By Pastor Glenn Pease
Dave Weber worked for a company that went out of business, and he was thrust into the world of the unemployed. Circumstances went from bad to worse, and he tells of coming to a point where most of us have never been-it was his last meal. He, his wife, and two children sat down to share a can of chicken noodle soup. It was the last bit of food in the house. Dave, as a Christian, bowed his head and gave thanks for this pathetic meal, and then he prayed the Lord's Prayer. When he said, "Give us this day our daily bread," he really felt the need. He was a big bread eater, and a meal without bread was just not up to par. He really desired some bread to go with the soup.
To add to his frustration somebody began to pound on the back door before he finished his prayer. When he said his amen, his wife answered the door. It was their neighbor from the house in back of them. She had a problem. Her brother was a delivery man for a large bread company that was distributing little loaves to customers as an advertising campaign. He had four cases of these samples left over, and he had just dropped them off at her place. She was wondering if they could use some of the bread. With both laughter and tears they praised God, and filled the refrigerator, and their stomachs with bread.
Seldom does anyone ever get such an answer to their prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." Even the Weber family went on to recover. Dave got a job, and they got their bread from then on just like everybody else does. They bought it, or they baked it.
There are some dramatic examples in the Bible, and in history, where this prayer seems so relevant. The Israelites in the wilderness were fed by the daily manna, and what could be a more relevant prayer? Elijah was isolated from all society, and God sent ravens each day with food to keep him alive. He could certainly feel comfortable with this prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." This prayer seems like the most relevant prayer that could be prayed in Ethiopia and other parts of the world where people are literally starving for lack of bread. But for most of us this prayer borders on embarrassment. It almost seems silly for us to ask God for bread. Most Americans need to pray for a little less daily bread. We already eat way to much. A heavy man said to his thin friend, "You look like there's been a famine." He responded, "And you look like the cause of it."
We live in a land of great abundance. We ship grain all over the world so others can make bread. We have got more bread than we know what to do with. It is hard to pretend that we are lacking, and try to build up a desire so that we can sincerely and earnestly plead with God for bread. The Western world is more into bread games than bread prayers. It all started with a Mr. Gilbert in his New Zealand bakery. He baked the world's largest loaf of bread in 1965. It was 20 feet and 5 inches long. But it did not hold the record long, for a baker in Scotland came out with a 23 foot loaf. Mr. Gilbert was not to be outdone, and he responded with a 30 footer. I can't bring you up to date on this exciting contest, but you can be sure there are bakers in this world trying to figure out how to make a loaf of bread the length of a football field.
The point is, we live in a culture where we have such abundance that we play games with bread. We don't beg for it. The result is that this forth petition of the Lord's prayer seems to be the least relevant of them all. On top of that, it seems also to be the least respectable. Jesus has been soaring to the heights of spirituality. He has been dealing with desires for God's name, kingdom, and will, and now all of the sudden we drop down to the earthly subject of bread. One moment we are focusing on the glory of God, and the next we are facing our daily grub. The two seem, not just a little, but radically incompatible.
It is like dealing with a Stradivarius in one sentence, and in the next with the $3.98 plastic violin you get your two year old for Christmas. It is like saying my hope for the coming year is for world peace, equally for all people, a balanced budget, and a better breakfast. How did that get in the list? You don't put the trivial with the tremendous. I remember my first and only plane ride. I was a chaplain in the Civil Air Patrol. One of the pilots took me up in a small two seater. I was in back of the pilot, and the wings were above, and so I had a clear view of Pittsburgh. He took me above the clouds, and I saw brightness and brilliance like I have never seen as the sun shown on the tops of those clouds. It was a truly heavenly experience.
Then the pilot spotted a hole in the clouds, and he dove down through it, and we were plunging straight for the earth. I was embarrassingly scared. The peace and tranquility of being above the clouds was gone and I was holding on and praying this guy would do something before we became earth centered. I know we return to dust, but I was praying for a little slower process. Instant dust had no appeal to me. It was a great relief when he leveled the plane out and finally landed. It was wonderful to touch the earth again with my feet, and not teeth first. The point is, what I felt then I feel again on the mental level as I go from the first three lofty desires of this prayer to the fourth. It is like plunging from the clouds of spirituality to the clods of the mundane and earthly. From adorning the name of God; advancing the kingdom of God; accomplishing the will of God, Jesus plunges us to the level of acquiring food from God.
