STUDIES IN THE LORD'S PRAYER

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2002

STUDY SIX: GIVE US TODAY OUR DAILY BREAD

In this study we move to the second concern in prayer - our physical needs, encompassed in the request 'Give us today our daily bread':

'That is: be pleased to provide for all our bodily needs so that thereby we may acknowledge that thou art the only source of all that is good, and that without thy blessing neither our care and labour nor thy gifts can do us any good. Therefore, may we withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it in thee alone.'

The Heidelberg Catechism

This request, centred on our physical needs, seems at first surprising. We wonder why it should come before our spiritual needs are mentioned. Yet when we look at the Scriptures we find that God is indeed interested in our physical existence, and is constantly involved in the preservation of our physical existence. As the foundation for this prayer the Bible teaches:

A. FOUNDATION ONE: GOD IS OUR CREATOR

In the Genesis 1 account God created a world suitable for human occupation, complete with the atmosphere and food necessary for our health and survival. At the bottom line the doctrine of creation indicates that we are dependent on God for all that we are and all that we have. For many, secular humanism and the theory of evolution have undermined this foundational concept.

B. FOUNDATION TWO: GOD AS SUSTAINER AND PROVIDER

Intimately linked with the doctrine of Creation is the doctrine of Providence in which we understand that God continues to sustain and govern the world. Here in this prayer we confess that he is the one who sustains us. As we read through the Bible we find that not only is God revealed as the One who provides us with our 'daily bread', but that he is the One on whom man must depend for all aspects of his physical life - not food alone, but also strength, safety, security, and so on. Under this prayer for our daily bread we can include all prayers relating to our physical survival, for it is of no use to pray for daily bread if we do not have the strength to eat it, or if it is going to be wrenched from our hands by the thief or the terrorist. Consider:

[1] The Bible teaches us of God's powerful and intimate control of and provision for all the various aspects of the natural world (Read: Job 38-41; Psalm 36, 104, 107, 136, 147; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). The powerful forces of nature are not free and self-determining: they are in God's hands. Because of this, prayer to God for safety and protection during, for instance, a violent storm, is a reasonable thing to do, because the storm it not outside of God's authority and control. If it was, prayer would be both meaningless and foolish.

[2] The Bible teaches us of God's sovereign control over people and nations (Read: Psalm 9, 18, 33, 47, 75,108, 136;Isaiah 40; Isaiah 45:1-7; Daniel 2:20-22; Acts 17:26; Romans 13:1-2; 1 Timothy 6:15). Again, if this is not true, then prayer is redundant, a mere singing in the dark. This, with [1] above, reflects the truths we saw in Study 2 when looking at 'in heaven'.

[3] The Bible teaches us that God is constantly watching over his people, is always present with us, hears our prayers, and is constantly providing for our needs (Read: 2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 23, 68, 91, 102, 103, 107, 116, 121, 138, 139, 145, 146, 147; Acts 14:17; 1 Peter 5:7). This reflects what we considered in Study 1 - that God is 'our Father'.

[4] Jesus Christ taught this providential authority and care of God:

'He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous' (Matthew 5:45).

' ... Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? ... If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'what shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them ... ' (Matthew 6:25-34).

'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows' (Matthew 10:29-31).

'You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above' (John 19:11).

[5] Jesus Christ demonstrated this providential care and authority in his words and his miracles. Moved with overwhelming compassion:

  • 5.1 he healed the sick and disabled (Mark 1:30,31, 40-42, 3:1-5; 5:25-34; 7:32-37; 8:22-26 etc),
  • 5.2 he raised the dead (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; John 11),
  • 5.3 he released those oppressed by evil spirits (Mark 1:21-34; 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-32),
  • 5.4 he provided food for the needy (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10).

He also

  • 5.5 displayed power and control over men and their wicked plans (Luke 4:28-30; John 10:39),
  • 5.6 displayed power and control over the evil spirits (Mark 1:21-34; 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-32),
  • 5.7 displayed power and control over nature (Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52).
Read each of the Scripture references in 5.1 to 5.7 above.

[6] This doctrine of God's providence has been embraced by his people down through the centuries:

'To make God a momentary Creator, who once for all finished his work, would be cold and barren, and we must differ from profane men especially in that we see the presence of divine power shining as much in the continuing state of the universe as in its inception. ... Faith ought to penetrate more deeply, namely, having found him Creator of all, forthwith to conclude he is also everlasting Governor and Preserver - not only in that he drives the celestial frame as well as its several parts by a universal motion, but also in that he sustains, nourishes and cares for, everything he has made even to the last sparrow.'

