The honour of our heavenly Father’s name, the coming of his kingdom and his will done on earth as it is in heaven. These form the three magnificent, central rooms of this great house of prayer. They set the vision, goal and aim for the more practical petitions that follow.
The petitions for daily bread, a forgiving spirit and spiritual safety do not stand on their own any more than a cluster of kitchens, cloakrooms and security rooms would be built in the place of a great house at the centre of an estate! The kitchens and cloakrooms are only there to make possible the banquets and receptions of the great rooms, and so it is with this majestic prayer.
We are taught to pray for bread, not just for ourselves and our own comfort, but bread that we might be free from anxious care and so free to live for the glory of our heavenly Father. We are taught to pray for forgiveness and for a willingness to forgive, not to make us ‘nice people,’ but to enable us to live for the Lord and to work together with one another as a team. And we are taught to pray for safety, again, not for our personal comfort, but rather that we might be able to live as free and faithful servants of the King.
For many of us, however, it is not until we arrive at ‘daily bread’ that we feel, “Ah, now the prayer really begins. Bread is something that really matters to me. Before it was ‘spiritual’ and hard to understand, but now we have arrived at ‘bread’ it really begins to be relevant.” Fair enough, but this is only because it meets us where we are, rather than where we ought to be! Having missed the vision of the first three petitions, petitions that lie at the heart of the prayer, we are like the teacher’s nightmare of youngsters on an outing to a great house, scurrying through the magnificent rooms with eyes only for the sweet shop!
Nevertheless, what an encouragement that God our heavenly Father cares about our stomachs. He cares about the things we need day by day; cares about these basic practical details. Samuel Johnson, who first gave us the dictionary, was once challenged about the amount of care he was taking over his stomach. Dr. Johnson replied, ‘My dear sir, if I did not take good care of this place I would not be able to take good care of anything else.’ It is a fair point, and this is precisely the reason why our Lord taught us to pray, ‘Father, give us today our daily bread.’
Here in this petition are the kitchens, store-rooms and accounting rooms of the great house. They are there to keep the table supplied and to make possible the day to day running of the house. They are there to give freedom from anxiety by supplying all that is necessary, ‘bread’ for today and ‘bread’ for tomorrow; exactly the thought that lies behind this petition. The great difference to note is that our Lord is not talking about the grand and the luxurious but about the simple, basic necessities of life. Our Lord is speaking of physical provision; food to eat, of which bread is the basic example.
If God withholds our daily bread we will be so filled with anxiety that we will not be able to live seeking first the kingdom of heaven; living for God.
Our Lord was concerned that we should not be filled with such anxious care. Therefore, he taught us to pray, ‘Give us today our daily bread.’
Bread is, of course, a picture, a symbol of all that we need physically, mentally and spiritually to live in this world, in this human body, in a way that brings honour to our heavenly Father.
Our physical needs
Primarily, we do need food; food for both ourselves and for those who depend on us.
Ultimately, all that we need comes by the good hand of God. ‘Lord God, thank you for your provision of our food. We pray that you would bless those who farm, produce and distribute it and spare us from such poverty or famine that the things of God are forgotten because of our concern for bread.’
But ‘daily bread’ also includes all our basic human needs, for example shelter and warm clothing. We are taught to pray in this petition, ‘Spare us from such poverty, war, civil unrest, lawlessness or family strife that we are forced from our homes.’ These things strike at the very roots of both godly living and of our physical well-being. Family breakdown and strife at home reduces too many in our society to isolated, rootless, homeless people, with all the temptations and dangers of exploitation, drugs and sexual abuse. War brutalises us and makes us of necessity killers of our fellow human beings, and in the extreme reduces us to hungry, threadbare refugees all but forced to steal and fight as we compete with one another for food and temporary shelter.
As the English Reformers spoke of ‘daily bread’ they said something rather surprising. They said something rather surprising. They taught, ‘When you pray for daily bread, pray first for the government.’ Surprising but right, for on our government and their policies and God’s good hand upon them, will depend whether we have wealth or poverty; enough or too little bread.
Pray that our government may be able to defend us from those who would bring us into subjection, for a subject people are rarely free from poverty.
Pray, too, that they may be able to maintain justice within our society for if our goods are constantly being stolen or if we are often defrauded then we shall very soon be anxious about daily bread.
Our social and medical needs
Our basic human needs also include mental and physical health. We live in a fallen world where any one of us may go through times when we are simply not able to manage; our job collapses, our home life collapses, our health or mental health collapses, our strength fails. Then we need to pray for courage, for practical and medical help. And personally to pray for godly strength to face each day and for a willingness in such circumstances to let go our proud independence and be interdependent as God intended. For God, our heavenly Father, has given us one another, family, friends and the wider society, to provide for each other in our hour of need. In such an hour we are taught to pray for all that we need to face another day in a way that brings honour to our Father in heaven.
