“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” (The Lord’s Prayer)
We continue with our Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer, “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.” Tonight we come to the Fourth Petition, “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.”
So finally we get around to praying for our own needs! Remember, up to this point, the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer all have been about God’s concerns: “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” Those are Jesus’ top priorities for us to pray, and of course rightly so. That at the forefront of our minds would be God’s name, his kingdom, and his will–this is meet, right, and salutary for the children of God so to think. It corresponds to the ordering of the Ten Commandments, where the first three are about our love for God, before we get to the commandments about loving our neighbor. First things first. Likewise here, in the Lord’s Prayer, the first few petitions focus our mind on God and his priorities, which will in turn shape how we pray, in a right way, the rest of the way.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” And these “things” include the stuff for which we pray in the Fourth Petition, things like food, clothing, and shelter, the necessities of life. Yes, it’s OK to pray for these things, Jesus is saying by placing this petition in the prayer he teaches us. Just don’t let them be the only thing you pray for. Don’t obsess over these things. Don’t be anxious about them. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. He feeds and clothes the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, and you are much more valuable to him than they. So don’t worry. Trust in your heavenly Father to take care of you. He will.
Which leads us to why we might think this is a funny petition for us to pray. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Think about it. If Jesus tells us not to worry, and that our heavenly Father knows our needs even before we ask him, and that he will provide for us–well, then, why are we praying this prayer? Isn’t it a little bit unnecessary? I mean, if God gives us our daily bread anyway, then why are we praying for it? Really. If anything, maybe we fat Americans should be praying, “Don’t give us quite so much daily bread. I could lose a few pounds. I get enough carbs as it is.”
But Luther explains why it’s still good for us to pray this petition. He writes: “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”
Praying this petition is a way for us to remind ourselves where our daily bread comes from. It doesn’t come from Country Mart or Save-A-Lot. Oh, we may take that loaf of bread off the shelf there, but that’s not really where it comes from. It doesn’t come from the farmer who grew the grain and harvested it, or from the baker who milled it and baked it and sent it to the store. The loaf of bread you bought doesn’t come from the employer who gave you a job and paid you a paycheck so you could purchase the bread. And it doesn’t even come from you, who had the skills to get the job and put in the work to earn the paycheck. After all, who gave you the talent and the ability to have a job and earn a living?
You see where I’m going with this. Everything we have, everything we own or can buy, every loaf of bread we put on the table–all of it is a gift from God. Now to be sure, God will use the grocer and the farmer and the baker and our boss and the parents and teachers we had growing up, all of whom played a role in our being able to bring home a loaf of bread from the store. But behind it all, the unseen hand that is giving us our daily bread is the kind and merciful hand of our beneficent heavenly Father. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!
That’s what we’re doing when we pray this petition in the Lord’s Prayer. We’re recognizing that all the blessings we receive in our daily life come from God the Father Almighty, and we are thanking him for them. We are trusting God for them, that he will continue to bestow these blessings upon us. These great gifts are not something we should take for granted.
What’s more, these great gifts are not something we deserve. God our heavenly Father gives them all to us by grace. God the Father’s loving-kindness in giving us our daily bread is of a piece with his great love in sending us a Savior and forgiving our sins. Otherwise, we would not enjoy for a moment the undeserved kindness of having a meal on the table and food in the pantry. But God’s mercy is so great that he sent his own Son to remove the barrier and the judgment of our sins. Christ Jesus came, not only to teach us to pray, but even more so, to open the way to God for us, so that we have real life, so that we are put right with God and can come to him as dear children come to their dear Father. It’s all because of Christ and what he has done for us. By his death on the cross, Christ has cleared away the negative slate of our sins, so they are not held against us. Now we have access to the Father, for Christ’s sake, by grace, through faith. And so we come to God in prayer, knowing that our heavenly Father hears us and cares for us. Jesus teaches us this, and Jesus makes it happen.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” And look at what all falls into this category, as Luther explains: “Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
Man, that’s a lot of ingredients that go into that one loaf of bread! Imagine if they listed all those things on the package! They could, you know. Think of it. You need money to buy the bread. You need a whole bunch of workers to end up with the finished product–the farmer, the baker, the truck driver, the grocer, the cashier in the checkout line. You need the government to not take so much of your money away from you, so that you have some left for the groceries. You need the army to protect you from the Russkies. You need the police to keep the bad guys from breaking in and stealing your bread. You need good weather and sunshine and rain in the right amounts to enable the grain to grow in the first place. So, you know, these are all things you can include in your daily prayers when you come to the Fourth Petition. Pray for the government. Pray for favorable weather. Pray for farmers and workers and all that goes into getting the bread on your table.
And it’s not just for you–“you,” singular, that is. Remember, you’re praying: Give “us” this day “our” daily bread. You and I are praying this prayer with the church as a whole, as a community. So, are there some of that “us” that are in need of daily bread, in whatever form, whether food or clothing or a job or a meal or companionship or help of one sort or another? By having us pray “us” and “our,” Jesus is making sure we stay attentive to our neighbor’s needs and not just our own. And maybe God will use us to be part of the answer.
Give us “this day” our “daily” bread. Notice how Jesus puts the emphasis on bread for this day. Not bread for next year or ten years from now. Bread for today, this day. That’s all you can use, anyway. If we obsess about bread for next year or ten years from now, and our mind is racked with questions like “Do we have enough?” and “Where will it come from?” then we’re going to overload ourselves with anxiety. Rather than that, Jesus teaches us a serene trust in our heavenly Father. This is not to say we can’t do some wise financial planning and exercise prudence. We can. But our Lord Jesus would have us rely on, and rest secure in, the kind and loving provision of our Father in heaven. He says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
And sufficient for this day is this brief treatment of “Give us this day our daily bread.” It may seem like a simple petition, or even an unnecessary one. But really, there’s a lot here involved in this petition: Thanksgiving. Trust. Recognizing all the many gifts we receive every day from our heavenly Father, all of them given by grace for Christ’s sake. And there are so many things to pray for included in this petition, all of the factors that go into putting bread on the table. There is concern for others built into this prayer, in the “us” and the “our” of this petition. And there is a day-to-day trust in God to provide for us–for “this day,” “daily”–which relieves us of an obsessive anxiety. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Yes, there truly are a lot of ingredients baked into this loaf of bread!