Day by Day
"Give us each day our daily bread,"
If someone were to ask you what special occasions the Christian church celebrates, how would you answer?
I imagine most of you would include Christmas and Easter. If you were pushed a little harder some of you might add Advent, Epiphany and Lent. Others of you might mention Pentecost or Whitsun but I doubt whether many of us would go further than that.
In Jewish religious life there were seven important festivals which God told them to keep – four occurred during the spring and three in the autumn. In addition to these there was also a feast to celebrate the new moon and, of course, there was the regular and oh so important Sabbath.
Jewish life was punctuated by these regular religious events which took place annually, monthly and weekly. The Bible however also has a great deal to say about doing things on a daily basis.
Sacrifices were offered each day
Day to day praises were offered
Scripture was read – Nehemiah arranged for a public reading of the Scriptures to take place on a daily basis during one of the annual feasts that was celebrated over a period of a week (Neh.8)
Later we learn about the Bereans and how they were careful to check out the gospel message they heard preached to them. They did so by carefully examining the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11)
The Lord provided the Israelites with food to eat when they were in the wilderness and it was a daily provision of manna
The LORD also organised a regular daily supply of food for Elijah
We read too of daily food being provided for Jeremiah while he was in prison, for Daniel and his friends when they had been taken away into exile in Babylon and we read of Nehemiah giving the ordinary people a daily food ration in Jerusalem
In the NT discipleship involved daily taking up one’s cross and following Jesus (Lk.9:53)
The early church met together and ate together day by day (Acts 2:46+47) as the LORD added daily to their number
The church developed a compassion ministry as it distributed food on a daily basis to widows in need (Acts 6:1)
When we see all this we are not a bit surprised to read the Psalmist declare:
Ps.86:19 "Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up;"
Why all this emphasis upon "day by day" or "daily" activity?
Well Jesus was teaching his disciples what their prayer life should be like in response to a question posed by one of his own followers and this morning we have come to a new section of the outline prayer that he gave.
We have already seen that Jesus encouraged his followers to begin with God by addressing him as Father. It is with his honour and his interests that Christian prayer is to begin. But Christian prayer is not to end there – Jesus taught his followers that not only could they bring their own needs to their Father in prayer they should do so too!
"Give us each day our daily bread,"
It is such a simple statement but such an important one too! To get a complete picture of what Jesus expects of his disciples we should also consider the words found in Matthew’s gospel in his version of the Lord’s Prayer. There we read:
Mt.6:11 "Give us this day our daily bread"
When we consider these two similar statements two truths jump out at us:
Jesus expects his followers to pray and he expects them to do so on a daily basis
The disciple is, amongst other things, to ask his Heavenly Father to meet his physical needs on a day to day basis
These truths involve both privilege and responsibility.
Well if that is the case then how are we doing?
Are we making sure that we do indeed pray on a daily basis?
And are we praying about our needs the way Jesus told us to?
In our society where most of us live at some remove from the actual production of food with the all the vagaries of weather and climate change, pests, plant diseases etc that can make or break an individual farmer’s harvests it is perhaps a little more difficult to earnestly pray about our "daily bread". We live in the West and our shops and supermarkets are stuffed full of food – in our case we must remind ourselves that we are dependent upon God for our everyday provision. If we lived in an underdeveloped country struggling with famine we would doubtless feel the pressing urgency of praying for our daily bread much more intently.
When Jesus spoke of "daily bread" we are not meant to restrict that literally to refer to bread and only bread. Bread refers to the all the different types of food that go to make up our diet and which we need to keep us alive. By extension "daily bread" covers everything that is essential to life on the material or physical plane. So we are not only free to pray about our needs but positively told to do so.
Our fundamental needs include:
Somewhere to live – a home
Something to wear – clothing
Something to do – a job
Someone else – family or friend
A measure of health and strength
As well as something to eat and drink
All of these things are legitimate and proper subjects for Christian prayer.
But just how are we supposed to be praying for such things?
As ever the Bible has much to say to help us and Jesus here adds to the list of helpful instruction.
A Sense of Proportion
The instruction is to pray for "daily bread" – not daily luxuries but daily needs! And isn’t it often the case that we adults are little different from the young child who stamps his feet while protesting just how much he needs this or that particular item. It is all too easy to confuse our wants for needs and perhaps all the more so in a society where we expect an ever increasing standard of living and where poverty is not measured in absolute but in comparative terms.
The OT wisdom of the writer of the Book of Proverbs is surely something we need to take on board when he wrote concerning his prayer:
Prov.30:8-9 "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."
With these words we are shown that extremes come with their own dangers – instinctively we fear poverty but few are those who fear wealth even though our papers are full of the problems of the superrich.
The apostle Paul wrote of having "learned in whatever situation (he was) to be content." (Phil.4:11) but have we?
Yes, we need a place to live – but not necessarily that place of our dreams...
We need clothing – but not necessarily those designer labels or the latest collection...
We need something to do – but not necessarily a position that comes with high pay and all the perks...
And so we could go on...