Our spiritual needs
Our Lord spent considerable time in prayer and meditation, he did not live by ‘bread alone’. We, too, need spiritual nourishment if we are to live as God’s people in this world. For example we need opportunity to be alone and quiet before God. We also need an opportunity to read and think about his word, spiritually feeding ourselves day by day. We need the help of godly speakers and writers who can explain God’s word to us and help us to shape our thinking and our living to please him. We also need the fellowship, support and encouragement of Christian friends. These things are as basic and necessary as bread.
We live in a hard world where Christ is shunned and God is forgotten. Pray then for godly graciousness and for courage. Pray for strength and wisdom to face particular, difficult situations. These things, too, are daily bread.
The part that is ours to play
Our heavenly Father’s normal way of providing for our daily needs is by the skills he has given us to develop and use, and by sweat and hard work. For this reason true prayer is dangerous! It always has a reforming, a life-style changing element to it. We have to be willing to be a part of the answer to our own prayer. We cannot truly pray for bread without being willing to work for it. We will only truly pray for better relationships with those around us when we are willing to guard our own tongues, change our own attitudes or control our own behaviour. We will only truly pray for spiritual nourishment and growth when we are willing to set aside time for our heavenly Father and his word and actually allow his word to shape our daily living. We are utterly dependent on God for all that we need but we have also a part to play by self discipline, by skill and by determined hard work.
A true commonwealth
Finally, do notice, again, that as our Lord taught us to pray for daily bread he taught us to pray, ‘Give us today our daily bread.’ Not just me and my but us and our. We are part of a family, part of a society, part of a land and it is together that we pray for bread. So, as God gives us bread, we are to remember our brother, our sister in need. He feeds us together, he gives us enough.
As the Reformers considered this they presented a great challenge. It was that those of us to whom God gives plenty are ‘God’s treasurers’. Our heavenly Father has placed us where we are, in order to help those in need. The good Samaritan of the parable with his donkey, wine and money, ‘chanced’ to pass that way and find the man in trouble. He was equipped and able to help . . . and he did. As you pray, ‘Give us today . . .’ and God graciously answers that prayer, don’t forget, don’t pass by, your neighbour, your fellow disciple who needs your help.
‘Why is it,’ the visiting Christian was asked, ‘that you Christians in the West have so much while we Christians in the developing countries have so little?’ Great trading nations have always amassed wealth at the centre by exploiting those at a distance. We will not truly begin to pray for those with too little bread until it touches our own trading and purchasing practices, the brands we buy, our own pile of bread and our own bank balance.
George Muller laid his orphanage table though he had nothing to set before his children. As he prayed, so the Lord stirred the hearts of those who had plenty to bring food for the orphanage. Our Father’s economy always has two sides, sometimes it is our place to give, and to give generously, and sometimes to receive and to do so humbly and gratefully before God. There is to be a holy interdependence of love, compassion and justice between those who are truly sons and daughters of the living God.
True prayer is life changing. Our heavenly Father is calling out for himself a people who will truly be a commonwealth of individuals, societies and nations. Ungodly self-sufficiency, greed and selfishness will always militate against this, and yet the vision of a true commonwealth lies here, right at the heart of the Lord’s prayer.
‘Father, thank you for your provision of our daily bread. Thank you for the wealth that we have personally and as a society. We thank you for our government and pray for your hand upon it. Help us to use all that you entrust to us in a way that pleases you and stir us to be fair and generous in our dealings with those who have too little.’
- Free from anxious care – Matthew 6:25-33
- ‘Bread alone’ – Matthew 4:3&4
- ‘Not work, not eat’ – 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12
- Good Samaritan – Luke 10:33-35
- How do you react to the suggestion that we pray these petitions for daily bread, forgiveness and safety, not for our comfort but so that we are free to live for God; free to be about our Father’s business?
- Why do we need to pray for our government as we pray for daily bread?
- Both nationally and individually we like to think of ourselves as strong and independent ‘towers of strength’ but are we? Should we be? Can we be, when in the tough situations of life?
- Do our prayers have a reforming, lifestyle-changing element about them? Are we willing, at our own expense or effort, to be our heavenly Father’s answer to our own prayers?
- How can the petition for daily bread touch and enlighten the selection of the goods we buy?
- ‘Real prayers of compassion will always be found to touch our wallet, purse, cheque book and career.’ How easy is this? Is it true? Does it happen?
- The vision of a true commonwealth is right here in the Lord’s Prayer, what stops it happening?