I’ve never not had daily bread. Sure, when my siblings and I were growing up we complained, “There’s nothing to eat in the house!” We meant that there was nothing we wanted to eat (my mom had a strange affinity for cabbage and beans. In Jimmy Fallon’s words “EW!”). But there was always something to eat.
Maybe that’s why I don’t routinely pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). It doesn’t fit within my experience. In modern Western culture, daily bread is often assumed.
Meals are planned out days or even weeks in advance. I don’t think to pray for bread. It’s just there. However, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for daily bread, so if we call ourselves disciples, we need to grapple with what that means for us today.
Daily Bread Is Not the Norm For Everyone
Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount before crowds of poor peasants oppressed under Roman rule. Most workers in first-century Palestine were paid on a day-to-day basis with no assurance of tomorrow’s work. Illness, unjust governments, or changes in climate could all bring instant deprivation. These were people for whom daily bread was an uncertain part of life.
When Jesus tells his followers to ask their Heavenly Father for daily bread, he means food for sustenance. The Jewish mind inundated with the Exodus story would be reminded of Yahweh’s miraculous provision of manna in the wilderness. In the same way, the Israelites were called to trust God for their very sustenance, so now Jesus’ followers were called to trust the Father for their basic survival needs. This petition was a call to radical dependency on God.
This kind of dependence may be lost on many of us in developed countries, but it’s not lost on everyone. Hunger is still the norm for many people around the world. A variety of outside influences can spell out tragedy for families today just as it did in Jesus’ day.
I witnessed this in Southern Sudan during a visit in 2010. War had ravaged the land. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) controlled many of the resources. Children were orphaned. Crooked government drained outside aid. Families were destitute. When they prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread” it wasn’t symbolic sentiment offered as a religious rite. They were legitimately asking God to provide their next meal.
This experience made the petition for daily bread real to me. At the heart of the request utter dependence and childlike trust. Jesus wants his followers to ask and depend on God for their most basic needs.
How Should We Pray If Daily Bread Is Our Norm?
So what do we do with Jesus’ word if our basic material needs are supplied? This question caused me to pause this week—especially from those of us who have abundant resources. I came away with two points of personal application that may be helpful in your prayer life.
– Repent of prideful independence and acknowledge total dependence on God.
Americans have made a god out of independence. Few things are valued like the independent, self-sufficient man. We work hard, we get good jobs, and we provide for ourselves. Most importantly, we depend on no one. If we have daily food, it’s because we earned it. We’re proud of that.
What we fail to understand is God’s providential hand in everything. If you’re not worried about where you’ll get dinner tonight (and I don’t mean what farm the chickens were raised on!), it’s not ultimately because you’re a stellar businessman or know how to rock Groupon. It’s because a gracious, loving God has supplied you with abundance.
God created, sustains, and governs the world in such a way that we are dependent on him for everything. He “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). The next breath we take is dependent upon God’s provision, which means—brace yourself—we aren’t the independent, self-sufficient people we pride ourselves upon. We’re dependent beings. There’s a built-in Creator/creature distinction that no one escapes.
You have much less control over your life than you would like to believe. God determined the boundaries of your life—the family you were born into, your country of origin, where you live, the government you reside under, and the circumstances that got you the job. God placed you in an environment with the resources and opportunities you needed to flourish. He gave it, and he can take it away.
The Lord’s Prayer reminds you of this radical dependency. It gives you an opportunity for repentance, confession, and worship. Confess ways you’ve trusted in your work to provide for you and your family. Acknowledge your dependence on God for all your material needs, even your daily bread.
Praise God for the many blessings he’s given you. Thank him for the skills and resources he has provided. We’re so quick to complain about what we don’t have (money for all organic foods or to eat at trendy restaurants), not realizing how privileged we are. We have food! God has been good to us. Allow this to generate childlike worship in your life.
– Pray for your hungry brothers and sisters around the world.
When you pray “Give us this day our daily bread” don’t miss the “us.” You won’t find a single singular pronoun in the Lord‘s Prayer. Personal requests are important but this prayer shows particular concern for the corporate body rather than the individual believer.
As I observed this, the need to pray for my brothers and sisters around the world hit me like a ton of bricks. My basic needs may be met, but many of theirs aren’t. We’re one family in Christ, so their burdens are my burdens. I’m fed, but they go hungry. This realization caused me to stop my studies and devote time to prayer!
Will you join me? As you pray “Give us this day our daily bread” would you petition the Father for hungry believers around the world? If so, here are specific things I’m praying for:
- The faith of believers to be strengthened so that they can ask and trust God for provision.
- Christian organizations to be well funded so that they can be on the front lines in the worldwide hunger crisis.
- Support for Christian orphanages, so that they can feed and house hungry orphans.
- Just governments to be put in place so that they can champion the cause of the hungry.
- Churches and Christians to grow in their generosity and sacrificial giving so that more resources can go to the hungry.
This list isn’t exhaustive. Pray as the Spirit leads. But pray!
Daily bread was a legitimate concern for Jesus’ original hearers, and it still is for many today. Allow this to break your heart and fuel your prayers for your local and global faith family. If you’ve been blessed with basic provision, acknowledge the Giver of all good gifts then pray for those who need daily bread.
Whitney Woollard is passionate about equipping others to read and study God’s Word well resulting maturing affection for Christ and his glorious gospel message. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and a Masters of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. Whitney and her husband Neal currently live in Portland, OR where they call Hinson Baptist Church home. Visit her writing homepage whitneywoollard.com.