Prayer – Our Daily Bread

Often when we think about our need for prayer it relates to a particular request in our lives. As a church family, we will send out prayer requests for those who are ill or facing difficult circumstances. When there is a need in our church body, we’ll ask the people to pray. When we think about prayer, I believe it is fair to say that we’re most often thinking about this type of intercessory prayer. We are to pray for God to intercede and provide for our needs. When we are lacking in some capacity, we should ask God to fill that deficiency. This is a good type of prayer. But it isn’t the only type of prayer.

As Jesus instructs his disciples to pray, there is an order to that prayer. And intercessory prayers are not first in that order. First we are instructed to pray, “Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” This order rightly emphasizes and prioritizes that which is most important, God’s glory. We are often tempted to run to our needs, wants, and desires before we acknowledge the sufficiency and satisfaction that is found in God alone. Augustine noted in his Confessions, “He loves thee too little, who loves anything as well as thee which he does not love for thy sake.” Augustine is highlighting that if when we place things, even important things like our daily bread, before God then we are guilty of loving God too little. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see it as outright idolatry when we love the gifts of God more than God himself. But Augustine also notes that there is a proper order and place for desiring, loving, and praying for the things that God gives. We must cherish the gifts and blessings of God for God’s sake.

The early 17th century English poet, John Donne, captured a similar sentiment in his poem A Hymn to Christ. Donne’s spiritual life is hard to quantify. He was a Roman Catholic in the late 16th century England, when it was not popular to be Roman Catholic. He converted to Protestantism, but had lived a wild and promiscuous life. He eventually was converted and became a minister in the Church of England, serving at St. Paul’s in London. His early poetry was considered “pornographic” by contemporaries but his later works turned that love and amorousness toward God, much like the Song of Solomon. His A Hymn to Christ is an ode to God declaring his desire to separate from anything that might distract his heart from God. The final stanza reads, “Seale then this bill of my Divorce to All, / On whom those fainter beames of love did fall; / Marry those loves, which in youth scattered bee / on Fame, Wit, Hopes (false mistresses) to thee.” Our “beames of love” often fall on “false mistresses” but we pray that they would be married to God only. Our loves and desires for the Creator and for the creation must be rightly ordered.

The second aspect of this fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread” is that we are to pray for things needful in this life. The matter of order does not eliminate or remove the reality that we need certain material things for life. Once rightly ordered, it is not only appropriate but required that we ask God for the material needs of our life. “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me” (Prov 30:8). This is not a petition that can simply be spiritualized. This is a call to God for real, material, and tangible goods. The apostle John prays for Gaius in 3 John 2, “that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” It is good to pray for the prosperity of our souls and our bodies. We are not either bodies or souls, but we are bodies AND souls. And bodies need bread.

When Jesus taught us to pray for “bread” he meant all manner of food and livelihood. We are to ask God to give this to us. This implies that we do not already possess this bread, but that it is the possession of God. We ask because we cannot simply produce this bread on our own. “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Ps 104:14, 15). We have no right to bread neither have we merited it, but God is gracious and generous, and he provides abundantly for us. We pray with full expectation that God will give us this bread. He is our Father and as our Father he will give what we need. “Which one of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matt 7:9).

Lastly, we pray for our “daily” bread. Our prayers for those things needful in life are to be marked by a confident dependence on God. We should be good stewards of all entrusted to us. We should save, plan, and prepare for the future. But we must always do so in a way in which we express our trust not in savings accounts or storehouses, but in God’s consistent provision. We should pray satisfied with the present and unconcerned about tomorrow, because God will provide for tomorrow tomorrow. “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt 6:27). “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil” (Ps 127:2). If we really grasp this, then anxiety and fear should melt away.