In telling his disciples that they ought to pray concerning their genuine needs Jesus recognised the legitimacy of such concerns. Elsewhere in his ministry, however, Jesus cautioned against us making overly much of these legitimate material and physical needs. While they are important when kept in their proper place these concerns are not and were never meant to be the most important thing in a person’s life. Quoting from the OT Jesus declared that:
"Man shall not live by bread alone." Mt.4:4
He went to speak of man’s need of right relationship with God and that is his greatest need.
In yet another setting Jesus developed this further when he said:
Jn.6:27 "Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal."
In referring to a "food that endures" Jesus was referring to himself the very "bread of life" who came down from heaven.
In summary then: it is right and proper to go to God asking him to meet our material needs but it is utter folly to imagine that life is nothing more than the material. Don’t allow what is good in God’s good world stop you from pursuing that which is the best: a personal faith relationship with himself. So let’s try to ensure that we don’t limit our praying to our physical and material needs! (In coming weeks with the Lord’s permission we will go on to consider what else we ought to be going on to pray for.)
"Us" does not mean "me only"
So far we have been interpreting Jesus’ instructions in a somewhat individualistic manner – it is right and proper for us to do so because that is one appropriate application of his words to us as individuals – but that does not however exhaust his teaching. Beginning here in v.3 Jesus taught his followers that they were to pray in the plural as it it were. And so we find him using these words:
Us – 4 x
Our – 2 x (ourselves 1 x)
We – 1 x
What does this imply then? Well it implies that when we pray on a daily basis we are not going to allow ourselves to be uniquely bound up with ourselves. We are not meant to be selfishly caught up with only our own immediate interests.
It is not me, me, me but us, us and our.
Others in the church will have their own material and daily needs that must be met and we should not be so bound up with ourselves that we have no time or concern to pray for them too.
One way in which we can put this into practice is in watching over our own personal times of prayer. Perhaps we need to write a list of others in the church so we can pray for them. When we know of some special need – a hospital appointment, a job interview a family get together – then we can go to our Father and ask him to meet the needs of our friends.
Another way we can do this is to make an effort to attend the prayer meeting where needs and concerns can be, and are, shared and corporate prayer made.
I don’t know about you but I need all the help I can get in prayer and how encouraging it is to hear this one and that one praying for the needs of others and for my needs too!
Each day Our daily bread
Not only does Jesus expect and encourage his followers to pray on a daily basis he expects their needs to be met on an ongoing daily basis too!
Jesus’ instruction is designed to move the disciple ever further in the direction of developing a vital living trusting relationship with his Heavenly Father. And this is a pattern that began long before Jesus came into the world. Back at the time of the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel the LORD God acted in precisely the same way to encourage genuine trust in himself.
The people didn’t have food to eat and complained about it. They shouldn’t have complained as they did – after all God knew their needs and they shouldn’t have acted as if he didn’t. Nevertheless, food was given to them – food which had to be regularly collected. In fact it had to be trustingly collected every day.
Now the human heart is stubborn and we don’t want to do that. We would rather receive everything that we will need for the future all in one go. We feel as though we can trust our stored up resources whereas to trust God well that’s a different matter.
So what do we find in the accounts of the Israelites and the manna that was provided. Some decided they’d gather a lot one day and keep some for the next day – just in case...
But what happened? It bred maggots, it stank and proved to be absolutely inedible. God had warned them but they thought they knew better but, as ever, it was God who was proved right in the end.
You know, it’s possible for us to do something similar – we can stop trusting God on a daily basis and rely on what he gave us, yesterday, or last week, or last year... How sad and how foolish. Building up what we might like to consider great reserves will only lead to a lack of personal living trust in God as our relationship instead of being strengthened is weakened.
Supposing you were to visit me during the week for a bite to eat and I set before you a choice: on one plate a dry, stale crust left over from last week and on another a slice of freshly baked loaf still gently steaming from the oven: I bet I know which you’d chose. And yet many of us when it comes to God seem to want the dry old crusts from the past.
God wants to provide for us day by day because that encourages relationship and trust. He likes to do it this way not because he couldn’t do it another way. The manna went rotten if kept overnight for every night except one – when it came to the Sabbath the manna stayed fresh. Nothing is impossible with God! He could give you all you need for the rest of the year right now but if he did you could so easily begin to forget him and fail to remember that it was indeed he who had met your need.
Isn’t it a kindness on God’s part to give to us in such a way as to develop our relationship with himself – after there is no greater blessing than that! And this is eternal life, said Jesus, to know God and Jesus Christ whom he had sent! (Jn.17:3).
The teaching that Jesus gave at this time was given in response to a follower who asked for help as to how to pray. Everything that Jesus taught here he had already taught before and it is most likely that this particular disciple was aware of Jesus had previously said. Maybe he was hoping for something different, something new. Maybe you have been hoping for something different and something new this morning – after all the Lord’s prayer is so well-known if not to say old hat.
But when Jesus answered his disciple’s question with the same truths he had already taught it forces us to ask the question "Why?" And one possibility is that this disciple had not yet become a doer of the word. Maybe the reason why we have had to hear a sermon on a text that we know so well is that we are simply not yet doing what he said – that we have been content to remain hearers without becoming doers of this word ourselves.
May God help us to change.
And God alone will be glorified.