By J.R. Miller
"Give us this day our daily bread." Matthew 6:11
We are half-way through the Lord's Prayer--and come now to the first request for anything for ourselves. We have learned that God must always be put first, and that the honoring of his name, the coming of his kingdom, and the doing of his will--are always to be thought about and sought for--before any matter of our own.
Yet it is a great comfort to know that we may bring our physical needs to God in prayer. Throughout the Scriptures, we are taught that nothing which concerns our life in any way--is too small to be of interest to our heavenly Father. While the specific prayer here is for bread--all our physical needs are included. In an exquisite passage in the same sermon of Jesus, we are taught that our heavenly Father cares for the birds and provides for them, and clothes the flowers in their gorgeous beauty which lasts for only a day. Then we are taught that the same love which thus provides for the birds and the lilies--will much more care for us! Nothing necessary for our life is too small or too earthly--to put into the heart of a prayer. This petition for daily bread, like all the sayings of Christ, is full of deep meaning. Every word has its rich suggestions.
"Give us this day our daily bread." We ask God to give us bread. We thus recognize our dependence on him for it. It is difficult to offer this petition with real meaning, when we have plenty in our hands and no fear of need. We can conceive of the very poor, with no bread, on the verge of starving, uttering the prayer and putting their whole heart into it. The bitter sense of need makes the cry a real one for them. But for those who have never felt a pang of actual hunger, and have never been without a store from which to draw for tomorrow's provision, it is not easy to realize the sense of dependence, which the petition implies. This is one of the words of Christ, whose full meaning only experience can teach.
Yet it is true that whatever abundance may be ours, we are actually dependent upon God for each day's bread! The story of the forty years of the miracle of manna in the wilderness, is but a parable of another miracle immeasurably greater--the providing of bread for all earth's millions--for all the days of all the centuries! What we call the laws of nature are but our Father's ordinary ways of working. The regularity of these laws--is but the proof of divine faithfulness. Suppose that for a single year, or but for a week--God's miracle of bread should cease from the earth, what would be the consequences? The unbroken continuity of God's mercy of bread--hinders our appreciation of its greatness, and its necessity to us.
"Give us this day our daily bread." This prayer implies, also, that all the bread of the world is God's! "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." The bread belongs to him, and what we need can become ours--only through his gift to us. We may take it and use it without asking him for it--but, if we do, we take that to which we have no right. Even the food be on our table, ready to be eaten--it is not yet ours until we have asked God for it.
Yet those who pray not, nor even think of God--seem to be fed, as well as the righteous--and sometimes more bountifully. God "makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." But there is a difference. Those who ask God for their bread--get it as his gift and with his blessing upon it; while those who take it without asking for it, get it, and may be fed--but they miss the blessing of God that makes rich, that gives value to everything we have. This suggests the true meaning and the fitness of the Christian custom--of asking a blessing, or "saying grace" before a meal.
"Give us this day our daily bread." The form of the prayer teaches the lesson of unselfishness. It is not "Give me" but "Give us." We cannot come to God for ourselves alone. We must ask bread for others, for all--even for our enemies, if we have enemies. Especially must we think of the needy, the destitute, asking God to give them bread. If we are sincere we must be ready also, so far as we have opportunity and so far as we are able--to help to answer our own prayer for others, by sharing our plenty with those who lack. "Whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need, and shuts up his compassion from him--how does the love of God abide in him?"
One of the most beautiful commentaries on this teaching is in the account of the way the people of the New Testament church lived together. After the day of Pentecost, in the glow of the new-born love of the disciples, those who had abundance, gave to those who were poor--so that there was an equality--and none lacked. Only thus can any follower of Christ carry out the teaching of the Master. We must be ready to share our bread--with our brother who lacks.
"Give us this day our daily bread." There is a limitation in this petition. In the other form of the prayer, in Luke, the words vary somewhat, "Give us day by day our daily bread." In Matthew, it is a prayer only for the one day--with no thought of tomorrow. In Luke, the prayer takes in other days--but only as they come, one day at a time. In both forms we are taught to pray for only the bread of one day.
There is a deep lesson in this teaching. Life is not given to us by the year or the month--but by single days. Night is the horizon which bounds our vision; we see not the morrow, and we are to confine our thought and concern, to the little space between the rising and the setting of the sun. This does not forbid forethought--the Bible encourages wise and proper care for the future. But all we are authorized to ask God--to give us what is enough for the present day. Even if in the evening our last crust is eaten and there is nothing in store for tomorrow, we need not be afraid, nor think that God has forgotten us. When the morrow comes, we may ask for the morrow's own bread--and know that God will hear us and answer our prayer in the right way.
