SproulLordsPrayer 6

The Prayer of the Lord

Chapter 6: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

Christians often use a simple acrostic as a guide to prayer: A-C-T-S. Each of the letters in this acrostic stands for one of the key elements of prayer:
But not only does this acrostic remind us of the elements of prayer, it shows us the priority we ought to give to each. The first element of prayer should be adoration, or praise. The Psalms, which are inspired samples of godly prayer, are heavily weighted on the side of adoration. I’ve noticed over many years that as we grow in the discipline and in the delight of prayer, it seems that we naturally spend more and more of our time on this first element. Second, prayer should include confession of our sin; as we remember who we are when we come into God’s presence, we see that we have come short of His holiness and have need of His forgiveness. Third, when we pray, we should always give thanks, remembering the grace and mercy God has shown toward us. Fourth, prayer rightly includes supplication or petition, bringing our requests for the needs of others and ourselves to God.
I think this is a helpful acrostic for remembering both the elements and the priorities of prayer. Unfortunately, we often spell our prayer life something like S-C-A-T, because we start with supplication and spend very little time, if any, on adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.
When we look at the Lord’s Prayer, we see adoration at least implied in the petition “Hallowed be Your name.” Jesus acknowledged that God’s name is holy. We certainly see confession in the petition “Forgive us our debts,” which we will examine in the next chapter. And there are supplications. However, it seems that the T is conspicuously absent. Where in the Lord’s Prayer do we find any overt expression of gratitude to God? It’s not there. That’s strange, for as the apostle Paul taught, thanksgiving should always be included in our prayers: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (
Phil. 4:6
, emphasis added).
Even though thanksgiving is not explicitly mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer, I think it is implied in the petition that is our focus for this chapter: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). My reason for making this assertion is simple: we are to be alert not only to the need that we have daily for food, but to the reality of God’s daily provision for our needs. That realization, of course, should induce us to an attitude of thanksgiving.
In previous chapters, we have noted that the Lord’s Prayer begins with the address, “Our Father in heaven,” and then moves through the petitions, beginning with “Hallowed be Your name.” The focus of the prayer in its initial petitions is on God’s glory and His kingdom. That’s where the focus of our prayers needs to be. But then a shift occurs. With the fourth petition, Jesus begins to show His disciples how they ought to pray for their own needs. It is in this petition that we ask the Father to provide our daily bread.
The God Who Gives
This simple request has much to teach us, and I want us to note each element of it. First, notice that Jesus didn’t teach us to pray that God would sell us our daily bread or render it to us in exchange for our service; instead, in this petition, we manifestly ask God to give us something. We ask Him to give us daily bread. We are so needy as to be destitute, but He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (
Ps. 50:10
), so we go to Him as beggars asking for His charity. Scripture assures us that we can depend on Him to respond to such requests, for He is a giving God: “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (
James 1:17
God gives His gifts in order to provide for the needs of His people, for He is a God of providence. In the book of Genesis, Moses tells us of God’s great promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, that his descendants would be as the grains of sand on the seashore and as the stars in the sky. At the time the promise was made, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren. Finally, after many years elapsed, Sarah brought forth a son, whose name was Isaac. There was no happier set of parents in all of history than those two on the day God began to fulfill His promise in their old age. Just a few years later, however, there came a day when God said to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (
Gen. 22:2
). God was saying, “I gave you this gift, Isaac, but now I want you to give him back to Me.”
To his credit, Abraham did not hesitate. We’re told that he “rose early in the morning” and set out on the three-day journey to Moriah. But when he and Isaac came to God’s appointed mountain, and they were climbing up toward the conclusion of this heart-wrenching episode, Isaac noticed that one of the key requirements for a sacrifice seemed to be missing. So he said to Abraham, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (
Gen. 22:7
). Abraham didn’t say, “You are the sacrifice.” Instead, he took a deep breath and said to his son, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (
Gen. 22:8
). He was trusting God to provide a sacrifice other than Isaac, and God proved faithful to do just that, staying Abraham’s hand in the moment when he was about to sacrifice Isaac and providing a ram instead (
Gen. 22:12–13
This is the first occasion in the Bible when the idea of divine providence is mentioned. Providence is about God’s provision. An integral element of that providence is His provision for our ultimate need of salvation—He provided Jesus, the Lamb without blemish, who was crucified for us. The God of providence is also concerned about our mundane, everyday needs, such as food to eat, water to drink, clothes to wear, and shelter for our bodies. Therefore, in His providence, He makes the crops grow, He makes the rains fall, and He provides what we need for clothing and homes. He gives us what we need for daily life.
David wrote, “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread” (
Ps. 37:25
). That’s a tremendous testimony to the constancy with which God answers the prayers of His people when they bring their needs to Him.
Therefore, in this petition we are praying: “In Your sovereign providence, O God, please give us what we need. As You care for us, please provide us with the things we require for life in this world.”
Just in passing, I think it is important to note that there is a synergistic relationship between divine providence and our own labor. Jesus didn’t tell us to ask the Lord for our daily bread so that we can sleep in each morning and make no effort to bring forth the fruit of honest labor. On the contrary, God commands us to be productive in our labor and with respect to the provision of our daily needs. The apostle Paul tells us that “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (
1 Tim. 5:8
