In the Lord’s Prayer, there are three petitions for God’s glory, three for our spiritual necessities, and, in the midst, one petition for our bodily needs—only one, and that one full of significance: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Prayer should always begin with our eyes turned Godwards. We should never rush into His presence with a list of all our wants. Humble adoration, sincere alignment of our will with His—this is where we begin. Then we may turn to petition. Jesus teaches us to ask for the simple, basic things of life: food, forgiveness, guidance, and deliverance from evil.
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS PETITION
1. This is a prayer of dependence. It reminds us of our humanness: “It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps 100:2, PVB), “and we are His” (Revised Psalter). He who is our creator is also our sustainer. We depend on Him for each breath and for each day’s food.
We need to pray this prayer, for the sin of hubris/pride/self-sufficiency is a besetting one, especially in this generation of great scientific achievement. “Glory be to Man in the highest, for Man is the master of things.” The lines of Swinburne are congenial to our contemporary outlook. This petition is an antidote for self-dependence.
2. This is a prayer of inclusion. “Give us . . .” Who is “us”? Half of the people in this world are undernourished, and many are on the edge of starvation. In this prayer, we align ourselves with those suffering from hunger and with God’s concern for them. It is noteworthy that, in this prayer, Jesus does not use the word “love” at all; however, He does show an interest in people having enough to eat. But William Barclay reminds us that “the problem is not the supply of life’s essentials: it is the distribution of them. This prayer teaches us never to be selfish in our prayers.” This is a word of wisdom to those who speak glibly about love and do little about meeting the immediate and urgent needs of their brothers and sisters. But man cannot live by bread alone. If it is true that he has a body that hungers for food, it is equally true that he has a heart that hungers for love.
3. This is a prayer of submission to God’s will. For Christians, as for their Lord, their “bread,” their “food,” is doing the will of God. On one occasion, the disciples returned from a Samaritan village and found Jesus greatly refreshed at a well. Remarkably, when they pressed Him to eat, He did not seem to need the food they brought Him. He explained, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about. . . . My food. . . . is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:32–34).
Learning this lesson—finding and fulfilling the will of God—is life’s deepest satisfaction. Thus prayed, the clause means: “Thy will be done in me this day. Thy kingdom come through me this day.” “In His will is our peace,” wrote Augustine. “To do the will of Jesus, this is rest,” wrote E. H. Bickersteth. “I desire to do your will, my God,” wrote the psalmist (Ps 40:8). This is food, bread, and life.
“Lamp of our feet, whereby we trace Our path when wont to stray; Stream from the fount of heavenly grace, Brook by the traveler’s way;
Bread of our souls, whereon we feed, True manna from on High; Our guide and chart, wherein we read Of realms beyond the sky.
Pillar of fire, through watches dark, And radiant cloud by day; When waves would whelm our tossing bark, Our anchor and our stay.
Word of the everlasting God, Will of His glorious Son; Without Thee how could earth be trod, Or heaven itself be won?
Lord, grant us all aright to learn The lessons it imparts; And to its heavenly teaching turn, With simple, child-like hearts.”
—Bernard Burton, 1826
4. This is a prayer of adequacy. We pray for “daily” bread. The Revised Standard Version translates “daily” from a very rare word, epioussios. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament except in this prayer. But it has turned up in a papyrus fragment found in Egypt, relating to a housekeeper’s book and prescribing the amount of daily food given to slaves, soldiers, and laborers, which was probably allotted a day beforehand. Hence Moffatt’s rendering: “our bread for tomorrow.” This suggests day-by-day trust in the providence of God. We do not ask for provision for the distant future or for a blueprint of the way we should go in the years ahead. God does not deal with us in this way. He leads us step by step, day by day, and, as we trust in that way, we find Him adequate. So J. H. Newman writes: “Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see / The distant scene; one step enough for me.”
One day at a time—this is the attitude of trust as it is also the antidote for worry Several times in the chapter where the Lord’s Prayer is found, Jesus bids us to “not worry about your life” (Matt 6:25). Worry is the opposite of having faith. A child whose hand is firmly grasped in his father’s does not worry.
Every Christian must work out for himself or herself the tension between these two things: on the one hand, to look and plan ahead, to be “provident” and move through life and work through his or her program peacefully and purposefully; on the other hand, to live a day at a time and not worry. “Give us . . . our daily bread”—the future and its needs are in God’s hands. In the words of a rabbi, “He who possesses what he can eat today, and says, ‘What shall I eat tomorrow?’ is a man of little faith.”
5. This is a prayer for spiritual reinforcement. Jesus says, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). What is Jesus saying? We have a spiritual hunger that can never be satisfied with material things. He says, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). He also says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). Thus, Jesus identifies spiritual food as the Word of God. As our physical life is sustained by food, so our spiritual life is sustained by the Word of God. But, how does that strengthen our spiritual nature? “The creative energy that called the worlds into existence,” writes Ellen G. White, “is in the word of God. This word imparts power; it begets life. Every command is a promise; accepted by the will, received into the soul, it brings with it the life of the Infinite One.”1 The prophet Jeremiah found this to be true: “When your words came,” he declares, “I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer 15:16)
We pray for bread, writes Martin Luther, “so God may grant us food and drink, clothes, house and home, and a healthy body; that he let grow the grain and the fruit of the fields . . . and that our labor turn out well.” Even though God may provide these blessings without our asking, the great reformer added, He wants us to acknowledge that they came from Him—a sign of His parental care. But further, this prayer is a reminder that, without faith, our works are dead. Barclay suggests this prayer recognizes two basic truths: “that without God we can do nothing, and that without our effort and cooperation, God can do nothing for us.”
1 Ellen G. White, Education, 126.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University