Here again we are taught that wonderful lesson of living a day at a time--a lesson which runs through all the Bible. It would save us an immense amount of worry and anxiety--if we could really learn this lesson. It is trying to carry tomorrow's burden along with today's burden--which breaks people down! Anybody can do one day's tasks in a single day, or endure one day's struggle; but that is enough for anyone! That is all God that intends anyone to carry--just one day's burden.
"Give us this day our daily bread." There is a special suggestiveness in the word OUR. 'Give us our bread.' First, it becomes ours only through God's gift to us. But there is something else also implied--the bread must be earned by us before it is properly ours. It is clearly taught in the Scriptures that everyone must work for his own bread. This was the law of the unfallen state in the Garden of Eden, and it is no less the law in the kingdom of redemption. Of course this does not apply to little children who are too young to work; or to the old who are too feeble; or to the sick who are incapacitated for work--all such come under God's special care and will not be forgotten. But all who are able to work must do so--or the bread they eat is not rightfully their own. "If any will not work," says the Apostle Paul, "neither let him eat!"
The bread must be earned also--in ways which have the divine approval. If a man steals his daily bread it is not his--he has robbed God and robbed his fellow-man, and there is a curse on what he eats! Money gotten in fraudulent transactions, or by any dishonest means, has not been righteously earned, and God's blessing cannot be invoked upon it by any form of prayer. Imagine a gambler, for example, living on the fruits of his sin--asking God to give him, with a blessing, the bread on his table! Imaging a saloon-keeper, who has earned his bread by selling strong drink which has brought ruin upon lives and homes, asking God to bless his daily bread! God's bread can become ours with a blessing--only when it is earned in honest ways. While, therefore, we toil to earn our bread--we must keep ourselves unspotted form the world.
"Give us this day our daily bread." There is yet another limitation in the petition, in the word DAILY. It means sought for the day--a daily provision. It is not a prayer, therefore, for a large supply. We are not authorized to ask for luxuries. We need not infer that it is wrong for us to have more than our actual need for the day requires; but "daily bread" is all that is promised. Paul says, "My God shall fulfill every need of yours, according to his riches in glory." This assures us of a very abundant provision. Our Father does everything generously. He is never niggardly or stingy in caring for his children. Ofttimes he supplies their needs most abundantly, giving them far more than they need. But we are taught to ask only for enough, "daily bread"; and we cannot claim the promise for more.
This prayer seems to forbid extravagance. God's bread never should be wasted! There is a story of Carlyle, that one day he was seen going into the middle of the street to pick up a crust of bread which he saw lying there is the dust. Taking it in his hand gently, as it had been something very valuable, he brushed off the dirt and then carried it to the curb and laid it down, saying: "I was taught by my mother never to waste anything, least of all bread--the most precious of all God's gifts. This crust of bread may feed a hungry dog or a little sparrow."
Our Lord Himself taught the same lesson, when, after working his great miracle of the loaves, and feeding thousands, He directed that all the fragments be gathered up, that nothing would be wasted. The bread we get as God's gift is sacred--and not a crumb of it should be wasted, either recklessly of in useless extravagance!
We are taught to limit our desires--and to ask with confidence for all that we may need for the one day. Days differ. Some bring their heavy burdens, their great needs, their keen sorrow, their crosses. Other days have fewer needs. God knows our days, and he is better able than we are--to measure our real needs for each day. We may safely, therefore, ask for daily bread--and let him choose what to give us. He will never give too little!
It is surely a great comfort--to know that in this world each Christian is thought about, and cared for by our heavenly Father, who loves us with an infinite and everlasting love! He does not think of us merely as a vast, uncounted family--but as individuals. He knows and feeds every bird--and not one of them can fall to the ground apart from His will.
More surely and with more loving thought--does he know his own children! He knows our names. Each one of us is personally dear to him. The very hairs of our head are all numbered. Not one of us is ever forgotten by God--for a moment. We can be in no place or condition in which our circumstances are not well known to God. "Your Father knows what you need, before you ask him."
This teaching makes the law of life very simple. We are not to live to get food--but are to live, first and last, as God's, and for God. We have nothing to do directly with the supplying of our own needs; that is God's matter, not ours. There are but two things we need to concern ourselves about. First, we should do our duty--the will of God, as it is made known to us day by day. Then we should trust God for the supply of our bodily and temporal needs.
Those who have learned to live thus--have found the way of peace. Worry is sin. It dishonors God, for it is bred from doubting His wisdom and goodness to His children! It hurts our own life, hindering our spiritual growth, marring the beauty of our character, and blurring our witness for God to others. If we faithfully do God's will, as revealed to us, and then trust God perfectly--the peace of God will guard our hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus!