In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Of course, that sounds like a simple request for food to eat today, but behind this prayer is the entire history of God’s provision for God’s people, and some lessons for us today about how our economy ought to work.
When You Pray: Trust God To Provide
“Give us today our daily bread.” — Matthew 6:11
This is our fourth message on The Lord’s Prayer. We have adopted The Lord’s Prayer as the focus for our Lenten reflection this year, with a commitment to say The Prayer each day during Lent.
So, here we are this morning with one of the most concise verses you’ll ever find in the Bible, and one of the most straight-forward prayers one could ever pray.
“Give us today our daily bread.” That’s it. Doesn’t get much simpler than that. You could almost think that this is like a blessing over our food, or thanks for it, but that’s not the case. This prayer, as brief as it is, is packed with much more than meets the eye.
Literally, the prayer is “Give us bread for the coming day.” Which is slightly different from the way we pray it. “Bread for the coming day” implies that this prayer is prayed before the day gets started, before breakfast, or before we know if there is anything for breakfast.
One of my favorite stories of prayer both before breakfast, and for it, is the story told about George Mueller. Mueller founded an orphanage in Bristol, England that cared for over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime. In addition, he started 117 schools which offered education to over 120,000 poor children. Mueller’s mission was so successful that at one point he was accused of “raising the poor above their natural station in life.” This was, after all, 19th century England where attitudes of class and refinement kept the upperclasses separate from the working classes.
But back to the story. George Mueller was a great believer in prayer. Actually, Mueller didn’t just believe in prayer, he actually prayed. And, after starting his orphanage, Mueller never asked anyone but God for financial support.
One morning before breakfast Mueller was informed that there was no food, nothing to feed the children that morning. Unfazed, Mueller asked that the children be assembled and seated at the table in their usual places with the table fully set as though they were going to eat.
When all the children were assembled and seated, George Mueller asked them to bow their heads and began to thank God for their food for that day. As he prayed, the local baker knocked on the orphanage door. He had brought with him enough bread to feed the children that day. When George Mueller prayed for his daily bread, that’s exactly what he got!
That, of course, is the obvious meaning here. Pray for God’s provision for our needs. In a passage that follows The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus admonishes his followers —
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NIV1984
In other words, don’t be like those who don’t believe in God. Trust God for even your basic necessities of life, food and clothing, because your Father knows you need these things. That is the obvious meaning here, and we could stop there. But, as you can imagine, we’re not going to.
We’re not going to stop here because we’re going to ask ourselves what reason do we have to believe that God will provide? After all, more than 80% of evangelical Americans believe that the saying, “God helps those who help themselves” is actually in the Bible. It’s not, just in case you’re wondering. (The Rise and Fall of the Bible, Timothy Beal, p. 31)
And, more to the point, what reason did those who heard Jesus have to believe that God would provide for them? After all, Jerusalem and all of Judea was occupied by the Roman army. God wasn’t providing for the Jews very well, it appeared to many.
One of the things we often forget when we read the New Testament is that the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures, preceded it. And, Jesus was a Jew. So it makes sense that Jesus would allude to the connections that God had to the nation of Israel historically.
Okay, let me make this simpler: When did God provide daily bread for the nation of Israel? And, of course, the answer is during the Exodus experience found in the Old Testament book of Exodus, chapter 16.
Here’s the story: The nation of Israel has been delivered from the clutches of Pharoah in Egypt after being held in slavery for 400 years. God has called Moses, speaking to him from a bush that was burning, but did not burn up. Remember we talked about how the burning bush and the name of God were both mysteries that were related.
So, after appealing to Pharaoh, and after God sent a series of 10 plagues to change Pharoah’s heart and mind, the nation escapes after the death angel passes over the houses of the Jews with the blood of the lamb on the door frames.
So, this mass of several thousands of people escape, beat Pharaoh’s army through the Red Sea, and are saved when the sea swallows up the army. So, now they are out of Egypt, out in the desert, and it occurs to them that they have no food.
The people Moses is leading do what people do. They start to complain. They say, let’s go back to Egypt. At least in Egypt we had something to eat. You’ve brought us out here to die in the desert. And, we’re hungry.
Moses speaks to God, and God answers Moses telling him that He, God, is going to feed the people. So, they get quail one evening, and then the next morning they get something else. Something lying on the ground. They see this stuff that looks like coriander seed, but smells like honey, and they ask, “Man hu?” Literally, what is it? Which, believe it or not, is where we get the word manna. True story.
