Give us this day our daily bread.
I say that phrase, and the ones that normally precede and succeed it in the Lord’s Prayer, pretty much every day – often more than once per day.
But it occurred to me lately that I don’t often give it a second thought – or even a first.
As my friend and pastor, Stephen Hambidge, often points out (including this week, in his sermon Framed By the Mission of Jesus – very much worth a listen, BTW), we often drive by familiar bits of Scripture without so much as a glance. Sort of like people who live in Niagara Falls probably get accustomed to the staggering beauty of their surroundings and forget to be wowed.
It may be human nature, but it’s a shame. On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Therefore, I think it’s time I give this phrase – Give us this day our daily bread – a closer look.
It’s notable, I think, that the phrase is preserved in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2–4), which is effectively the Coles Notes version of the full prayer contained in Matthew 6:9–13. Luke lopped off portions of the prayer – possibly to focus on what he saw as being most important – and Our Daily Bread made the cut (or maybe I should say ‘the slice’, in this case).
‘Bread’ is, of course, a very loaded word in Christian circles. (‘Loaded’ in a good way, I mean.) The word ‘bread’ occurs in the New International Version of the Bible more than 200 times. Often, these are just references to the flour-and-water foodstuff, but in some cases they’re iconic examples of God’s hand at work. Particularly in the New Testament.
When tempted by the Devil during his 40 days in the wilderness to turn stones into bread for his achingly hungry belly, Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” – Matthew 4:4.
Jesus fed crowds of more than 4,000 and 5,000 with bread and fish. Jesus broke bread with the disciples, both before and after His crucifixion, and He declared Himself to be the bread of life. Two millennia later, taking a bit of bread into our mouths is a central part of Christianity’s most foundational and universal rituals.
We Christians can’t agree on which liquid we should drink with the bread in this holy sacrament. Heck, there aren’t many things that all Christians, everywhere, can agree on. But this is one of them:
OK, back to the Lord’s Prayer. Give us this day our daily bread.
The translations of Matthew 6:11 that I looked up all agree that Jesus is literally talking about food here. But is that all He’s getting at?
“Give us today all that we need,” croons Anthony Packwood, the former music director at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (where I’m currently one of his successors), in his contemporary version of The Lord’s Prayer on his 2004 album, Forward Motion.
Similarly, in his recent sermon series on the Shema, Kent Dobson of Mars Hill Bible Church suggests that bread is often used in the Bible to refer to all of the work of human hands. We plant seeds, harvest grain, grind it into flour, mix it up with the other ingredients, light the fire, bake the bread. Quite a lot of human toil goes into every loaf, when you think about it.
And yet, Jesus tells us to pray for God to give us our daily bread. Not to ‘deliver the right weather conditions for our crops to grow, and to and enable and inspire us to work through all those steps I just mentioned to produce it ourselves’ – but to give it to us.
That describes our relationship with God in rather uncomfortable terms, doesn’t it? He’s not just our Adviser or our Partner or our Mentor. Not merely a Friend or a Leader. He’s A Provider.
More accurately, He’s The Provider.
And we are his dependents. Not partial dependents, either. Utter dependents. Jesus’ language in the Lord’s Prayer is clear-cut and absolute.
Give us, all at once, all the bread we’ll need for our whole lifetimes.
That ain’t what it says either, despite our frequent behavior to the contrary.
It says daily.
Meaning we could wake up tomorrow and have nothing to eat. No house to live in. No job to go to, if not for God’s providence.
We’re called to fully depend on Him, anew, each day.
This appears to be a very hypothetical reality for those of us who are blessed with more than enough resources to meet our needs, so how do we wrap our heads around what this kind of dependence really looks like in real people’s lives?
Our God is a proactive God, and He answered that prayer a few thousand years before we asked it, in the story of Manna.
During the 40 years of wandering in the desert documented in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (ExLevNumDeut), the children of Israel would have starved if not for a mysterious foodstuff delivered each night, direct from heaven, called Manna.
Although probably not very much like what we’d now call bread, Manna sustained the Israelites for four decades. It arrived in the night like dew, and the Israelites were instructed to gather up only one omer (3.64 litres) of manna per day per person. Disobey and gather a little extra for tomorrow, and it’ll be maggotty and vile by dawn.
Except on Sundays.
They were told to gather two days’ worth of the substance on the day before the Sabbath and save half of the bounty to eat on the Sabbath, when it would be as good to eat as if it had been gathered that day. (Yes, I know that Jews observe the Sabbath on Saturdays, not Sundays. Call that a bit of flouretic licence.)
Now, I’m not sure why the Israelites didn’t just kill and eat their livestock if they were starving, but the implication of the Torah is they didn’t. They ate only manna because that’s what God gave them to eat.
For 40 years.
For four decades, they went to bed knowing that if God suddenly got tired of proactively brewing up manna for their bellies, they’d have nothing to eat tomorrow.
And in light of I don’t think God had the Manna Factory running on autopilot, either. I think He chose, every non-Sabbath day for 4o years, to provide sustenance for His people. That means 12,520 times (give or take), God decided, ‘Yes. Israel eats today.’
Despite the fact that most temporal evidence is to the contrary, this reality is exactly the same for you and me today.
I’ve had food every day of my life, so that means God has consciously, deliberately given me my daily bread around 15,150 times!
What staggering, humbling generosity.
Thanks be to God.
Peace be with you.