In the flow of the Lord’s Prayer, this petition might seem a little out of place. In the first three petitions Jesus shined the spotlight on God – his name, his kingdom and his will. These are the spiritual necessities that sustain and strengthen us for eternal life in heaven. But now Jesus turns his attention to the physical side of things, and he brings up bread. Bread, that food staple which these days we almost take for granted. Bread, the food whose most important job is holding a sandwich together. Why? What connection is there between holy things like God’s name, kingdom and will and something as ordinary as bread? What does prayer have to do with what we put on the table for lunch?
The Bible makes it clear that God is interested in what we eat and what we drink and what we wear. From the beginning, the glorious, heavenly things of God were intimately connected with every day, physical necessities. What led Adam and Eve to fall from grace and bring sin and death into the world? Food. Why did Esau sell his birthright to Jacob? Because he was hungry. When Jesus realized that thousands of people had followed him into the wilderness to hear him preach, he didn’t dismiss them, saying “at least I’ve filled their souls, that’s what really matters.” No, he filled their bellies with bread and fish. In his letter to church leaders and members James writes: Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16) God, our Creator, knows that in this life body and soul are co-dependent. He knows that if we are to hallow his name, live in his kingdom, and carry out his will we need food, clothing, shelter and many other things to do so. Jesus summarizes our physical needs with this petition: give us today our daily bread. A petition that appears simple, but involves many different ingredients.
The first two words point us to the source. These days “locally sourced” food has become pretty trendy. “Locally sourced” food doesn’t come from some anonymous factory farm, it comes from a local farm that you could visit if you wanted to – so that after you eat your chicken sandwich, you can go see where that chicken grew up. Apparently, people want to know where their food is coming from. Do we always remember the source of our food? If we asked the children here where their food comes from, how many would say Pick-n-Save or McDonalds? How many adults would respond, it came from me who put in the hours at work to earn the paycheck that bought that loaf of bread. But we’re not really getting to the source, are we? Who gave us the education, ability and health to hold a job and earn a living? Who is responsible for placing us in a peaceful and prosperous nation where most of us don’t really worry about food and clothing? Who gave the farmer and the baker their skill and ability? In the end, who causes the sun to shine, the rain to fall and seeds to germinate? In teaching us to pray Our Father in heaven…give us, Jesus is encouraging us to recognize God as the source of every blessing.
Why is it so easy to forget that? Why are we so quick to sit down and eat, to walk out of the store with a cartload of food, or cash our paycheck without thanking God for it? Because, too often, we imagine that we deserve it. We deserve it because of how hard we work or how good we are. The truth is, we are sinners. And according to God, the soul who sins is the one who will die. (Ezekiel 18:20) If God were to give us what we deserve, our bodies would be rotting in the ground and our souls locked away in hell right now. That’s why it’s good for us to use the words of Psalm 118 as we sit down to eat: Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Psalm 118:1) It is only a result of God’s undeserved love that we can go to work, shop at the store, and sit down for a meal. The only reason we can spend a single moment peacefully working, resting and eating is because God sent his Son to take away our sins and to suffer the punishment of death we deserved. Because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath that we had earned, we are not dead, we are not doomed, we are not damned, and we are free to enjoy the bounty of blessings God pours out on us. And because God has already proven his love by taking care of our greatest spiritual need – the forgiveness of sins – we can trust that he will take care of our physical needs as well. In that way, Jesus is not only the teacher of this petition, he is the answer, the source as well.
But Luther asks another important question about this petition, “What is meant by daily bread?” In his answer he includes things like a godly spouse, godly employees, good government, peace and order, good weather and good health. Especially after a tragic week like this last one, it’s important to remember just how many elements have to come together for us to be able to eat a meal in peace. We need farmers to grow crops, factory workers to process them and grocers to sell them. We need truckers to bring them to the store, mechanics to keep those trucks on the road, and police officers to keep the roads safe. We need government leaders to keep society safe and orderly, military members to keep us safe from enemies, employers to give us jobs to earn money, and citizens who respect the laws of the land. Without any one of those elements, it would be a daily struggle to eat a meal in peace. If you have any doubt, just look at the refugee crisis in N. Africa and Europe. So no small part of this petition is praying that God would continue to maintain and bless our vast economy: farmers and grocers, truckers and mechanics, citizens and leaders – which all work together to allow us to sit down to eat our daily bread in peace.
