Part 5 / Matt. 6:9-13
One sign of a true, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the desire to learn from him. A disciple is, at heart, a learner. Those who follow Jesus soon find that our Saviour is a wonderful teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29). Through his words and example, Christ teaches his disciples what true godliness is. A true disciple applies those words and follows that example. It is no wonder then that the disciples asked Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
What did he teach them?
Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer. So far we have seen how a true disciple should address God (“Our Father in heaven”) and that true prayer puts our heavenly Father’s priorities before our own (“hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done”). Next, we will see how we should pray for our needs and it starts with a request for “our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).
More than bread
The first petition seems simple enough, “Give us this day our daily bread” (v. 11), but what does it mean? Am I only allowed to pray for bread? What kind of bread should I be praying for? What if I am allergic to bread? A bit of historical background should clear up any confusion.
In Scripture “bread” is often used as shorthand for all our nutritional needs because bread was a staple of the Israelites’ diet. For example, when Joseph settled his family in the land of Egypt we are told that “there was no food in all the land” (Gen. 47:13). The key word here is “food”, which could also be translated “bread” (in fact, it is translated that way in the KJV). The passage is not just telling us that there was no bread, but that there was no food because of the famine.
We find something similar in 2 Sam. 9:6-7 when David cared for Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. David assured him: “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” This last phrase can also be translated: “you shall eat bread at my table always”. Again, the implication is not that Mephibosheth was only allowed to eat bread, but rather that David would take care of all his physical needs.
God is concerned about every aspect of our lives, both physical and spiritual. We were created as embodied beings. God not only formed Adam from the dust of the earth, giving him a physical body, but also planted the Garden of Eden, providing for his physical needs (see Gen. 1:29; 2:8-9). We can ask our heavenly Father to provide for our physical needs.
Isn’t this unspiritual? Some object by pointing out that Jesus called himself “the bread of life” (John 6:35). This request is then reinterpreted to mean that we should pray that God would enable us to “feed spiritually” on Jesus. While this is an admirable sentiment, there is nothing in the passage (or the rest of Scripture) that would indicate that we should read it like that. God is interested in every aspect of our lives, not just the spiritual. For example, when Jesus told his disciples that even the hairs on their heads were numbered (Matt. 10:30), he did so to assure them of God’s care for them (v. 31). No detail escapes their heavenly Father’s notice, no matter how trivial.
Isn’t this just lazy? Aren’t we commanded to work and so provide for ourselves? It is true that God has commanded us to work (2 Thess. 3:10), but prayer and work are not mutually exclusive. God does not intend for our prayers to replace our obedience, or for our obedience to replace our prayers. In Phil. 4:6 the apostle Paul writes: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The text says that we are to pray “in everything”, which certainly includes our work.
Why did Jesus teach his disciples to pray for their “daily” bread? There is some uncertainty about the term that Jesus used, because it is only used twice in the Bible (here, and in Luke’s version of the prayer in Luke 11). The term has been translated as “daily” or “necessary for each day”. Both ideas fit the context and our common experience. Job, for example, said that he treasured God’s words more than “my portion of food” (Job 23:12). The King James translated it as “necessary food” and the NIV as “daily bread”. In other words, praying for our daily bread means that we ask God to provide what we need for each day.
How much do we need? Instead of counting calories and referencing a BMI chart, let us turn to the wisdom of Scripture. Prov. 30:8-9 gives a wise perspective on this: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” This is a prayer for “our daily bread”.
Praying for our daily bread does not mean that God won’t give you more than you need. We see this in the lives of Old Testament saints and even in the life of Jesus (see Matt. 11:19). Abundance is a blessing from the Lord, but such an abundance brings certain temptations. As we have seen from Proverbs, it might tempt some to deny the Lord. Paul also warned young Timothy that such abundance could also lead to pride and a misplaced trust in riches (1 Tim. 6:17).
Ultimately, the petition is directed to the God who knows what we need. Sometimes God disagrees with us on what we need, how much we need and when we need it. On such occasions we have to trust the goodness and wisdom of our heavenly Father. He always has a good reason for saying no. When the apostle Paul asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, God denied his request. Paul later learned that it kept him humble and made him more useful in the kingdom (2 Cor. 12:7-8). God did not deny his request because he was unkind, but because he is wise.
Let us pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”