Monday, October 26, 2015

Matthew 6:11 – The Lord’s Prayer, Part 3


Give us this day our daily bread.

Can you pray this and mean it?  “Give me this day my daily bread.”  It’s true that even in the US, people go hungry.  But the fact of the matter is that for most of us, we struggle much more with eating too many calories than with eating too few.  According to the CDC, more than one-third of Americans are obese.[1]  It’s also why, according to one article, dieting has become a “national pastime.”[2]  In this article, Kay Uzoma writes, “approximately 45 million Americans diet each year and spend $33 billion on weight-loss products in their pursuit of a trimmer, fitter body.”  We’re not worried about having daily bread.  We’re worried about having too much daily bread!

Another challenge to this part of the Lord’s Prayer is the fact that, unlike people in first century Judea, we are not paid day-to-day but rather week-to-week, or more likely, month-to-month.  Thinking about today’s bread is simply not on our minds as long as we have a job.  Add to this the fact that there are safety nets in our society that help people who lose their jobs, and the relevancy of this prayer might seem for many simply to fade away. 

Someone might also argue that this prayer is simply too unspiritual.  Why would our Lord care about this anyway?  Isn’t praying about bread too earthly?  Aren’t we supposed to pray for our souls and the souls of others?  If we spend time thinking and praying about material things, won’t we be in danger of becoming materialistic?

The fact of the matter is that it is both relevant and necessary to ask the Lord to give us our daily bread.  Nor is it unspiritual to pray this prayer.  Though it is true that the Lord’s Prayer focuses primarily on what we could call spiritual priorities, nevertheless, right in the middle of this prayer is a request that God fill our bellies as well as our souls with his benefits.  The saints have always looked to God not only for spiritual strength but also for physical sustenance: “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing” (Ps. 34:10).

It should be noted at the outset that praying for bread is not the same as praying for a Cadillac or praying for a little extra money so you can take that marvelous vacation.  Commentators on this verse have noted that this is a prayer for one’s necessities.  The prayer for bread is not just a prayer for the stuff we use for sandwiches: bread stands for basic needs.  Thus, this is not just a prayer for material things.  It is a prayer for physical needs.  Our Lord is not instructing us to ask the Father to enrich us with large bank accounts.  This is no prayer that God would allow us to win the lottery!  Rather, he is instructing us to ask the Father to sustain us physically while we are on this earth.  Thus, the apostle Paul would write to Timothy, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Tim. 6:8).  To crave for more than this is to put one in danger of covetousness, which puts one in danger of “destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9).

You see this also in the fact that we are taught to pray for “daily” bread.  Commentators spend a lot of time debating what is meant exactly by this phrase: the precise meaning of the Greek word (epiousios) is rather difficult to determine since it is used in no other place outside of the Bible.  But it seems that all the meanings given to it come down to the same thing.  Whether it should be translated “bread for today” or “bread for tomorrow” or “bread necessary for existence,” it is clear that either way our Lord is teaching us to pray that God provide the needs of the present.  As he will say later on in this chapter, “Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Mt. 6:34).  Bread for today is something that is necessary; we simply cannot go long without food, and this is what we are to pray for.

In fact, the way our Lord teaches us to pray is an implicit warning against covetousness and the desire for earthly security.  We were never meant to be burdened down with the cares of this world.  “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4).  That really is hurtful to our souls.  In fact, our Lord puts it down to the reason why his word does not prosper in the hearts of many.  In the Parable of the Sower, he likens the seed which falls on thorny ground as the hearer of the gospel but “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Mt. 13:22).  Thomas Manton, in one of his sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, said, “Christ would teach us that worldly things should be sought in a moderate proportion; if we have sufficient for a day, for the present want, we should not grasp at too much.  Ships lightly laden will pass through the sea, but when we take too great a burden, the ship will easily sink with every storm.”[3]

That doesn’t mean that it is ungodly to be rich.  But we are not to set our heart upon wealth: “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them” (Ps. 62:10).

