“Give us this day our daily bread”
This is the fourth petition in the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the first petition in the second section of the prayer. The first three petitions — in the first section — deal specifically with us asking for God to make his name holy and revered, bring his kingdom, and accomplish his perfect will on the earth as it is in heaven. These are petitions that set our eyes on God and ask him to do things for his glory alone.
The second section is where we’re instructed to pray things for ourselves. The fact that this comes after the first section is important because now we’re praying in light of God’s transcendence, his holiness, his priorities, and the furtherance of his kingdom. In this way our cares are put in the appropriate perspective because we’ve spent time focusing on God’s eternal concerns.
Now, after that brief bit of context, we arrive to our petition. Jesus tells us to ask our Heavenly Father for our food. This is somewhat astonishing because he also says that our Father knows our needs before we ask him for anything (v.8). He knows that we need things like food and he will be faithful to provide them for us (v.32). In light of these statements, though, Jesus tells us to “Pray then like this…” (v.9).
One might say, “If God knows what we need, and he will give these things to us anyway, why should we even pray for them at all?” This is an interesting question for many reasons. One big reason is the simplicity of the answer — Jesus tells us to. A second reason is that the question presupposes that this answer isn’t good enough. Jesus’ commands should be all we need, yet God is gracious to us and gives us even more reasoning.
Commenting on this petition, John Calvin writes,
“Wherefore, we are only enjoined to ask as much as our necessity requires, and as it were for each day, confiding that our heavenly Father, who gives us the supply of today, will not fail us on the morrow.”
The Institutes, 3.20.44
One reason we’re told to ask for our daily bread is because it’s a way that we affirm God’s Lordship over the entirety of creation generally, and the lives of us as individuals specifically. God provides for all of his creation. Like he provided a perfect daily portion of manna for Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 16), God also provides for us exactly what we require for each day, and he tells us to humble ourselves in view of his sovereign providence by asking him to continue. He knows our needs and gives to us accordingly.
A second reason that Calvin points out is that these petitions are really meant to accomplish things in us rather than coerce God to do things for us. By praying this way we are supposed to find great confidence knowing that our God cares for us since we have the entire history of our lives to look back on as evidence. If you’re alive while reading this — which I suspect is the case — then God has not failed to give you your daily bread. You may not have had what you wanted, or in the amount you wanted it, but that’s really a different issue. As Tim Keller has said, “If you knew everything that God knows, you would have prayed for exactly what he gave you.” Because of God’s track record of providence you can now look forward with confidence that he won’t start letting you down now.
So in praying this petition — as with the rest of the Lord’s Prayer — our faith is increased. We are reminded that Jesus is Lord, our confidence is built up, and we are emboldened to look to the future knowing that the God who knows our needs before we even ask him will continue to be faithful to us just as he has been faithful to us throughout our entire lives.
Photo Credit: @eckfarms