Give us this day our daily bread
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33)
Jesus delivered these words shortly after giving us the model prayer, which is fitting since we find the very structure of the Lord’s Prayer to be teaching this same lesson. Although God has no need for anything, the Scriptures repeatedly teach us that He knows the limitations of His creatures (He is our Creator, after all). Here Jesus reasons that if God as our Father feeds the birds and clothes the grass, how much more will He provide for us, His children? Our Father knows our needs. We must, therefore, seek after God’s kingdom and righteousness first and foremost, trusting our Father to provide the rest.
The Lord’s Prayer models for us this same pattern in our prayers to the Father. Supplications for God’s provision, pardon, or protection tend to form the bulk of our prayers, yet these are the second half of how Jesus teaches us to pray. First, we are to pray for the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of His kingdom, and the doing of His will, and then we begin to pray for our needs. This pattern subtly reminds us each time we pray of the immensity and grandeur of our God, of the primacy of glorifying Him, and that we are not the protagonist of history’s unfolding narrative. In other words, praying like this puts us in our place.
But, as we will see, although petitions for our own needs come second, we should take heart that God truly cares to hear them. The Father already knows our needs, yet Jesus still teaches us to bring them before Him. Our God is our loving Father who delights in His children coming to Him. His name, kingdom, and will are cosmic, glorious, and eternal realities far too magnificent for our finite minds to truly comprehend, but the Father also joyously concerns Himself for our particular hungers and battles against sin.
Therefore, as we continue onward in the Lord’s Prayer, let us seek first His kingdom, knowing that these latter things will be added to us as well.
Even at a glance, we come away with a general understanding of what Jesus is communicating within this petition. We are to ask our Father for our daily provision and nourishment. Let us, however, walk through this sentence word by word in order to further explain it.
The word give, of course, implies multiple notions. It presumes our own need, God’s possession, and His disposition to give. We would never utter the plea for God to give us anything without at least some understanding of our neediness and God’s sufficiency and generosity.
The object requested is bread. For the people of ancient Mesopotamia, which included Jesus and His disciples, bread was the staple food of their diet. For all but the wealthy, meat would have rarely been eaten beyond festivals and feasts. Even fruit and most vegetables were limited by a variety of circumstances. Bread, of all food, was the most consistent.
Notice then that Jesus teaches us to pray for our most basic necessities. The Father may indeed give us much more than bread to eat, but we are to ask for what is needed. Such a prayer is greatly important for us because it ought to continuously remind us of our abundant blessings from the hand of the LORD. Even in Watson’s time, he defined wealthy persons as those who possessed an abundance and had little fear of what they would eat tomorrow. This, of course, describes the majority of us to live in the United States in the 21st century. With pantries full of food, how are we supposed to pray for bread, especially daily bread?
First, we must be joyously thankful for the grace that God has given us. Here possessing an understanding of history is a tremendous aid. Consider the blessings of modern life that the vast majority of our ancestors did not experience. Refrigerators are viewed as a necessary household item, along with indoor plumbing, filtered water, and heating and air conditioning. This is to say nothing about medicine like vaccines, antibiotics, antiseptics, and anesthetics. These are discoveries and inventions that have saved countless lives.
Or specifically look at giving birth. In many ancient societies, the mortality rate for infants would rise as high as 30%, with the mortality rate for mothers giving birth sometimes approaching that same figure. Such a life is almost unimaginable for us today, knowing that several of your children would not live to see adulthood or knowing that each childbirth was rolling the dice of your own mortality.
The undeniable reality is that we are privileged. No, I don’t mean in the critical race theory and intersectionality sense of the word. We need not be ashamed of our time and place of birth in history, nor do we owe our ancestors an apology. Yet it is to our distinct advantage that we were born in this particular time and place. We do, therefore, need to be thankful. God’s will is for us to be thankful in all circumstances. How much more so whenever He has given us exceedingly more than we asked for!
Second, we must constantly remind ourselves that although we possess plenty now, the future is never certain. The modern world as we have crafted it looks indestructible, but as our obsession with dystopian fiction reveals, the lesson of Babel never has left our hearts. Instinctually, we know that everything can come crashing down upon us at a moment’s notice. Of course, we don’t really believe it would happen or else we would all be doomsday preppers. Even so, we all feel the weight of the possible.
US & OUR
Next, we must consider the two pronouns used: us and our. Both, as we can clearly see, are plural. Just as Jesus taught us to pray to our Father, so He now teaches us to pray for our daily bread. Why is this significant?
The most basic answer is that it is a reminder to pray for the needs of others in addition to yourself. Hopefully, we each do this, praying for our family, fellow church members, and the needs of our community. Praying through these outward rings is a great practice, and apps like PrayerMate are quite helpful for this task. I believe, however, the Lord’s Prayer urges us even deeper into these waters.