This is such a radical change that it has been embarrassing to Christians. Great men of God like Jerome, Origen, and Augustine were embarrassed. It is like someone ordering a pizza to be delivered to his seat as he listens to a great opera. It is incongruous and not appropriate. This is how Christians have felt for centuries about this fourth desire. It has been an embarrassment to many that Jesus would drop from the sublime to the mundane, and shift from the sacred to the secular so swiftly.
Dallmann calls this desire an island of worldliness in an ocean of spirituality. It stands out like a sore thumb as a purely secular desire. All of the others are spiritual. The first three clearly deal with God, and the other two on the man ward side deal with forgiveness and deliverance from evil, and these are two of the most spiritual subjects you can find. Everything about this prayer is spiritual except this one weak link that stoops to the level of bread. Could we have a misprint here, or a slip of the tongue, or a mental block? How can we explain one penguin slipped in with five eagles or one pebble in with five diamonds?
One of the popular ways of explaining this earthly request is to spiritualize it. Don't come down to the level of bread, but lift the bread up to the level of the other requests. You say we are dealing with soul food here. It is heavenly bread that comes like manna from heaven, and as nourishment for the soul. The emphasis is one daily devotions rather than daily meals for the body. Some Catholic authors have said it refers to the daily communion of receiving the bread of the Eucharist, and the refreshment of the spirit. Other Catholics prefer the way most Protestants interpret it, and refer to the bread of life that God gives through His Word. An 11th century Irish version says, "Give us today for bread the Word of God from heaven."
Protestants like this idea, and men like Erasmus and Olshausen say it is impossible Jesus would put the need for physical bread before the forgiveness of sin, and so they spiritualize it to mean bread of heaven from the Word of God. All through history Christians have been somewhat embarrassed about the body-centered request in the midst of a soul-centered prayer, and so they have tried to spiritualize it to make it fit. My task in this message is to try and defend the relevance and respectability of this earthy request. First let's look at-
I. ITS RELEVANCE.
The first three petitions of this prayer are all God-centered. They deal with the name, the kingdom, and the will of God. But the last three are man-centered, and more specifically they are group-centered. Give us this day our daily bread. Now if it was a self-centered request like give me my daily bread, then it could be thought of as irrelevant to the one who has plenty of bread for today, and many days to come. But it is not a mere self-centered desire. It is a group-centered, or family oriented desire. It is a desire for all of God's family to have daily bread, and this is always a great need, even if you personally do not have the need. Jesus said that the poor you will always have with you, and so He knew this prayer would be relevant for all of history regardless of the wealth of particular cultures. You may not have a personal need, but if you care about the whole family of God, you will always feel the need for daily bread in this world.
This broader perspective makes this a perpetually relevant prayer, and also broadens our view of bread. Bread was the basic food in the day of Jesus, and still is in many parts of the world. But for some children of God in the Northern lands of the world maybe it would be more relevant to pray give us our daily fish. For those in the islands of the sea may be it would be, give us our daily fruit. And in many parts of the world it would be, give us our daily rice. The point is, there is a desire for the basic needs of the body to be met. The stress on the our daily bread makes this a family prayer. Jesus expected His followers to always have a total family perspective in prayer.
The word companion is made up of two Latin words, cum and panis. Cum means together and panis means bread. A companion is one with whom you eat bread together. We cannot be companions with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but the bread we eat at communion represents this universal companionship, for all Christians partake of that bread which is symbolic of His body, of which all Christians are a part. In communion we are companions of Christ, and of all who are in Christ. This prayer is perpetually relevant because it is not just for ourselves, but for the whole Christian companionship that we pray. Somewhere the need is always real, and this prayer always relevant.
It is not just relevant because of others. It is also relevant to those of us who have plenty of bread. Jesus obviously chose bread to represent the total physical needs of people. He is teaching us how to pray, and He gives us only one example of the physical. Jesus knows we need clothes and shelter for the body, as well as bread. He was not going to list all of the things we could be praying for. He just takes the basic need of all people and uses that to say that it is legitimate to come before God with a desire to have all of our bodily needs satisfied.
