By Dr. Mickey Anders
The Lord’s Prayer begins with lofty ideals and heavenly matters – “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But the second half of this prayer moves to earthly matters proving that it is not lost in abstract ideals, but also deals with the practical realities of life. Today we deal with the first of the earthly petitions – “Give us today our daily bread.”
After praying for those things that relate directly to the glory of God and His kingdom, we then ask God for those goods that are necessary for our physical lives. This order parallels the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The petition begins with a reminder of our absolute dependence on God. Ultimately all that we have comes to us as a gift from God. This petition recognizes the source of our bread. Though it seems that people obtain their bread with or without prayer, we are taught to seek our bread from God.
God is not the Lord only of the “spiritual” realm or of “spiritual” people. God created us as physical creatures who depend upon the physical world around us for our lives. There is nothing about this that is inferior or to be despised nor is there any necessary contradiction between the physical and the spiritual worlds.
People think of their bread as coming from investments, or from a business, or from an employer, but this prayer would remind us that these are merely the temporary channels through which God’s blessings come. The ultimate source of all our bread is God.
And we often learn the hard way that the channels can dry up. Because of the bad economy and corporate downsizing, some people lose their jobs every day. Because the stock market has nose-dived, many of us have lost a good portion of our retirement funds. These channels may dry up, but the source of all good things is eternal. The key is remembering the real source – God.
Next the Model Prayer reminds us to focus on today and today’s needs.
This daily bread is clearly reminiscent of the manna that fell from heaven during the wilderness experience. Each morning the manna fell with the dew, but none could collect more than a day’s worth lest it spoil. The manna reminded the Jews of their daily dependence on God’s providence. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us of that same daily dependence today.
The prayer again reflects the advice of Jesus given in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day’s own evil is sufficient.”
Most of us have a tendency to live in the past or to live in the future. We dredge up past failures and relive our grief over and over. Others of us cannot let go of the ways we have been mistreated in the past, and we refuse to forgive. But the past is gone. We must let it go and live in the present.
We are equally guilty of living in the future. We worry about the things that will happen next month, next year or even further into the future. But all our worrying cannot change a thing. We must work now to make the future better.
The Lord’s Prayer captures just that emphasis as we pray for this day and our daily bread. As Luke expresses it, “Give us day by day our daily bread.” We must have a child-like trust. We must lean in trust upon God from day to day. We cast our worries and anxieties on God.
Next we see that the Lord’s Prayer calls us to involvement with others. The Lord’s Prayer can never be prayed selfishly. We do not pray, “Give me” or “I want this” or “Meet my…” We always pray, “Our Father,” “Give us,” “Bring us,” Forgive us.” We have to remember others. It reminds us of our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are hungry.
I love the old poem which makes this point:
You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say “I.”
You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say “My.”
Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for one another,
And when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother.
For others are included… in each and every plea,
From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say “Me.”
The bread we pray for includes all of our basic physical necessities. In order to live, we need shelter; we need clothing. Whatever physical need we have should be regarded as included in this request.
The prayer for bread also calls us to a simplicity of life. It is a prayer of moderation. This petition does not focus on luxuries. We are not to ask for cake or pie but for bread – the necessity of life.
Bread has a rich history in the Bible. There are 330 references to “bread” in the New Revised Standard Version of the bible.
Bread is a symbol of hospitality in Genesis 18:1-8, where the Lord appeared to Abraham. Abraham ran from his tent to meet the strangers and offered them the gift of his hospitality, which ultimately opened the doors for God’s blessings. Abraham declares, “”My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please don’t go away from your servant. Now let a little water be fetched, wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. I will get a morsel of bread so you can refresh your heart …”
We find bread mentioned again in the vow of Jacob in Genesis 28:20-22, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to put on, 28:21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, and Yahweh will be my God…”
In Egypt, when Joseph sent a goodwill package with his estranged brothers back to his father, “He sent the following to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and provision for his father by the way ” (Genesis 45:23).
Of course, we remember the prominence of unleavened bread in the Passover story. “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; even the first day you shall put away yeast out of your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15).
The book of Proverbs contains this beatitude, “He who has a generous eye will be blessed; for he shares his food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).
And Jesus recalled the advice from Proverbs 25:21, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat. If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”
On the Emmaus road, the two disciples did not recognize Jesus as they walked along. But when they broke bread together, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.
All of these references lead us to realize that bread is a powerful symbol throughout the Bible. But the highest and clearest statement was made by Jesus himself in a lengthy section in John 6 where Jesus claims to be the bread of heaven.
The crowds said to Jesus, “What then do you do for a sign, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.'”
Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:31-35).
“Most certainly, I tell you, he who believes in me has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:47-51)
Another reason why the food or bread symbol for the experience of the Presence of God is such a telling one is that the act of eating food is essentially a thing that must be done for oneself. No one can assimilate food for another. You can hire someone to mow your lawn or repair your kitchen, but you can’t hire someone to eat your bread for you. That is one thing you must do for yourself. In the same way, the realization of the presence of God is a thing that no one else can have for us.
The story goes that there was a Scotsman who was coming to America. He had purchased passage on one of the great ocean liners. He did not have much money, so he decided to save on food by stocking up on crackers, cheese, and fruit before he left. The ship sailed, and he began to eat his skimpy meals. This went fairly well for the first four or five days. But as the ship drew closer to New York the crackers got stale, the cheese became moldy, and the fruit spoiled. Finally there was nothing left that was fit to eat. The Scotsman decided that he would go to the dining room and have one good meal before the ship docked and he went ashore.
Imagine his surprise to discover that nothing in the dining room cost anything, and that all that he could ever have eaten had already been included in the price of his ticket before he left the British Isles!
In the same way, God has spread a banquet table of the bread of life. It’s ours for the asking. We need only repeat, “Give us today our daily bread.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2009 Mickey Anders. Used by permission.