By praying the words us and our, we attach ourselves onto the needs of others. I am no longer praying simply for my daily bread; instead, I am praying that the Father would provide bread to us, which would naturally be all the Father’s children. Of course, we can and should pray for the needs of non-Christians, but Jesus is teaching us to specifically pray for all those who call God their Father, which is only the people of God, the universal Church. As Southern Baptists, our Faith & Message affirms this thought by stating: “God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.” He is fatherly, but not Father, to all who are outside of Christ. The petitions we make in these final three petitions, therefore, are specifically for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
The significance of praying for God’s daily provision for God’s global church and our local congregation is myriad. Simply praying as a member of and on behalf of Christ’s disciples throughout the world should rightfully diminish our view of self and exalt the work of God, hallowing His name. It reminds us that we are each one piece in God’s mission to bring His kingdom and accomplish His will here on earth.
Praying for specific needs of those around us or for brothers and sisters around the world to whom we are connected is a necessary application of this prayer. However, let me also encourage you to specifically pray this prayer using the plural language that is given. Pray daily for the Father to give us this day our daily bread, and pray it on behalf of all of us, the collective people of God, knowing that God sees each of our personal needs.
This prayer also combats coveting at the root. How can I truly pray for God to provide for the needs of my brothers and sisters in Christ (many of whom have much less than myself) and remain envious of those to whom He has given more? Indeed, how can I long for more when I continuously am reminded in prayer that daily bread is my need and I am to be content with it?
THE BREAD OF LIFE
This bread, of course, can also stand symbolically for any need of ours. But perhaps no need is clearer than our need for Christ. He is, after all, the bread of life, which came down from heaven. He is the true manna for our souls. Our hearts hunger for sustenance that no food can satisfy. Our souls thirst for a kind of water that is not of this world. As Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Indeed, Christ alone can satisfy our deepest longings. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). This immediately refers to the Scriptures, the written Word of God, but they also point us to Jesus Himself who is the embodied Word of God. Life itself is in Jesus, the Author of life. He, therefore, is true bread.
Yet how can this bread refer to Jesus if it is a daily bread? We understand that food must be consumed each day in order to survive, but if Jesus is truly all-satisfying, why must we have a portion of Him each day? Perhaps as a reminder of our utter dependence upon Him, God only deals out grace in daily doses.
The account of God giving manna to the Israelites is a marvelous picture of this truth. When they entered into the wilderness after escaping Egypt, God miraculously provided food for the Israelites via a wafer-like bread called manna. Each day the bread would appear on the ground, and the people would collect their daily portion. Some gathered more, while others gathered less, but each was filled with none remaining. Some did, however, try to store some manna for the following day, but it rotted with worms and stank. On the sixth day of the week, however, they gathered two portions so that they did not work by collecting on the Sabbath.
Our dependency upon Christ and His grace is similar. We cannot hoard our portion of Christ for another day; we must seek Him daily. Specifically, for example, we find Him in the reading of His Word and prayer. His Word must dwell in us richly each day, for its blessing does not store throughout the night. Of course, this isn’t to say that there isn’t a cumulative effect of large term devotion to daily seeking the Lord. There certainly is! Rather, I am simply exhorting that today is the only day given for us to partake in the bread of life. As Hebrews says, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Let me, therefore, give a word of exhortation to two groups particularly.
First, to you who are younger in the faith, do not lament any slowness in your growth. For now, you wrestle with sin that you think should already be defeated. You long for maturity in your walk and feel frustrated that you are not yet where you desire to be. Take heart. Maturity is not built in one day; instead, it is a lifetime of work. Even still, the walk toward maturity does begin today.
Second, to you who are older in the faith, do not grow weary but rather be emboldened the nearer you come to the finish line. Do not be content with the memories of previous experiences of Christ; rather, press on and seek a fresh supply of manna from Christ each day.
Indeed, for any of us, we can easily begin to neglect the common means of grace in favor of diving into the “deep things” of God. For those on the more charismatic end of Christianity, this is often seeking after miracles or the supernatural gifts of the Spirit rather than God Himself. For us on the more Reformed end of the spectrum, we can immerse ourselves in deep theology, like whether or not the Son is eternally submissive to the Father, while subtly forgetting the vital necessity of meeting God each day in His Word. Give ear, therefore, to the words of Anselm:
Come now, insignificant man, leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares, and set aside your wearisome tasks. Make time for God, and rest a while in Him. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind; shut out everything except God and what is of aid to you in seeking Him; after closing the chamber door, seek Him out. Speak now, my whole heart; speak now to God: I seek Your countenance; Your countenance, O Lord, do I seek.
Indeed, with our whole heart, soul, and might, let us long for Christ, our bread of life, chasing after Him as our true need, our daily need.