This makes this request as relevant as all of the others, for the entire spiritual life of the believer depends on properly satisfying the needs of the body. If you succeed here, you will honor God's name, help usher in His kingdom, and do His will on earth. If you fail here, you will fail in all the others. This desire stands in the middle of the this prayer like a pole in the middle of a tent. It is the support that keeps the whole thing from falling. There is no spirituality that will last that is not based on a sound and godly way of satisfying physical needs and appetites. Bread in a very real sense is the foundation of the spiritual life. Your success or failure on the upper levels of life depend on what you do down on the lower level of the physical.
Adam fell by what he chose to eat. Noah, the second father of the human race, fell by drinking. We could go through the Bible and discover that almost everyone who fell from the heights did so because of the lower appetites. The man who does not get his bread righteously and justly, and the man who does not look to God to help him meet all of his physical needs in accordance with His will, is not going to be a high flying spiritual person. The only person who will see the heights of spirituality is the person who daily looks to God for bread, and that means literal bread and all that bread represents in the realm of physical need.
This prayer covers the desire to have our sexual needs met in accordance with God's will so that we can be delivered from the temptations to meet them out of His will. This prayer covers every conceivable need for the welfare of the body that the body might be a key factor in fulfilling all of the other spiritual desires. Martin Luther went so far as to say that it includes, and I quote, "Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, fields, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and fruitful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like." In other words, it is endless, and it includes every need there ever was or will be for the well being of the physical life.
This may sound wild, and even far fetched, at first, but with some thought you will see it is a very logical conclusion. Jesus starts this prayer with the desire that God's name be honored. That is the primary objective of the Christian life-to glorify God. Then Jesus comes to man, and the first thing we are to be concerned about there is bread for the body. God's name and man's body. These are the two top priorities in the two lists. As goes the name of God, so goes His plan. And as goes the body of man, so goes his cooperation with that plan. The only positive prayer Jesus teaches here for man is that we seek our daily bread from God. If bread is as broad as Luther and others say, then this is a desire and a prayer for God's guidance in every area of physical life. It is equivalent to Paul's urging us to present our bodies as living sacrifices unto God.
There is no prayer or desire more relevant than this. It is an acknowledgement of our daily dependence on God, and daily dependence is the duty of a disciple. If you depend on God only when you feel your own resources are running out, you are in the same category as the fox hole believer. You are not a disciple, but one who uses God as a life preserver, spare tire, or parachute. God is only handy for emergencies, but not one to depend upon daily, hourly, and continuously.
A man once asked a Rabbi why God did not give the manna to Israel for a longer period instead of just daily? The Rabbi answered with a parable. Once there was a king who had a son to whom he gave a yearly allowance on a fixed date. It soon happened that that date was the only time the son came to see the father. So he changed his plan and gave the allowance daily, and the son came to see him daily and remained closer. The poet wrote-
Day by day the manna fell,
O, to learn this lesson well!
Still by constant mercy fed
Give me, Lord, my daily bread.
Those of us who feel the least need to ask God for daily bread are the ones who most need to do so, for the history of Israel makes it clear: The more self-sufficient God's people get, the more they forget it was God's blessing that made them so. The truly grateful child is one who recognizes the Father is the source of his bread, even when he buys it or bakes it himself.
This has been called the easy prayer because it is the one request we do not resist. The spirit and the flesh are both willing to receive daily bread. But it is not easy when pride comes in, and we refuse to acknowledge God as the giver of our necessities which we have labored for. Israel had to go out and labor for the manna too. They did not just open their mouths three times a day, and let the manna fall in. They had to gather it. God always expects man to cooperate in getting his daily bread. God is the source of the very energy by which you cooperate in getting bread.
When we ask for bread we include all the means by which we acquire it and enjoy it. Regardless of our abundance of bread it would not be a blessing if God should remove from us the ability to enjoy it. Paul in Acts 14:17 makes it clear that all that we enjoy on the physical level is due to the kindness of God. He says this to even a pagan people, "Yet He has not left Himself without testimony. He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." Even when pagans ask for bread, God does not give a stone. He delights to be kind and satisfy their physical needs. How much more His own children, and how much more should they daily acknowledge His kindness? The second thing we want ot defend concerning this request is-
II. IT'S RESPECTABILITY.
We live in good times, and so we do not have a great deal of respect for bread and bread makers. Luciano Pavorotti, the world's greatest tenor, grew up in Italy during World War II. It was a terrible time, and he came to have the highest respect for bread. It literally saved him and his family. When the Allies bombed his city of Modena, they were forced to flee. His father was a baker, and so when many other families went hungry, they had bread. The German's killed thousands of the Italians, but his father was not killed just because he baked bread, for the German's needed bread too.