). So on the one hand, we have to trust in the benevolent providence of God to give us our daily bread, and on the other hand, we are to be industrious, doing all that we can to provide for our families. God typically works through means, and He normally provides through the means of our labor.
Trusting God from Day to Day
Second, notice that when we ask God to give us our bread, we are not to request that He provide it weekly or monthly, but daily. We are to ask for a day’s worth of bread at a time.
I moved my family to Holland for a time when I was working on my doctorate. We lived out in a village where hardly anyone spoke English, so we were forced to pick up some rudimentary Dutch as quickly as we could. Sherrie, our daughter, was about three years old at the time, and the first Dutch word she learned was snoepja, which means a little piece of candy. That’s the word all Dutch children learn first, I suppose. But the first basic sentence she learned didn’t have to do with candy. There would be a knock on the door every morning as the baker arrived, and it was Sherrie’s job to answer the door. She would look at the baker and say, “Dag mijnheer bakker, een halfje gesneden brood alstublieft.” That meant, “Good morning, Mr. Baker, a half a loaf of sliced bread, please.” That’s the first basic sentence she learned to speak, and she mastered it in no time because she said it every day. You see, in Holland at that time, you didn’t go to the store and buy a loaf of bread, bring it home, and use it for the week. The bread that was available—which, by the way, was the most fabulous bread I’ve ever eaten—had to be delivered every day. There were no preservatives in it, so after a day, it was virtually inedible. So we had to have fresh bread each day.
Why does Jesus place such emphasis on daily bread? I doubt it had anything to do with the lack of preservatives in the bread at the time. Rather, I believe Jesus had a much more profound reason for instructing us to request daily bread. I think He did so primarily to teach us that we need to acknowledge our dependence on the providence of God to sustain us day to day. He was saying that we should live in a daily dependence on the provision that God gives.
This was a recurring theme in the teaching of Jesus. In the same Sermon on the Mount where Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer, He also said:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on… . Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? … Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.” (
Matt. 6:25–34
In that same context, Jesus also said: “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (
Matt. 7:9–11
). God, Jesus taught, gives perfect gifts, and He is willing and able to meet our daily needs, which we are to bring before Him on a daily basis.
We have a tendency in this modern age not to live from day to day in terms of the things we need to eat. We stock up on food. We have refrigerators and freezers that extend the life of our food and keep it fresh. So it’s not our custom to face each new day with the fresh need to find food for our sustenance. Given this custom, we have a powerful need to pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer and to grasp our constant dependence on the provision of God to sustain our very lives.
Bread from Heaven
Third, Jesus teaches us to pray that God would give us daily bread. Obviously Jesus was not telling His disciples to pray only for bread. But bread was a staple in the diet of the Jews, and had been so for many years. Furthermore, bread was a powerful symbol of God’s provision for His people in the Old Testament. We remember how God cared for the Israelites when they were in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. Life in the wilderness was hard, and soon the people began to complain that it would be better to be back in Egypt, where they had wonderful food to eat. In response to these complaints, God promised to “rain bread from heaven” (
Ex. 16:4
). The next morning, when the dew lifted, there remained behind on the ground “a small round substance, as fine as frost… . It was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (
Ex. 16:14
Ex. 16:31
). When God miraculously fed His people from heaven, he did so by giving them bread.
It’s interesting to me that in the language of Western culture, we sometimes speak of one partner in a marriage (it used to be almost exclusively the husband, but not so much these days) as the wage earner of the home. But more colloquially, we call that partner “the breadwinner.” Even in our slang, we use the word bread as a synonym for “money.” Bread remains, at least in our language, as a powerful symbol of the rudimentary basis of provision for our needs.
After the Korean War ended, South Korea was left with a large number of children who had been orphaned by the war. We’ve seen the same thing in the Vietnam conflict, in Bosnia, and in other places. In the case of Korea, relief agencies came in to deal with all the problems that arose in connection with having so many orphan children. One of the people involved in this relief effort told me about a problem they encountered with the children who were in the orphanages. Even though the children had three meals a day provided for them, they were restless and anxious at night and had difficulty sleeping. As they talked to the children, they soon discovered that the children had great anxiety about whether they would have food the next day. To help resolve this problem, the relief workers in one particular orphanage decided that each night when the children were put to bed, the nurses there would place a single piece of bread in each child’s hand. The bread wasn’t intended to be eaten; it was simply intended to be held by the children as they went to sleep. It was a “security blanket” for them, reminding them that there would be provision for their daily needs. Sure enough, the bread calmed the children’s anxieties and helped them sleep. Likewise, we take comfort in knowing that our physical needs are met, that we have food, or “bread,” for our needs.
This petition of the Lord’s Prayer, then, teaches us to come to God in a spirit of humble dependence, asking Him to provide what we need and to sustain us from day to day. We are not given license to ask for great riches, but we are encouraged to make our needs known to Him, trusting that He will provide.
If we find that God’s hand seems to be invisible to us and that we cannot discern His providential intrusion into our lives, that may be due partly to the way we pray. We have a tendency to pray in general. When we pray in general, the only way we will see the hand of God’s providence is in general. As we enter into prayer, this conversation and communion with God, and put our petitions before Him, pouring out our souls and our needs specifically, we see specific answers to our prayers. Our Father has invited us to go to Him and ask Him for our daily bread. He will not fail to provide it.
SproulLordsPrayer 6
© 2009 R.C. Sproul Trust. All worldwide rights reserved.
Used with permission under license.