I was reading a discussion among clergy on Facebook the other day about the Lord’s Prayer. One of them asked an interesting question about “Give us today our daily bread.” When we pray the prayer and ask for our “daily bread” is that asking merely for physical sustenance or are we asking for spiritual sustenance too?
Of course, what we are asking for initially is our bread for today, the food which we need to survive. In Mediterranean countries like Portugal where we went on holiday bread is the food we put on our side plate with vinegar and olive oil to nibble as a starter while we are waiting for them to cook our main course. Here we might have a bread roll to dip into our soup. But in the middle east in Jesus’s time bread was the heart of the meal. It was the knife and fork where each person would have their own loaf, break off a piece and dip it into the shared dishes of meat or vegetables. Bread was the most important staple foodstuff. If you didn’t have anything else you would dip your bread in salt for flavouring and if you didn’t have bread you were starving.
So praying “give us today our daily bread” is a way of recognising every day that we depend on God for the food we need to live on.
It took the Israelites in the wilderness 40 years to learn just how much they depended on God to provide for them day by day as they were miraculously fed on manna, bread from heaven. Even before they received the 10 commandments, God gave them manna to eat. In the second year after they left Egypt Moses took a census and we know from Numbers chapter 1 that there were 600,000 able-bodied fighting men wandering around the wilderness, not including the Levites. So including all the women and children and teenagers there could easily have been two and a half million Israelites wandering about. And God fed them all, every day, on manna. Two and a half million people. Several thousand tonnes of food every day! Exodus 16 tells us,
Exodus16:1 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.’
11 The LORD said to Moses, 12 ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, “At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.” ’
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: “Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.” ’ (an omer was about one and a half kilogrammes!)
17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, ‘This is what the LORD commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.” ’
So God provided the Israelites with bread from heaven, every day and twice as much on the day before the sabbath. He provided them with quail to eat. And at times he provided them with water from the rocks. In the desert they did not starve and they did not die of thirst and the Israelites learned to trust that God provided for their needs day by day.
And God provides for all of our needs day by day. We may think we are fed by the hands of Sainsburys or Asda’s but the truth is we are all fed by the mighty hand of God who gives us all things richly to enjoy. In our offering prayer I often say, “Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth. All things come from you and of your own do we give you.” Those are not empty words. We acknowledge the truth of the words we sang this morning.
“He only is the maker of all things near and far;
he paints the wayside flower, he lights the evening star;
the winds and waves obey him, by him the birds are fed;
much more to us, his children, he gives our daily bread.
All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.”
Because of time we skipped this morning’s Bible reading from Psalm 104 reminding us of God’s gracious provision for our daily needs and indeed for all his creatures.
PSALM 104 10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.
11 They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.
16 The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees.
18 The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.
19 The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.
20 You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
21 The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
22 The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens.
23 Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.
24 How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. …
27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
Give us today our daily bread. It is a daily prayer – in Jesus’s time in the middle east with no fridges bread would only last for one day, they needed to bake fresh bread every day. So quite rightly they needed to ask God for their bread for that day. They realised, in the same way as people living in the Third World today still recognise that the whole of Creation is completely dependent on God for all the necessities of life.
I have shared before the important lesson I learned from the six weeks I spent on Sabbatical in Uganda. Christians in Uganda PRAY before every meal, before every drink, before every journey, after every journey, before they say goodbye, every time when somebody is hurt or sick – not just when it’s something major! For all their problems with water supply and health and transport and survival hand to mouth from day to day, Ugandan Christians consciously depend on God for their daily bread and for all their day-to-day needs much more than we think we need to. Richard Foster’s book on prayer has been teaching us this precious truth. He calls it “praying the ordinary.”
We need to learn not to take things for granted but to receive them with gratitude., We need to learn to depend on God for all the good things he gives us so richly to enjoy.
FOOD – we can so easily take our food for granted. That’s why it’s good to say grace before our meals – in passing a meal is technically defined as anything more than a Mars bar. That’s one reason why it’s good to give something up for Lent.
WATER – again we take a free supply of fresh water for granted, never being thirsty, working bathrooms, etc. Floods and homes destroyed remind us just how fragile our lives are.
HOME, SHELTER, warm in winter, dry in rains, safe from predators
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
TRAVELLING – every journey in Uganda began with a prayer for travelling mercies and ended with thanksgiving for a safe arrival, because for so many people so many journeys are hazardous, if not impossible.
COMMUNICATIONS – first radio and landline telephones, then TV and video, and internet, mobiles, text messages, Skype, Facebook, Twitter and social media.
CHURCH, FELLOWSHIP, BIBLES – we appreciate these all the more when we learn about the sufferings of the persecuted church.
POSSESSIONS – luxuries and necessities. Especially living in a society where we regard as necessities things which so many people in the world would view as luxuries, if they had access to them at all, it is very important that we don’t take all these different kinds of blessings for granted but receive them with gratitude. Asking every day for our daily bread reminds us of our complete dependence on God, day by day and into the future. And we need to give thanks!
Colossians 3 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
“Give us today our daily bread.” When we pray the Lord’s Prayer is that asking merely for physical sustenance or are we asking for spiritual sustenance too? Of course we are asking for physical sustenance. But surely we are also expressing our dependence on God for spiritual sustenance at the same time. We read of how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness in Matthew 3.
2 After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’
4 Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
We need more than physical food to enjoy life in all its fulness. We need Jesus who is the true bread of life. John 6
30 So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’
32 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
34 ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’
35 Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’
Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the real manna, the real bread from heaven. We need to feed on him day by day. So it is no coincidence that the request for daily bread comes in the first half of a couplet. And the second half says this. “But forgive us our sins.”
We need physical food and we need spiritual food. Above all we need forgiveness.
And the way that Jesus has given us to remember him is not a coincidence either. He commands us to remember his sacrifice and his cross and his resurrection and the new covenant which his blood has bought for us.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’
The bread which we break is truly a way of participating in the body of Christ. So Jesus gives us a way to remember that he is the Bread of Life every time we eat our daily bread.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins. Two simple requests for the essentials we all need. Daily food and daily forgiveness. Our physical needs and our spiritual needs. Recognising that all good things come from God our Heavenly Father and that we all ought to be duly grateful. We depend on God from day to day for everything. So we pray
“Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”