Had his father not been a maker of bread he would have been forced into military service, or been shot. Bread changed his whole life, and because it helped him live, his voice is now one of the most powerful in history singing the praises of God. Pavorotti would not look at this prayer with contempt, but with great respect, for he knows that the physical is the foundation for the spiritual. Had God not provided bread he never would have been able to use his gifted voice.
Christianity has it roots in Judaism, but many have tried to cut Christianity free from those roots, and in so doing they have lost respect for the spiritual value of the physical. In this fourth petition Jesus forces us to return to a respect for the body, and for the role it plays in the spiritual life. Judaism is proud to be a religion of the body. Jews do not think of the body as getting in the way of spiritual life. For them it is the instrument by which they live the spiritual life. They find the religion of the world amusing in their anti-body theology. To them it is like saying the stars are in the way of the study of astronomy to say that the body is in the way of the spiritual life.
The body is the handiwork of God, and the Jews praise Him for it. To them it is like an incomplete work of art, and it is their job to complete the work by cooperating with God, who is the artist. For the Jews there is no feeling of a sudden drop from the heavens to the pits of earth in going from the name, kingdom, and will of God, to bread. Bread is the source of life to the body, and the body is right up there on the level with lofty spiritual themes.
What Jesus is teaching us must be seen in the light of this high respect for the physical. If we question the respectability of dealing with bread in the same context with noble spiritual themes, it is because we have lost the biblical perspective on the body. We have forgotten that God created the body and said that it was good. We have forgotten that God sent His Son into the world in a body, and the Word became flesh. We have forgotten that Jesus laid down His body in sacrifice to atone for our sin. We have forgotten that it was His body that was resurrected and ascended to heaven. We have forgotten that we too shall be resurrected in our bodies, and that for all eternity we will dwell in new bodies.
The point is, Christianity is also a very body oriented faith, and the more we realize this, the more we will have a deep respect for the petition, "Give us this day our daily bread." One of the great fallacies of the Christian life is the angelic fallacy. It is the foolish error that Christians are above the physical. Satan has used this error to ruin more Christian lives than we can imagine. There is not victorious Christian life without the proper kind of food for the body; without the proper rest, and without the proper exercise. Without a proper concern and respect for the physical needs of the body the most spiritual life on earth becomes futile.
Elijah was one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, but when he let his body become exhausted and deprived of proper nourishment, he wanted to die. He was miserable, and life lost its meaning because of his neglect of the body. Millions have made this mistake and I have no doubt that Christians have even committed suicide, and every other folly known to man because of the angelic fallacy. It is that foolish notion that spiritual people do not need to have a deep respect for the things of the body. They push the body aside as secular, and say they will devote their lives only to the sacred. It sounds so spiritual, but the fact is there are pastors, missionaries, and layman who end up in mental hospitals with breakdowns because of their neglect of the body. Their spiritual journey ended because they could not make it without the body they spurned.
Jesus made the body, and He knows how it functions and what it needs. He says we need to respect it, and devote part of our daily lives to the satisfying of its needs. Vitamins have on the bottle the daily minimum requirements. Science has learned that the body has daily needs for certain vitamins and minerals. The body has daily needs for sleep and exercise. Man has discovered that health depends on a daily respect for the needs of the body. That is what Jesus is teaching us in this prayer. Daily we need to seek God's guidance for bread, and all that bread represents for the bodies well being. This is no minor matter, but it is right up there with forgiveness and deliverance from sin.
Nothing is more unspiritual than trying to be more spiritual than Jesus. He put bread in the center of this prayer because that is where it ought to be. By so doing He made it clear, once and for all, that the best for the body is a good Christian motto. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and to neglect and abuse this temple is to be out of God's will. The wise Christian is to desire deeply that his body be healthy so it can function as the instrument by which he honors the name of God, expands the kingdom of God, and does the will of God.