Jesus continues by throwing a dash of community into this petition: Give US today OUR daily bread. I don’t know about you, but I’m really good at praying for me, myself, I – and maybe my family. But others, not so much. Jesus doesn’t intend for this to be a selfish petition. This idea of ‘community’ is a trendy one these days too. Many companies entice you to buy their products with a promise to donate a portion of the proceeds to those in need. One shoe company even donates a pair of shoes for every pair they sell. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s good that companies have a conscience and that our government uses our tax dollars to help those in need. But this prayer is personal. In this petition Jesus is not only reminding us to pray for the needs of others – in our family, our church, our community – but that he might use us to be part of the answer. God is the source of every blessing, but he gives us the privilege to serve as his hands in sharing those blessings.
Finally, Jesus sprinkles in the ingredient that binds this whole petition together: necessity. Give us TODAY our DAILY bread. The thing about food is that no matter how much we eat today, we will need more tomorrow. Jesus knows this and that’s why he doesn’t tell us to pray for bread for tomorrow or next year, he urges us to pray today’s bread. Why? Well, that’s all we can use anyway – God could drop a truckload of bread on your doorstep, enough to last the rest of your life, but it would go bad before you could eat it. And, more importantly, God wants us to look to him every day for our needs and necessities, not just once in a while.
Perhaps this is the most difficult ingredient of this petition for us 21st century Americans to get right. We’re told that we need to have a three month emergency fund in the bank to insure against job loss. We are encouraged to have a stock of non-perishable food and water in storage in case of disaster. We save our whole lives in the hope that one day we can retire. But what happens when we obsess over stockpiles of food and money for the future and those “just in case” scenarios? We are quickly overcome by anxiety and worry. Even though God has given us everything we need, we stress about getting the things we want. Even though we have more than enough for today, we lay awake at night worrying about tomorrow. And Satan uses that anxiety to get a foothold in our hearts – he leads us into the sin of trusting ourselves for our daily needs rather than God.
Now, this is not to say that we can’t do some wise financial planning and exercise prudence in how we spend and save for the future. But remember what James wrote: you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15) In the end, what good is all our worrying, planning, and investing if God calls us home tonight? Instead of worrying about tomorrow, pray for what you need today and then leave the future in the hands of the one who promises: Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)
In this way, the 4th petition serves us in both poverty and prosperity. When we have more food than we can fit in the pantry and a healthy reserve in the bank, use this petition daily to thank God for providing that abundance. And when funds are running low, use this petition to express your trust that God will provide what you need for today, even if tomorrow is a mystery. No, God may not give you enough to take that dream vacation or to pay for nicest car or to eat out every week – and, sometimes, we may have to cut back in some areas to make ends meet. But God didn’t promise prosperity, he promised to give us what is necessary. As people living in perhaps the most prosperous society in human culture, we have become used to almost limitless wealth, but let us remember that the true riches God wants to give us aren’t on this earth but safe and sound in heaven. And keeping our eyes on those eternal riches, let us be content with and grateful for the bread that God graciously provides for us every single day.
After praying for God to invade our hearts and carry out his heavenly will on earth, the 4th petition might seem kind of unnecessary and out of place. But in order to serve God, we need to be alive – and there are many ingredients involved in something as simple as a loaf of bread. Jesus reminds us that the source of every blessing is our heavenly Father, who not only shows his love in keeping us alive in this world but has given his Son that we might live forever. We recognize and pray for the many elements of the economy that God uses to provide for our daily needs. We pray not only for ourselves and our families but for all Christians and all people. And Jesus relieves us of the compulsive need to worry about tomorrow with his assurance that God will provide exactly what we need for each new day. Give us today our daily bread. Simple petition, many ingredients. Amen.