Daily Bread

Approximately 26 minutes. (Sermon text below.)

Does God really provide our daily bread – what we need for life today? Can we trust him to take care of us? Jesus knew we could. This encouraging message helps us to trust God as we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…

Immediately after World War II the allied armies gathered hungry, homeless children from across the countryside and placed them in large camps. The children were given all the food they wanted, shown acceptance, and given care. But at night they did not sleep well. They were restless and afraid.

A psychologist had an idea. He suggested that the children’s caregivers give each of them a slice of bread to hold when they put them to bed. If they wanted more to eat, they were given it, but this particular slice was not to be eaten—they were just to hold it.

The results were remarkable. The children began sleeping better immediately, subconsciously assured that they would have something to eat tomorrow. Just knowing that was enough to give them a good night’s sleep.

King David would have understood. He wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The shepherd makes plans today so that the sheep will have grass to graze on tomorrow. David understood that God planned to provide for him. Figuratively speaking, he went to bed with a piece of bread in his hand. He knew God would take care of him.[1]

But we’re not David. Will God take care of us? Will we have what we need tomorrow? Today, we arrive at the fourth petition in the Lord’s prayer, the first which makes a personal request: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

There are six (or seven, depending on whether you link the final two) requests in the Lord’s prayer. The first three concern God, the final three concern us. The first three mention God’s name, his kingdom, and his will. The final three mention our bread, our debts, and our deliverance.

Many of the church fathers couldn’t believe that Jesus would follow the first three high and holy requests by telling his followers to pray for something as mundane as bread. They thought that Jesus must be talking about the bread of Holy Communion, which seemed more noble.

But there is not a hint in this text or anywhere else in the Bible that the church fathers were right about this. They were, it seems, trying to be more spiritual than Jesus. He knows his people need food to survive – God made them that way – and he wants them to survive. More than that, he wants them to thrive.

A man once described to me how he prayed – I think he thought I would be impressed. He talked about how he would pray for others – friends, family, missionaries – but made a point of saying that he never prayed for his own needs.

He seemed to think that praying for one’s own needs was selfish and spiritually immature. He was wrong. It is not selfish to want daily bread, only to want someone else’s daily bread. Nor is it spiritually immature. The spiritually mature need daily bread too, and the more mature they are, the more they appreciate the privilege of asking their Father in heaven for it, and the more joy and gratitude they experience when they receive it.

Martin Luther said that “daily bread” was a metaphor that stood for “everything necessary for the preservation of this life, like food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, children, good government and peace.”[2]

Do I need a car in order to live and do good and serve God? Then a car is my daily bread, and I can ask our Father in heaven for it and expect to receive it. Do I need health to live and do good and serve God? Then I can ask Father for it and he’ll give it. Do I need a job, an education, a friend, a spouse, a child, a computer, or a vacation in order to live and do good and serve God? If so, I can ask Father and expect him to answer.

Now I may think I need things I don’t really need. For example, I may be wrong about needing a computer to live and do good and serve God. I may not need a spouse to do those things. I may not even need a body – at least temporarily. God’s plan may be for me to live better, do better, and serve joyfully in heaven. But if I need a body and health, I can ask and be confident that he will provide.

The prayer for daily bread is a recognition of dependence on God. Many people find that hard to do. They would rather pray, “Give us this day the winning lottery ticket, and we’ll never bother you again about our daily bread.” They hate being dependent. They never want to be in a position where they must depend on anyone else – even God.

To pray for daily bread is to depend on God daily, not once in a while. Jesus’s choice of phrasing was no accident. He intended “daily bread” to carry his hearers back to the Old Testament story of manna in the wilderness. Do you know the story?

Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt and through some of the most rugged, barren, country on earth. It was one of the largest refugee flights in history: hundreds of thousands of people crossing the desert, in need of water and food to survive.

They quickly despaired. They could see no way to feed that many people in the desert and wanted to turn back. They feared they would all starve to death. But God told Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day” (Exodus 16:4).

