Praying Like Jesus: Our Daily Bread—Deuteronomy 8:1-18, Matthew 6:31-34
Read Matthew 6:5-13.
The Lord’s Prayer has a deeply spiritual focus. Our spirits soar as we pray to our Father in heaven, asking for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. We meet God in the depths of our spiritual journey, as we pray for forgiveness and deliverance from evil. In the middle of all that, Jesus tells his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That doesn’t sound quite so spiritual!
Some interpreters have tried to spiritualize the bread, speculating that Jesus was referring to the bread of communion, or the bread of the word of God. (The most popular devotional guide in the United States is “Our Daily Bread,” and the word of God does feed us spiritually.) Yet when I read the Lord’s Prayer, I think that when Jesus told his disciples to pray for bread, be meant the kind of bread they could eat.
Of course, for people who don’t have enough to eat, praying for bread IS very spiritual. They are depending daily on God to meet their most basic needs. They are crying out in desperation to their Father, asking for his will to be done, by giving them something to eat.
I am not one of those people! Our pantry is full, and so is our freezer. Yet Jesus tells people like me to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
What is he telling us about prayer?
WHEN WE PRAY, WE SHOULD HUMBLY DEPEND UPON GOD TO MEET OUR NEEDS.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they lived in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years. What would they eat? (Preacher: projecting a picture or two will make the problem obvious.) God provided for them, by giving them manna to eat. (“Manna” is literally, “What is it?” It was white like coriander seed, and they picked it up from the ground every morning.) It was their “daily bread.”
Manna was not only about survival; it was about God’s provision for their needs. In Deuteronomy 8, as the wilderness wandering is coming to an end, Moses speaks to the Israelites, saying (Deuteronomy 8:2-3), “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to HUMBLE and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. God HUMBLED you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to TEACH YOU that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” In the wilderness, the people learned to depend on God for their basic needs.
Now, the 40 years in the wilderness are ending, and God’s people are finally ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses continues to speak, warning about the dangers of pride and forgetting God. Read Deuteronomy 8:6-14.
In our culture, where most people lack nothing of the necessities of life, it is easy to become proud, and to think that we don’t really need God to provide for our needs. In fact, we might begin to take credit for our wealth and success, and even our good health and stable family life. We would not say it aloud, but we start to think, “I got this. I got where I am by being wise and responsible, and I have built up enough of a reserve to take care of myself and my family.”
But can we really take credit for our success and security?
Sure, you are smart—but did you choose your parents? You could have been born with a dependence on drugs, with effects lasting a lifetime. You could have been malnourished, or never had an opportunity for even the most basic education.
Sure, you made good choices—but how did you learn to do that? You could have been neglected by your parents, or spoiled rotten and never disciplined. You could have had your spirit broken by abuse or criticism.
You work hard, yes—but does that guarantee opportunity and success? Did you arrange to be born in a land of opportunity? You could have been born as a woman in rural Afghanistan, a lower caste peasant in India, or a child in Central Africa whose parents were killed to force you into child warfare. Your community might have been overrun with gang violence, your school not meeting minimum standards, and expectations so low that your potential was squashed.
Moses has some humbling words for us: Read Deuteronomy 8:17-18.
You didn’t get where you are without God. So be thankful for what God has given you, as you humbly pray every day, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
In humility, we depend upon God to meet our needs.
WHEN WE PRAY, WE SHOULD TRUST GOD FOR THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE.
Jesus tells us to pray, “Give us TODAY our DAILY bread.”
When I go to the store, I sometimes buy enough bread for a couple of weeks, and put it in the freezer. When God gave manna to the Israelites in the wilderness, however, he directed them to gather only enough for one day. If they gathered more, it spoiled, except on the day before the Sabbath, when it would keep overnight, so that they would not have to work on the Sabbath.
This was a powerful object lesson for them. Their food security did not depend on how much manna they had in a jar, but on how much they could trust the promise of God to take care of them.
Jesus tells us to pray, “Give us TODAY our DAILY bread.” He doesn’t say, “Give us bread for the next month,” or “Give us a guarantee that when we get old, we will be taken care of,” or “Give us the strength we might need when we get sick, or lose our job or our spouse.”
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for the future. A wise person plans for retirement, buys health insurance, and gains the skills that might be needed in a changing job market. That is not lack of faith; it is simply doing our part to prepare for the future God has for us.
After giving the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us what we must not do, if we trust God. Matthew 6:34, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In other words, don’t borrow trouble from the next day or the next decade.
Recent studies indicate that anxiety is on the rise in America, among all age groups. College students worry about success and relationships. Millennials worry about debt, and finding their way to a life they can love. Baby Boomers worry about their health, and their money running out before they do. All ages worry about the direction the world is going, and about changes in their personal lives.
Jesus says, “Do not worry…Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Mt. 6:27) How true! Yet it is hard to overcome worry and anxiety, especially the kind of generalized anxiety that worries about the unknown or unidentified things of life.
Jesus tells us how we can overcome worry: Matthew 6:25-34, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” That is the secret to overcoming worry and anxiety, and it is the order followed in the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus tells us to begin our prayer with, “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done…” When we know that God is a Father who gives good gifts to his children, and we know that in his kingdom people are blessed and life is made right, we can trust God for tomorrow. God already knows what we will need tomorrow, even when we don’t know. He’s got this! Our task for today is to seek his kingdom, his perfect will, in our own lives and the world around us.
In trust, we seek God’s kingdom blessings today.
WHEN WE PRAY, WE SHOULD PRAY IN SOLIDARITY WITH OTHERS AND THEIR NEEDS.
“Give US this day OUR daily bread.”
We often repeat the Lord’s Prayer together, which is somewhat strange, because when Jesus taught the prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, he said, (Matthew 6:6) “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Public prayer is good, but most of us have our deepest conversations with God in private.
Yet prayer is never just about “me and God.” In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to OUR Father. We say, “Forgive us OUR debts.” We say, “Lead US not into temptation.” And we say, “Give US this day OUR daily bread.”
Whether we pray in public, or alone in our room, we should pray for the needs of others as well as ourselves. We pray for people who are sick, or grieving, or struggling. We pray for our families, for their physical needs, for their life at work or school, and for good friends and the support of other people. Our Father knows about these needs, but we join others in asking our Father to supply all of our needs.
Our prayers for “bread” go beyond individuals. Martin Luther, in his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, said that this petition includes praying for good crops, harmony between people, and fair business practices, so that the poor would not be deprived of daily bread. He also emphasized the importance of praying for government leaders, “for chiefly through them God preserves our daily bread and all the comforts of this life.”
“Give US this day OUR daily bread.” We ask God to provide for the physical needs of ourselves and others, and we realize that God provides for all.
When our time of prayer is done, our actions must match our prayer. It may be that we are part of the answer to our prayers.
James 2:15-16 says, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
It may that God’s provision for a person in need is the physical resources we can share with them. It may be that the best we can give them is support and guidance, or a chance to work. It may be that they need training, or food and housing from government programs. It may be that they need justice, so that they are free to pursue their own bread, without barriers placed before them.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
When we pray that way, we recognize our total dependence upon God. We trust him, for today and every day. We seek his blessings, not just for ourselves, but for all people.