Jesus taught them, saying: “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread … “Matthew 6:9-11
Jesus teaches us that when we pray, after praying for God’s name to be hallowed, and after asking that God’s kingdom come, and that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, we should ask God to give us our daily bread. What does it mean to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”? It means a surprising amount! The more I reflected on this simple petition, the more I realized what a profound prayer this really is. I want to share with you four things that we can learn about prayer through this petition.
God Wants to Know about Our Daily Needs
First of all, this prayer teaches us that God wants to hear from us about everything, even our daily physical needs. It is okay to pray for ourselves, in other words. In fact, Jesus teaches us to do this. Sometimes we feel guilty about this, but the truth is that God wants to hear from us.
And not just about bread, right? Martin Luther teaches us that daily bread is everything that we need in this earthly life, such as food, clothing, and shelter, upright and faithful rulers, good weather, good friends, and faithful neighbors. God wants to hear from us about all of this, and God cares about our earthly life. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us this.
We Should Trust God to Meet Our Daily Needs
But the second thing this prayer teaches us is to trust God for our daily needs. Jesus teaches us not just to pray for bread, but to pray for our daily bread. And to understand what he meant, we need to go back to this story from Exodus 16:
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.Exodus 16:2-5, 13-15
God’s people were in the wilderness learning to obey God and learning to trust God. And to help them learn to trust for their daily needs, God sent them manna. But the manna that God provided was enough just for that day, or on the day before the Sabbath, enough for two days. But not more than that. When they tried to collect more than they needed for the day, it bred worms and became foul overnight. So, through the gift of manna, God was teaching God’s people to trust God for their daily needs. Each and every day, we are invited to trust God. C.S. Lewis once wrote that “relying on God has to begin all over again every day.” And that is what we are learning as we pray each day for our daily bread.
We Should Pray for Daily Bread for All
But there is yet a third thing that we learn from this simple petition. First, to turn to God with our daily concerns and needs. Second, to trust that God will provide for us not just today, but tomorrow, too. But third, we notice in this prayer that Jesus taught us that we pray not just for our own daily bread, but for daily bread for the community. The Lord’s Prayer never uses the words “me” or “my”. It is always “us” and “our”. And that’s important. This is a prayer to be prayed by the community, for the community. Give us this day our daily bread.
It is a prayer that teaches us that we are part of a community, that we are all in this together. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it seems that it has taught us that we are all in this together. When we pray for our daily bread, we are praying for all our earthly needs, not just for ourselves. Even as this prayer reminds us to pray for our own needs, it also teaches us that we are all in this together. And we must keep praying this prayer as long as there is one of us without enough to eat this day, or one of us who is sick. And we must work toward the day when all will have food, shelter, and health.
This petition can’t really be prayed by itself, in other words – it must be prayed with the previous petitions, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” They are all connected. And God’s kingdom has not come in its fullness as long as there is one of us in this world who is in need.
We Live by More than Bread Alone
But there is a fourth thing that we learn from this simple petition, because scripture reminds us that we live by more than bread alone. When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, after having fasted for forty days, the first temptation he faced was to turn a stone into bread. But he responded to this temptation with the well-known words from Deuteronomy:
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”Matthew 4:4 and Deuteronomy 8:3
Bread alone is not enough. We need more. But what is that more? Jesus tells us directly in John 6 that He Himself is that more. He is what we ultimately need:
[They said to Jesus:] “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from 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, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”John 6:30-35
Ultimately, we don’t understand what it means to pray for our daily bread until we connect it to Jesus. We need more, in other words, than simply food and clothing. We need more than shelter, upright and faithful rulers, good weather, good friends and faithful neighbors. We need Jesus. He is our daily bread. He is what we need. And when we come to him, we will never be hungry again. Every time we pray this prayer that he taught us, we are praying not just for our daily needs, but we are also reminding ourselves that what we need, more than anything else, is what we find in the one who taught us this prayer, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
This is the fifth part in a series I am sharing on the Lord’s Prayer. You can find the first four parts here:
Why We Pray “Our Father”
What Does It Mean to Hallow God’s Name?
What Does It Mean to Pray “Thy Kingdom Come”?
What Does It Mean to Pray “Thy Will Be Done”?