Each morning, the people were to gather enough bread (called manna) for that day. On the weekend, they were to gather enough for two days because no manna fell on the Sabbath. God said, “In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4). If they tried to save up the manna – to get ahead, have a stockpile – the stored manna would spoil. The point is they could not manufacture a situation for themselves in which they would be independent of God. They didn’t get a three-month supply of manna. They had to trust God to provide for them today, and then again tomorrow, and then the day after that.

We are a lot like the Israelites who tried to stockpile their manna, to set themselves up for the future, and take control of their destiny. Why are we like that? I think it is because we have trouble trusting – we do not want to trust.

Jesus knew that. We have been brainwashed into thinking that it is all up to us, that we have to look out for ourselves, for no one else will do it for us. That kind of thinking needs to change before we can thrive. We need to learn for ourselves that Father will provide for us.

Jesus not only wants us to ask for our daily bread; he wants us to have the joyful, faith-building experience of receiving it. When we know God as Father and long for his name to be hallowed, when we yearn for his kingdom and genuinely desire his will, we will see our prayers for daily bread answered.

I am not saying that God will not answer our prayers for daily bread until all those conditions are met. I suspect that he will. But I don’t think we will recognize the answers, for we will remain spiritually nearsighted and our ability to trust our Father will be strictly limited.

We cannot thoughtlessly recite, “Our Father,” rush past, “hallowed be thy name,” and pay lip service to “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” and still pray effectively for daily bread. It doesn’t work that way. Think of the Lord’s Prayer as a seven-story building. You don’t start with the roof. You start with the foundation, and the foundation of the Lord’s Prayer is its very first word: “Father.”

When that foundation has been laid, the frame erected, and the doors and windows opened to receive our daily bread from heaven, our needs are not only supplied; our faith is inspired. Think of what receiving daily bread did for the Israelites in the wilderness. It daily reinforced the fact that God cared and was able to help. His provision for them today helped them to trust him for tomorrow. God’s answer to our prayers for daily bread will have the same effect.

Unfortunately, the ancient Israelites began taking God’s provision for granted. They stopped appreciating his gifts and, when that happened, their faith started to diminish. They began to doubt God – not because he gave them the bread they needed, but because he had not given them other things they wanted. Instead of their hearts overflowing with gratitude, they were hardened with greed. If we cease being grateful to God for his gifts, the same thing will happen to us. Gratitude and faith are closely linked.

When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” there are various dynamics in play. There is a family dynamic. We do not pray, “Give me my daily bread,” but “Give us our daily bread.” Our request does not exclude others and their needs but takes them in.

There is a recurring dynamic in the words, “day” and “daily.” We never ask for provisions in a way that will remove us from the Provider. We don’t ask for our “monthly” bread, so that we can remain independent of God until the month is almost up. Our need unites us to God. If his provision then divides us, the problem lies with us.

Sometimes, the daily bread for which we ask is literally bread. We have no money in our pocket and no food in our pantry, and our need sends us to our heavenly Father.

Sometimes the daily bread for which we ask is healing. Our bodies are under threat. Disease is advancing. Our need brings us to God, brings us daily, and many times each day. But when we receive our daily bread – healing of the body – we mustn’t stop coming to God. I have sometimes marveled at how quickly people have turned from God when they’ve got what they wanted.

When I was pastoring in another place, a neighbor was diagnosed with cancer. He was a lapsed Catholic who showed no interest in church or in God – until he received the diagnosis. Then he was interested. When I learned of his situation, I visited him and he asked me to pray for him, which I gladly did. I was even gladder when I learned that God had provided his daily bread: the cancer had gone into remission, he was ecstatic, and gave God the glory. A couple of months later –just before we moved here – I stopped to say hi and was disturbed by what I saw. He had taken his daily bread and walked away from God with little more than a nod in his direction.

What people need more than daily bread is a daily God. Bread may keep our bodies alive, but God causes our souls to live and thrive. Bread gives us energy; God gives us meaning. Bread gives us enjoyment; God gives us joy.