They ask Moses, What is it? Moses replies that it is food, it is the Bread of God, and God is going to provide it everyday of the week. But, there are some rules.
1. They are only to take what they need. No hoarding, greediness, or selfishness. Everyone gets enough, but nobody is going to get fat.
2. They are to gather it everyday. Each morning the manna will be there, but they can’t save it, or store it up, everyday they have to gather it.
3. If they try to save it, it will go bad. Actually, it became worm-infested, and smelled really bad.
4. They were to gather it every day 6 days a week. But on the 7th day, there would be no manna. On the Sabbath, they would not be able to gather any, so they will need to gather two days worth on the sixth day. (I know this sounds like a contradiction of rule #2, but that’s the way it is.)
5. The householder, the person responsible for the household, is to do the gathering. No sending the kids out with a pan because you don’t want to get out of bed.
6. Finally, they are to take about a half gallon, put it in a jar, and keep it as a reminder that God provides for them. Eventually, this jar of manna was placed in the Ark of the Covenant, which was placed in the Tabernacle and Temple in the Holy of Holies.
And, God did provide. For forty years. Not forty days, but forty years. And, if you’re thinking, “Man, I would get tired of eating the same thing everyday for 40 years…” you could either boil it or bake it. Lots of variety.
Now, it’s interesting that when Moses is retelling this story to the nation in Deuteronomy 8, he says,
“3 [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.” -Deut. 8:3 NIV
Jesus quotes the last half of this verse to the devil when he is being tempted to turn stones to bread after fasting for 40-days. So, this is pretty important.
Okay, back to The Lord’s Prayer. So, what does it mean when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread?”
First, God is with us, providing for us. But, it’s not the bread that’s important. It’s the word of God. That’s why Jesus says, “…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
The word from God’s mouth was, I AM. I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In other words, I was the God of your fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers.
Secondly, God’s word was, I am bringing you out of bondage and into freedom. Out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Out of slavery, and into sovereignty.
Of course, if that’s what God is doing, providing along the way for a simple thing like food isn’t that big a deal to God. It’s part of what God does in bringing them out, and bringing them in.
But as they say on the Ginsu knife commercial, “Wait, there’s more!” Not only is God providing food, He’s giving it to them. They don’t have to toil or sweat or strain or labor to get it. It is God’s gift. Just like in the Garden of Eden.
And it gets better. There is enough for everyone. When they first gathered, those who gathered a lot did not have too much, and those that gathered a little had all they needed. It was abundant, but it was also available to each family as they had need. Enough, but not too much. Plenty, but not to excess. All we need, but not so much that others are deprived.
Did you know that we in the United States consume 25% of the world’s energy, but have less than 5% of the world’s population? China has surpassed us in energy usage, but per person we still use more than 8x what the average Chinese uses per year. Does that sound balanced? Does that sound like manna where everyone has enough, but no one has too much? That’s the point here. When God provides, God provides enough for all. There’s a lesson there for us as a society. (Wikipedia)
But, there’s another lesson for us. Not only is there enough for everybody, we get a day off. This is the beginning of a Sabbath of rest. Just like when God created the universe. Even when God provides you don’t have to work on God’s Sabbath of rest.
When the Jews were slaves in Egypt, there were not days off. Everyday, every week, every month, every year for 400 years slaves did what slaves do, they worked. They served, the did what their masters told them to do.
But when we ask God for our daily bread, along with that bread comes rest. Along with that bread comes a rhythm of life that respects the rhythm of creation. One day in seven to reflect on God’s good gifts, to reorder our lives, to refresh our bodies, to rest in God’s provision.
The next time you pray “Give us this day our daily bread” remember that this one prayer is loaded with the provision of God stretching back to the Garden of Eden, forward through the Exodus, and into the wilderness with Jesus. God is present with us. God knows what we need. God provides all we need, enough and no more. God gives to all equally. God’s economy does not allow for greed, or hoarding, or injustice. God provides with the bread, a day of rest.
Of course, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will neither hunger nor thirst.” And that is our prayer. That the daily bread of Christ’s presence will enrich the daily bread of our physical lives. That with every bite, every morsel, we’ll find ourselves with the Children of Israel, looking at the ground in wonder, and asking, Man hu? What is it? And we’ll hear the voice of Moses saying, “It’s bread. God gave it to you for today. Take and eat.”