“Pray then like this:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.’”
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at Christ’s teaching on how to pray. He does not begin to speak on this out of the blue, as it were, but if you look at the text starting in Matthew 5:1 (aptly titled “Sermon on the Mount”), what Jesus is doing is setting the stage for the spiritual reality of life under grace in the new covenant. With the Beatitudes, He teaches the eschatological reality of Kingdom life; with the “Salt and Light” discourse, He teaches that true spiritual life is not something private and kept to oneself. He then sets His sights on how the Pharisees and scribes had completely misapplied the law, drawing a contrast between His teaching and theirs, with His series of “You have heard it said, but I say unto you,” discourse.
Starting in chapter six in verse five, Jesus further calls out the Pharisees and scribes’ ritual of prayer (only to be seen of men), referring to them as “hypocrites,” as well as the Gentiles’ performance-driven practice. All of what the people had been exposed to regarding the spiritual life – especially prayer – was all directed toward a behavior, never touching the heart of God. Here, Jesus corrects that.
We see this with the model of prayer. The first few verses begin with hailing the Lord in His majesty and glory, acknowledging His infinite and transcendent being as well as His supreme sovereignty over all creation. The last few verses then address our fallen condition, how we relate to the Father, our fellow fallen creatures, as well as the sin we are subjected to in this life. This prayer is just as counter-intuitive today as it was when Christ first taught it. That is, our normal posture in prayer is to first approach God with our needs and desires, as though He must be made aware of our circumstance. But what Jesus teaches is not that God’s glory is derived from our well-being, but rather that our well-being is derived from God’s glory. It’s easy to get this backwards – that somehow, if God comes through for us, THEN He will get the glory, but that’s not what Jesus teaches here. Christ is teaching that God’s glory (vs. 9, 10) is first and foremost to be acknowledged in prayer, that we approach Him with the honor and sanctity due Him, being thankful – not in order to get Him to do something – but because of who He is. Our primary concern in prayer ought to be first and foremost His glory, not our private concerns. The verse we’ve examined this week is a transition from the focus of our prayer from God’s glory to humble expression of our need and dependence upon Him. So let us closely examine what Christ was getting at in this verse.
“Give us this day our daily bread,”
Upon first observation, we see that we are confessing a need that we cannot possibly meet, hence, we begin our request with “give.” The term, “give,” traces back to Old English Germanic roots from which we also have the word, “gift.” This refers not only to what it is being bestowed, but even the act itself – a gracious condescension from a Higher (the Lord), to a lower (us). In context, approaching the Lord thus expresses that we are not looking to or relying upon our own ability, talent, or perceived worthiness. If all be a gift from God, then this precludes any deserving on our part. The Lord owes us nothing, but rather His giving to us is a reflection of His goodness, not ours. Jesus teaches us to pray in such a manner admitting that we are not self-sufficient, autonomous beings, but we are wholly and absolutely reliant upon the Father’s ability to provide for us.
Christ further teaches us to pray for God to give to “us.” Just as our prayer is initiated as a corporate expression with “Our Father,” our requests are likewise corporate when we pray “give us.” That is, all those children who refer to Him as their Father. Notice just how antithetical this is to our individualistic Western Evangelical culture – prayer is often taught as a mechanism one can use to manipulate God into giving you what you want – if you have faith. What the “give us” does is get us out of ourselves and challenges the thinking that God is all about our creature comforts. His care and concern for His children cannot be reduced to what He can do for you, but rather what He does for all His own. Together, “Give us” teaches us to look to the Father in trust and dependence, acknowledging the Lord as our ultimate source, not what we may have at hand or even what we feel we can produce – it all comes from the Lord.
The comfort here is twofold. First, just because we may not possess all we think we need; it does not mean we do not have access to it. We have been given access to the Father who possesses all things and gives to us that which we need. Second, it teaches us that our provision is not in our wealth, as wealth - even tremendous wealth - can pass away, but the Lord is an inexhaustible resource!
Trusting the Lord is a lifelong endeavor, and here, the Lord frames it in such a way that our feeble humanity is able to grasp – just for today. Not for the next year, or even the next week, but “this day.” What a beautiful thing it is when we trust the Lord for the day and see His faithfulness! If the Lord is faithful for today, this gives us confidence in Him that He will provide for tomorrow! This, in turn tends toward gratitude. I believe the Lord reduces our request down to a single day because He knows our sinful predisposition toward self-sufficiency. Wealth can give one a false sense of autonomy – that we are totally self-sufficient. When we approach wealth in such a manner, then it becomes our god. Now, wealth in itself is not a bad thing, but the danger is that it can easily become our sole focus in life; obtaining it as well as protecting it. Oddly, wealth and poverty are but two sides of the same coin; what unites them together is that one never has enough. Contentment is illusive, and the ability to truly enjoy life and the Lord is taken away. As Solomon puts it, those who are greedy allow their greed to drain their very life from them (Proverbs 1:19).
“...our daily bread...”
The plurality of the plea corresponds to the corporate nature of the care of the Father for His children; our Father…give us…our daily bread.. What our Lord here speaks of are the temporal blessings needed in support of this life – food, clothing, employment, etc.
Notice with me a few things. First, no specific amount or measure is stated as exactly what that portion of our daily bread is. I believe no specific measure is given because we do not have the ability know what it is we need daily – only God knows. We may know what we want, but assessing our daily need is God’s responsibility, and herein lies the temptation most face – we posit our wants as needs. I believe Christ instructs we are to pray for our daily bread to teach us contentment. That is, being content with our daily bread keeps us from the temptations of greed and lust and all the misery that comes with it. Israel was not content with manna, but desired quails, and in this, murmuring and complaining were given birth. In such a manner, they tempted the Lord’s wrath. When we are discontent with what the Lord provides, we likewise tempt the Lord with our ingratitude and entitlement, for if we know anything, it is that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Second, if we are to ask for our natural provisions daily, then it would follow that we are to pray daily. We are to trust the hand of the Lord daily, as all things come from Him, and not to put trust in what we’ve stowed away. Here, the words of Solomon most certainly ring true where he hails the folly of trusting in uncertain riches (Proverbs 11:28, 23:4, 5). Don’t we know of those whose wealth vanished away in time? But those who trust in the Lord shall be as steady as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abides forever (Psalm 125:1).
Third, praying for our daily bread assumes that God knows what we will need before we even ask for it. Christ teaches as much a little further down this passage. The idea is that just as a parent knows what their children need, how much more the Lord! Just as a parent loves and provides for their children, how much more the Lord!
17th century Puritan preacher Thomas Watson sums it well, writing,
“If we pray for temporal things, how much more spiritual? If we are to pray for bread, how much more for the bread of life? If for oil, how much more for the oil of gladness? If to have our hunger satisfied, much more should we pray to have our souls saved. Alas! What if God should hear our prayers, and grant us these temporal things and no more, what were we the better? What is it to have food and want grace? What is it to have the back clothed and the soul naked? To have a south land, and want the living springs in Christ’s blood, what comfort could that be? O therefore let us be earnest for spiritual mercies! Lord, not only feed me, but sanctify me; give me rather a heart full of grace than a house full of gold. If we are to pray for daily bread, the things of this life, much more for the things of the life that is to come.”
So let us take heart with these words, confident yet grateful for the Lord committing Himself to provide that which we need!