' ... by this petition we ask of God all things in general that our bodies have need to use under the elements of this world, not only for food and clothing but also for everything God perceives to be beneficial to us, that we may eat our daily bread in peace. Briefly, by this we give ourselves over to his care, and entrust ourselves to his providence, that he may feed, nourish and preserve us. For our most gracious Father does not disdain to take even our bodies under his safekeeping and guardianship in order to exercise our faith in these small matters, while we expect everything from him, even to a crumb of bread and a drop of water. ... The fact that we ask that it be given us signifies that it is a simple and free gift of God, however it may come to us, even when it would seem to have been obtained from our own skill and diligence, and supplied by our own hands. For it is by his blessing alone that our labours truly prosper.'

Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, 1536.

"Q. 27. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

Q. 28. What advantage comes from acknowledging God's creation and providence?

A. We learn that we are to be patient in adversity, grateful in the midst of blessing, and to trust our faithful God and Father for the future, assured that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot even move."

The Heidelberg Catechism, 1563.

'All things are governed by the Providence of God. We believe that all things in heaven and on earth, and in all creatures, are preserved and governed by the providence of this wise, eternal and almighty God. ... (Psalm 113:4ff; 139:3f; Acts 17:28; Romans 11:36) ... Augustine (referring to Matthew 10:29) ... wanted to show that what men regard as of least value is governed by God's omnipotence. ... We there condemn the Epicureans who deny the providence of God, and all those who blasphemously say that God is busy with the heavens and neither sees nor cares about us and our affairs. ...

'Nevertheless, we do not spurn as useless the means by which divine providence works, but we teach that we are to adapt ourselves to them in so far as they are recommended to us in the Word of God. Wherefore we disapprove of the rash statements of those who say that if all things are managed by the providence of God, then our efforts and endeavours are in vain. ... For God, who has appointed to everything its end, has ordained the beginning and the means by which it reaches its goal. The heathen ascribe things to blind fortune and uncertain chance. ... Augustine says: "Everything which to vain men seems to happen in nature by accident, occurs only by his Word, because it happens only at his command". '

The Second Helvitic Confession, Sixteenth Century.

Commenting on Matthew 5:45 Matthew Henry wrote: 'Sunshine and rain ... do not come of course or by chance, but from God. Common mercies must be valued as instances and proofs of the goodness of God, who in them shows himself a bountiful Benefactor to the world of mankind, who would be very miserable without these favours, and are utterly unworthy of the least of them. These gifts of common providence are dispensed indifferently to good and evil, just and unjust ... The worst of men partake of the comforts of this life in common with others, though they abuse them, and fight against God with his own weapons; which is an amazing instance of God's patience and bounty ... '

An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, Vol. V, Matthew Henry, 1721.

On Psalm 104:14: 'God appoints to the lowliest creature its portion and takes care that it has it. Divine power is as truly and as worthily put forth in the feeding of beasts as in the nurturing of man; watch but a blade of grass with a devout eye and you may see God at work within it. The herb is for man, and he must till the soil, or it will not be produced, yet it is God that causeth it to grow in the garden, even the same God who made the grass to grow in the unenclosed pastures of the wilderness. Man forgets this and talks of his produce, but in very truth without God he would plough and sow in vain. The Lord causeth each green blade of spring and each ear to ripen: do but watch with opened eye and you shall see the Lord walking through the cornfields. ... '

The Treasury of David, Vol. V, Charles Spurgeon 1878.

The term 'preservation ... is used to imply that all existence apart from that of the Godhead derives its continuance, including its powers, form the will of God. Scripture teaches:

  1. That the Universe cannot continue if left to itself.
  2. That all life (both vegetable and animal) does not continue solely by virtue of any inherent principle of its own: it is dependent on the will of God.
  3. This dependence upon the divine will applies not only to the being, but to the qualities and powers of all forms of life.'

In Understanding be Men, TC Hammond, 1936.

