“Give us Today our Daily Bread” (Matt 6:11; Luke 11:3).
Here, halfway through the prayer, we turn from our concerns for God’s honour and his purposes in our lives, to what we might call our concerns about our lives. Of course, this distinction is false, for in praying for God’s will to be done, we have prayed very much for ourselves. Nevertheless, this is at least a turn to pray for the things that we all need, whether Christian or not.
A daily prayer
It is worth pausing to reflect that Jesus seems to expect this to be our daily prayer. We are, after all, praying today for our daily bread, not for next week or next month. Tomorrow will be a new day when this prayer will be needed again. In that sense, this is perhaps a prayer for first thing in the morning, committing the needs of the day into God’s hands.
A challenging prayer
This is a deeply challenging prayer for a number of reasons.
First, it reminds us of our total dependence on God for every good thing we have. In saying ‘Give’, we are not usually asking God to send manna from heaven, as though he does not use ordinary means to give us what we need. Rather, it recognises the fact that our jobs, for example, are his means of providing for our needs. They are as much a gift of his grace, as manna was for the Israelites.
Of course, it may be the case that we really are in dire financial need, and very aware of our dependence on God. In which case, we will need no further encouragement to pray, simply to remember that God is our generous Father who delights to answer our prayers.
Secondly, this prayer challenges us to pray for those things that many of us take for granted. We so rarely pray for our daily needs because we think that we can provide them. We are very happy to pray for things that are well beyond our reach, but for our daily needs, often less so.
This, in turn, kills our thanksgiving. How often do we get to the end of the day and think about how we’ve seen God’s sustaining grace in a whole variety of ways? How little joy we experience in the Christian life because we do not notice his daily provisions!
Thirdly, this prayer attacks our idols. Where we might pray for some extraordinary blessing, Jesus seems to think that it is quite sufficient to pray for our needs. If we have shelter, food, and clothing, basic necessities, should we not be thankful for that? Should we not be content?
By praying this prayer, we are asking God not to satisfy our idolatrous love for other things. This is completely in line with the tenth commandment against covetousness. It is our natural condition to look to the future and desire many things which may not be God’s good plan for us. Here we place ourselves into God’s hands, committing to do our daily jobs, and trusting that he will provide everything he decides that we need. It is a prayer that rests both on his generosity and his wisdom for the day ahead.
Bread here is the main staple food. It isn’t oil or meat, which would have been luxuries, but basic needs for the richest to the poorest. How much we take for granted the kindnesses of God until they are taken away!
This is a remarkable contrast to our consumerist Western society. Jesus’ prayer here challenges us to be content, thankful even, for the simple necessities we have, and to bless others with our excess. Similarly, Paul tells the thief in Ephesus to stop stealing, taking his daily provisions from others, but instead work in order to be able to share with others (Ephesians 4:28).
Perhaps this is even Christ’s way of gently waking us up to the distressing reality that there are people in our midst who know the daily fear of running out of food, and who cry out to the Lord for his provision. As we pray “Give us today our daily bread”, will we be God’s means of answering that prayer for others in our congregations, for those in our communities who are suffering, for those in other churches in less privileged situations, and even for other believers around the world?
Let us not only pray the prayer. Let us also be God’s means of graciously answering it for others.
Questions for reflection
1. What is it that you wish God would provide for you? What do you need him to provide for you?
2. Try to list everything that God has provided for you today.
3. How might this prayer make you more generous with what God has given you?
Our Father in Heaven,
Grant us eyes to see your great grace in our daily provision. Help us to see our great need for you to give us life, and breath, bread and shelter. Give us the humility to rejoice each day in the mercies you have poured out. Cause us to dwell on your generosity, and to be a channel of your grace towards others,
For your glory, Amen.