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The “missional theology” movement has injected energy and life into the church. Who isn’t inspired when reading Emil Brunner’s famous words, “The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning”? Missional theology has motivated many Christians and churches to seek out their purpose in God of bearing and embodying the good news of Jesus Christ.

There, of course, is a danger to any “theology” or philosophy – it can get distorted or blown out of proportion. One risk with missional theology is that it can give churches and church leaders a sense that they are “so very important” and that perhaps even they are impervious, unstoppable forces. In creeps arrogance and triumphalism.

Remembering Fragility

Luckily the Lord’s Prayer (LP) comes to the rescue to remind us that we are very fragile, very needy. So we pray, give us this day our daily bread. A particular challenge with Christian leaders today is that they can get by for a long time on charisma. Too often we see leaders fall and fail suddenly, and only later recognize that they did not spend time investing in their spiritual growth (and all too often did not have mentors, counselors, and close friends). We cannot truly participate in God’s mission in Jesus Christ unless we daily go back to the well of life in Jesus. Or, to fit the LP imagery, unless we daily wait for the bread from heaven that sustains us. Why “bread”? Why not “water”? Or “meat”? I think the LP intentionally evokes imagery from three places: Exodus 16, Deuteronomy 8, and Matthew 4.

Wilderness Faith (Exodus 16)

In the OT, the people of God were a wandering people, like Father Abraham (Deut. 26:5). The Jesus people, too, are a wandering people, resident aliens (1 Peter 1:1). So, like Israel, we are called to trust God for daily provision. When Israel got hungry in the desert, they whined about leaving Egypt. They longed for the stability of Egypt, forgetting the degradation, deprivation, and a life of misery under the slave-master Pharaoh. To ask for daily manna, daily bread, is to trust the God of exodus, the God of liberation, the God who is leading us to the good land, but the God who sends us through the desert to prepare us. Give us daily bread in the desert.

Humble faith (Deuteronomy 8)

We are reminded in Deuteronomy that the manna was not just given to nourish bodies, but to humble Israel and test them (Deut. 8:3). God put them in a tough position in order to test their obedience, like a good parent does to young children to train them up (Deut. 8:3-6). God did not send years and years of manna and quail as an unkind “test” (like testing lab rats), but truly to prepare them to face the many challenges that would likely be ahead in pushing into Canaan and maintaining obedience to the covenantal commandments. To ask God the Father for daily bread, then, is to ask God to humble us and test us, to make us stronger by teaching us how to survive and thrive in weakness and with what is simple. We must be wary of the poison of pride – especially in ministry – that says, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth” (as Moses warns Israel not to say in Deut. 8:17). Give us simple bread daily from your gracious hand. We need no more than that.

Bread of Word, Bread of Life (Matthew 4; John 6)

The bread petition of the LP appears in Matthew 6:11, but already Jesus talks about bread in Matthew 4. Rebuffing Satan in the desert (who tempted the hungry Jesus), he exclaims, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; quoting Deut. 8:3). Jesus – as Son of God – may have been able to turn stones into bread right there and then, but he didn’t. Why not? Jesus would not have been sinning by making food for himself per se, but he wanted to continue his fast for a reason – he did not want to shortcut his wilderness training because he had a mission, just like Israel. Yes, he eventually needed food (God does not neglect or reject human needs, as the original manna feeding demonstrates), but more importantly he needed to acknowledge the guiding voice of God over and against the temptations of Satan. Food can fill the stomach, but only the Word of God can bring true life.

Deuteronomy defines “life” as the kind of vitality and prosperity that comes from obeying the (often difficult) commandments of God and trusting God’s training (Deut. 30:15). Satan was offering empty promises of security, an evanescent feeling of fullness, and shortcuts to glory. The wilderness way, the manna way, the daily bread way is slow, often boring, sometimes painful, and very humble. Do we trust God enough for us to be patient? Can we learn to hunger for deeper life, not just feeling full for the moment?

From Missional Theology to Missional Reality

Missional theology can seem very exciting – and theologically it is! – but the reality of living a missional life in the Israel and Jesus way is going to be difficult (Matthew 7:13-14), boring, and depends on a faith-driven, delayed pay-off; the final rest of a long obedience in the same direction. Give us this day our daily bread of the life-giving Word – we’ll be back for more tomorrow and the next day.

This is a good occasion, too, to bring in John’s emphasis on Jesus as the “bread of God” and the “bread of life” (John 6:33-35). When asked how one can do the “works of God” (6:28), Jesus points to himself as the way: “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry” (6:35). Do we start our ministry “work” each day by feasting on the “bread of God”? Father, feed us daily with the heavenly bread that is life together with Jesus, receiving life from him and seeking to conform to the image of his Sonship, especially the giving up of his flesh as food for the hungry world (6:51).

Nijay K. Gupta (Ph.D, University of Durham) serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. He is the author of several articles and books including a commentary on Colossians (Smyth & Helwys, 2013). You can learn more about Dr. Gupta at his personal blog www.cruxsolablog.com.

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