But the theology in this prayer is not meant only to warn against greed.  It is also full of encouragement for the saint.  In fact, behind this simple and plain request for daily bread are some really great and weighty realities about God and his relationship to those who belong to him. 

1. First of all, this petition teaches us that all that we have comes from God.  It is easy to forget this, especially in the West with the abundance that we have.  It’s also easy to get into the mentality expressed by Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie Shenandoah:

“Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed, sowed, and harvested it, we cooked the harvest, and it wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves.  We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway for this food we’re about to eat. Amen.”

What this “prayer” doesn’t reckon with is the reality that if God hadn’t sent rain, all the clearing, plowing, and sowing wouldn’t have done any good; it certainly wouldn’t have gone any further.  It also doesn’t reckon with the reality that God can strike any person down at any moment, that our health and strength and problem-solving skills are gifts from God and that even with rain he wouldn’t have had the intelligence to properly cultivate it and get food from it apart from the grace of God.  In fact, God warned the ancient Israelites against this very mentality: “Beware that thou forget the Lord thy God . . . for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:11-16).

It is true that we have to work for our food (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8).  But it is also true that God is sovereign over every atom in the universe, and that it is by his providence that we can earn a living and put food on the table.  Moreover, it is not only right to pray to God for bread because he is sovereign, but also because it belongs to him.  “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1).  “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.  I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 50:10-12).

God is sovereign over bread.  That is true not only when we have plenty but also when we have little.  And this is why this is such a precious truth.  This prayer is proof that the sovereign God cares about the physical and material needs of his children.  We need to remember this in times of plenty and in times of scarcity.  In times of plenty we need to remember that these are gifts from his hand, and pointers to the greater good that we have in him.  And in times of scarcity, we need to remember that he has not forgotten us.  He loves you and he will take care of you.  He can take our little and make much of it.  God’s provision doesn’t mean that the provision will come in the amounts we think are necessary, nor from the places we think it ought to come.  But it does mean that God will take care of you.  “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16).  “Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith” (Prov. 15:16). 

As a child, I saw this kind of faith in action in my parents, and especially in my dad.  He was (and still is) in business for himself and so if he didn’t get the work done, it didn’t get done.  And he did work hard.  Nevertheless, there were lean times.  And in those times, my dad would lean on the Lord.  He wrote a song based on Psalm 78:19 (“Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?”), the chorus of which went like this: “Yes I know He’s able to furnish a table in this cold, hard, and barren wilderness.”  I remember growing up hearing him sing that song many times and I thank God today for parents who believe in a sovereign God.

Those who do not accept this vision of a sovereign God can at most hope for some kind of serenity to accept what they cannot change; however, the believer in the God of the Bible knows that his/her faith is in a God who can change anything at any time, who will change all things in the age to come, and who will be with them in the present in any circumstance.  We know the grace that is sufficient and that gives us strength in our greatest weakness.

2.  A corollary of the truth that all comes from God is that God doesn’t just care about the “big events” of life – he cares about the mundane things like daily bread.  We are to bring everything to God in prayer.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7, ESV).  Are there things that are weighing you down and causing you anxiety but which you do not bring to God in prayer because you think they are insignificant to God?  Surely, the Lord’s Prayer should teach us that nothing is insignificant, and nothing too mundane to bring to the Father.  Right after praying for God’s kingdom to come is a petition for bread.  Let us therefore not think it below God’s notice to bring everything to him in prayer.

3. Another truth that follows is the reality that God isn’t just about the future.  Though it is true that our hope is located ultimately in the future, the fact is that we are told to trust God for the here and now, for the present.  We are to pray for daily bread.  This not only indicates that we are to pray daily, but that we are to pray that God meet the present demands upon us with his present provision.  We not only need future grace, we also need daily grace.  Our Lord isn’t just concerned about how we end, he’s also concerned about how we get there.  God isn’t just waiting for us at the end of our earthly journey; he is present every step of the way.  As Psalm 46:1 put is, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” 

4. The follower of Christ is in covenant with God, and God has covenanted not only to save our souls but our bodies as well.  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20).  “What?  Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).  He will not forsake what he came to redeem.  Bread, as much as the forgiveness of sin, is a covenant mercy. 

