure out a way. Their debt kept going up as they tried to keep things going.
One day, the wife said, “I’ve just been to the farm credit company. They’ve taken it all! We’re being forced to sell. They have a buyer; there’s no price negotiation. All they want is our signatures.”
They started crying. Everything they had worked for was lost: their land, that year’s crop. It seemed too late to start all over again. Even after everything that was seized, they still were responsible to pay down a $100,000 debt that was left over.
They did the best they could. They worked at fast food restaurants. There were months that they didn’t have enough food for groceries, but God always seemed to provide. A year and a half later, the husband was hired by an exclusive club and they began to get back on their feet.
One day they received a phone call from the head of the credit company that had taken the farm. He insisted in driving out over an hour to meet them.
He said, “I want to ask you something personal. A friend of mine recently lost everything he owned. His wife just committed suicide. We at the office have noticed that you two are handling this crisis differently than most people do. Can you tell me what your secret is?”
They replied, “We believe in the God of the Bible. He is sovereign over our lives, and he is in control. Even though the pain is real, we are confident of this: God has proven sufficient and able to take care of us.”
The wife added, “God’s Word promises, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'”
I don’t know what needs you’re experiencing. But I know what we can do with our needs. Go to God, rely on him daily, to provide for all of our needs, because he has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”