Summary: A look at the words "give us this day our daily bread".
How do you pray “Give us this day our daily bread” in a land where you can walk or drive down to your local Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, or anywhere else and be faced with a choice of fifty different types and sizes of bread to buy? How do you pray “Give us this day our daily bread” when you can go and buy enough bread for a month and put it in your freezer at home to defrost as and when you need it?
One-way to do this is to do what some theologians and preachers suggest and spiritualise the meaning of the prayer. It doesn’t really mean the bread that we eat, they say, it means the bread of life, the bread that we need to take in each day for our spirit and soul to exist. To pray for our daily bread means that we are praying for a further experience of God, that He touches us daily and we grow spiritually through this. I think it is wonderful that we can do this and we should all pray like this each day. But I also believe that if this is all we do with this part of the Lord’s Prayer, then we are not praying it in the way that Christ meant us to.
This section of the Lord’s Prayer clearly deals with our practical needs rather than spiritual ones for Jesus went on to deal with our spiritual needs as he taught us to pray for forgiveness and protection from the evil one. When Jesus included the words ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, I think he was teaching us that God is concerned with our practical well-being just as He is concerned with our physical and spiritual well-being.
Do we really appreciate this today, we have a God who is as concerned with us having enough to eat, and with us being warm in winter and with us having clothes to wear, as He is concerned with everything else in our lives. This is what this part of the Lord’s prayer means, that God cares for every part of our lives.
But it means more than this as well. For us to pray this prayer each day or week is a conscious acknowledgement that everything that we have comes from God. Thomas was telling me the other day that they do not say grace when he eats at school. He then told me that he likes to say grace to say thank you. It is important that we do this for everything that we receive. In each of the gospel accounts of the loaves and fishes, the same words appear: “looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them.” This is what we do when we pray this sentence in the Lord’s Prayer, we recognise that it is God who gives us all things.
It has to be said that we do not like to make this acknowledgement. We live in a world where people are encouraged to get and do things for themselves, to make something of themselves. We are respected when we do this, if we have a decent car, a decent house and plenty of money, people turn and say ‘haven’t they done well for themselves. And there are few of us who would stop them and say ‘No, I haven’t, this is all a gift from God, I have had little to do with it.
So it does us good to pray the words ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ for it reminds us that all that we have comes from God.
But this prayer means more. Jesus does not tell us to pray ‘give me this day my daily bread’. He gives us a communal prayer, a prayer that we should be praying on behalf of everybody in the world. There are so many people in our world today that would be glad even to receive a slice of bread never mind a loaf. Look at the state of people in the southern half of Africa suffering from famine. The people of the Solomon Islands where in this age of rapid transport and communications, it was nearly a week before people arrived to even assess what help they needed after the latest hurricane. When we pray this prayer today, we pray it on behalf of all those in places like this.
But to pray this prayer in this way, we must be willing to be a part of God’s answer for these people as well. Our world has more than enough food to feed everybody in it. But because the western world takes about two thirds of the available food, there are many who don’t have enough to eat. Look at one commodity in our world, that of coffee. Several years ago, the major coffee companies decided to pay less money to their suppliers for coffee beans. One result of that is that farmers in many countries in Africa have had their income reduced so that they are unable to store enough produce to feed themselves when the rain does not fall. This is one part of the reason for the current famine in Africa. Just before Christmas, it was announced that Nestle was taking the poorest nation in the world to court over loss of earnings. It was only after considerable publicity about this that they announced they would give all money received from the Court case back to the country in aid. Yet, how many Church kitchens in this country can you go into and find tins of Nescafe Coffee powder. For those of you who don’t know, Nescafe is not only one of those coffees that have helped produce the famine in Africa but it is also produced by Nestle who are showing that they care more for profit than they do for people. One group who should know about such things suggests that the company is not too particular about the age of their workforce either; they have been known to use child labour in several third world countries.