My friend Dave Brown says that he doesn’t buy lottery tickets because he is afraid that he might win. I understand where he is coming from. There is in most of us a stubborn independence even from God – perhaps especially from God. If we won millions of dollars, we might fall into thinking that we are enough without God. Our bodies would get fat, but our souls would be lean. Our bank account would be robust, but our spirit would be feeble.

When you have a need for bread of whatever kind – food, health, relationships, possessions – instead of bemoaning it, thank God for it. That need is a door, and faith is the key that opens that door. If you’ll go through it, you will find yourself in the company of our good Father. You will experience him for yourself, and your confidence in him will grow.

Don’t take your daily bread and walk away, like our old neighbor did. Take it and stay. Enjoy it with God. An old gospel song I know captures this idea in its first verse: Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord; once it was the feeling, now it is His Word; once His gift I wanted, now, the Giver own; once I sought for healing, now Himself alone. The man who wrote those words knew how to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

In our younger days, Karen and I had hoped to serve the Lord overseas in the denomination that ordained me. We were required, as part of our preparations, to serve in a stateside ministry for at least two years. The denomination placed us in a mission-style church and gave me – who had never had a pastoral ministry class of any kind – the responsibility of pastoring the church.

It had endured a very ugly split seven years earlier. When we arrived, it was on its last leg. During our first year there, our average worship attendance was 19 – and only about a dozen of those were adults. Two months after we arrived, the church’s largest giver died. Within a year, the church was having trouble paying us. Sometimes we would get our full pay, but more often we would get half, and sometimes even less. We began dipping into our personal savings.

That was gone before long, and there were times when we had no money. How we were going to put gas in the car and food on the table was sometimes in question – not always, by any means, but there were times. I remember some of those times vividly. I also remember how we talked to our Father in heaven about our daily bread and how he provided. He did not give us so much that we could forget about him, but he gave us more than enough for us to trust him. The faith that came out of those experiences has been worth more to us than gold.

We had many remarkable manna from heaven moments. There were times when we prayed, and God answered within hours, like the time I prayed for a car, and one was in our driveway three hours later—without any effort or knowledge on my part. Or the time I prayed in the morning for a very specific amount of money I needed that day – the next day would be too late – and had it (stuffed in an envelope and wedged in our door) before mid-afternoon. Or the night when, on the verge of giving up, I poured out my heart to God. The next day a woman I had not met before asked to speak with me. She handed me an envelope with cash and said that God told her to give it to me. There were many other examples, equally remarkable, and the thing is, Karen and I never told another soul about our need – except our Father in heaven.

What do you think that did for our faith? It was better than winning the lottery. Those days were sometimes hard and scary, but they gave us great confidence in our Father in heaven. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Let’s apply what we’ve seen. First, your Father in heaven loves you too much to answer your prayer for daily bread in a way that makes dependence on him unnecessary. He knows that you need him more than you need bread. Any provision that enables you to get along without God is not daily bread but deadly poison. Reflect on your prayers: are you asking for daily bread or deadly poison? If you got what our praying for, would it bring you closer to God or cause you to drift away?

Secondly, you will not be able to pray for daily bread with faith (and faith is necessary) if you cannot pray sincerely for God’s will to be done. If we don’t trust God’s will to be good, you need to take care of that issue first. Share your struggle with God and with a wise Christian friend.

Finally, remember that this prayer, including the request for daily bread, rests on the foundation of the fatherhood of God. If you cannot call God, “Father,” your experience of the Christian life, including the reception of daily bread, will be far below what it could be. The way to call God “Father” is through confessing Jesus “Lord.” He is the cornerstone – “the precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts in him will never be dismayed” (Isaiah 28:16). If you have questions about what that entails, talk to one of our prayer helpers today or talk to me at any time – just don’t wait. It is too good to miss.

[1] Charles L. Allen, God’s Psychiatry (Revell, 1988)

[2] From Stott, J. R. W., The message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture (p. 149). InterVarsity Press.


About salooper57

Husband, father, pastor, follower. I am a disciple of Jesus, learning how to do life from him. I read, write, walk, play a little guitar, enjoy my family.
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