You see this clearly in passages like Ps. 136:25.  Throughout this Psalm, God is praised for his steadfast love that endures forever.  And the psalmist gives many instances of this, including the great redemptive events in the history of Israel.  But then he ends like this: “Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth forever.”  It is covenant love and mercy that gives us bread. 

You see it later in Matthew 6.  “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:31-33).  Here is a promise, given to us by a promise-keeping God.  It’s interesting that often we argue that we need to get our finances up to a certain point and then we can start really serving God.  But here Jesus inverts the argument and tells us to serve God first and then our finances will be taken care of.

This means that we can appeal to heaven for bread not only on the basis of our relationship to God as creature to creator, but also on the basis of our relationship to God as child to Father.  The ground for our prayer for bread is the blood of Jesus Christ.  It is more than common grace to which we are appealing, it is saving grace.  We therefore need fear no reprisal from the Father for bringing before him our daily needs.  We have a right to an audience with him, not on the basis of our goodness or merit, but on the basis of Christ’s atonement and his merit.  It is not only okay to pray this prayer, it is right.

However, there are some objections to this view of God’s provision.  One is from experience: it doesn’t seem that everyone who asks for bread gets it.  There are millions in the world who go hungry, and surely of these some of them have to be praying for bread and not getting it.  Doesn’t this just mean that the Lord’s Prayer is just another pie-in-the-sky?

In response to this, I would first point out that this prayer is more aptly titled “The Disciple’s Prayer.”  This is not meant to be put in the mouths of just anyone.  “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is his delight” (Prov. 15:8).  This prayer belongs properly to those with whom God is in a saving relationship.  The fact of the matter is that though God often does rain upon the just and the unjust, and dispenses common grace to all men, he does not owe one thing to them, not even bread.  Sin and rebellion against God merits only eternal punishment.  The only ones who have a right to pray for bread are those who are in a saving relationship with God as Father through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.

But then someone might come back and say, “But it seems to me that even many who call themselves Christian go hungry.  What do you say to that?”

To this I would respond that the Bible recognizes this possibility.  For example, Paul writes to the Romans, quoting from the Psalms, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom. 8:35).  Notice that Paul’s words imply that famine is a possibility for the believer.  They cannot separate us from the love of Christ, not because the believer can never be hurt by them, but because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). 

Here is the bottom line: God will provide for his people all that they need for their good and his glory.  And when we pray for bread, we are not praying for bread apart from this consideration of God’s name, kingdom, and will.  Sometimes it is for our good and God’s glory that we endure persecution and homelessness and hunger and nakedness.  In fact, it happened to Paul: “in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor. 11:27).  And yet this was the same Paul who would write to the Philippians, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). 

How do you reconcile that?  Here is how Paul did it: in speaking of God’s answer of no to his request that he be delivered of the thorn in the flesh, he wrote, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).  Paul endured physical deprivation at times gladly because at those times God came in with sufficient grace.  Paul didn’t see physical lack as a sign that God had abandoned him; rather he rejoiced in those times because it was then that he experienced God’s grace in a fuller measure.

We must always be reminded that as this prayer begins with God’s will being done, therefore all our requests must be submitted to God’s gracious and good will.  As our Lord himself prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done,” even so must we pray.  And this includes the prayer for bread. 

In the end, we don’t pray to inform God, because he already knows our need.  And we don’t pray to manipulate God, because he already loves his children.  We pray because we are his children, and it is natural and right for us to express our need for God and our dependence upon him for everything, for the needs of our soul and for the needs of our body.  And it pleases our Father when we do this, just as it pleases me when my children express their need for me.  So may we go to the Father in prayer through Jesus Christ, and continue to find mercy and grace to help in time of need.



[1] http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
[2] http://www.livestrong.com/article/308667-percentage-of-americans-who-diet-every-year/
[3] Manton’s Complete Works, Vol. 1 (republished by Maranatha Publications), page 166.

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