'We read of God's incomprehensible power and goodness, of a human knowledge that leads on to prayer in humility and to respect for the righteous judgement of God. This is the comfort, that we stand at the disposal of a merciful heavenly Father to whom we can with confidence abandon ourselves.' (p 47)

' ... all things, having once proceeded from God's creative hand, are still utterly dependent upon His omnipresent power. ... all things (are) indebted for their existence to the preserving act of God; let God cease to act and the universe would cease to exist. ... this concept of sustenance ... at once opposes every claimant to absoluteness in this world - gods and idols, and any who would autonomously and sovereignly pretend to a self-sufficient existence. There is no self-containment in this world, no nature or substance which can exist apart from God through inherent power of being. The confession of Providence as sustenance dethrones all creaturely self-sufficiency, as assumptive independence.' (p 50f)

'The power of God is no less necessary to creaturely existence than in the beginning ... ' (p 65)

The Providence of God, GC Berkouwer, 1952

C. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS PRAYER

When we pray 'give us today our daily bread' we are praying a prayer of great significance.

[1] It expresses our dependence on God. Here in this prayer we acknowledge that we do not and cannot sustain and preserve ourselves. Neither our physical strength, nor our wisdom, nor our wealth, apart from God's good hand upon us, can sustain our lives. Were he to withdraw his bounty and his care we would have nothing and we would be nothing. [Read: Deuteronomy 8:1-18; Jeremiah 9:23; Acts 17:24-28; Colossians 1:17].

[2] It puts a fence around our petitions. In our sinful anxiety and greed we would ask for more than we need - on the one hand to avoid the unpleasantness of uncertainty and fear and on the other hand to satisfy our selfishness. But the Lord Jesus limits our request to 'this day' and 'our daily bread'. Illustrations of God's ability to provide for our physical needs day by day are [1] his provision of the manna to the Israelites for forty years, a day's quantity every day for five days, then two days provision on the sixth day (Exodus 16), and [2] his provision of food for Elijah (1 Kings 17:1-16).

[3] It promotes thankfulness and contentment. When we don't make a practice of expressing our dependence on God by this prayer we lose touch with the fact that he is the source of all that we have, not we ourselves; this in turn generates lack of thankfulness to him and a lack of reliance on him; we soon find ourselves living as though he were not our heavenly Father who cares for us, living as though he were not there, adrift in the hopeless and anxious necessity of having to preserve ourselves.

[4] In reminding us of God's Providence , it outlaws:

  • Belief in 'destiny' or 'fate'. Such belief arises from a non-Biblical god-concept in which all that happens is pre-determined and controlled in such a way that 'individuals can do nothing to change their destinies' (Concise Guide to Today's Religions, McDowell & Stewart, p508). This fatalism, found in astrology, fortune telling, and Islam, sees 'man merely as a cog in the cosmic machinery' and results in lethargy, inaction and lack of motivation. The god of fatalism is remote and uncaring, and prayer is redundant. In fatalism, one can only say of all that happens 'it is god's will', for all good and all evil proceed from him and will not be changed.

But Jesus tells us to pray 'give us today our daily bread' - indicating that prayer is significant, that God can be moved, that all is not pre-determined, that there is no such thing as unavoidable 'fate'.

  • Belief in 'chance' or 'fortune'. Because Jesus Christ has come and revealed God as Father, and through his death for our sins has reconciled us to God, we know that God is for us, we are assured of his love and compassion towards us; he is our Father. We know that he is no arbitrary, capricious, unpredictable god who governs the world without purpose or reason leaving us to the variability of chance and the luck of the draw.
  • Belief that life is meaningless and purposeless. Through Jesus Christ we understand the providence of God in the context of God's over-riding purpose: that he will bring us into union with himself through Christ, and by that union bring us into his eternal kingdom which will not pass away, and where his power and glory will be manifest to all. All that he does on earth is involved in that ultimate end; all that he allows to happen to us, all that he gives to us, moves towards this eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even those things which are opposed to him he takes and weaves into this great plan. In the context of this glorious and loving Providence of God that we pray 'give us today our daily bread'.

[5] It serves as a daily symbol to remind us of our need for Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, who came down from heaven to give us eternal life.

Read: Matthew 4:4; John 6:26-27; John 6:32-35; John 6:47-51.

D. FOR YOUR PERSONAL STUDY: EXPRESSIONS OF FAITH IN GOD'S PROVIDENCE

Go to Worksheet 6, where you will find Biblical references expressing faith in God's providence.