Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Lord’s Prayer: Daily Bread

Today, we move into the second part of the Lord’s Prayer. The first three petitions focus on God and what glorifies Him. The second group of petitions focus on us and our needs.

The petition that we will be looking at this morning is very plain and straightforward.

Give us this day our daily bread. Matthew 6.11

Here, Jesus teaches that we are to ask the Father for the things that we need. Now, Jesus frames this petition using the word ‘bread’. But I think you know that He’s not limiting it to requesting bread or even just food. The way the Bible teaches, a particular item can be a stand-in for a larger category of things. So, the fifth commandment about honoring father and mother isn’t just about one’s relationship to his parents. It’s about authority structures. A study of the rest of the Scriptures will show that. This petition in the Lord’s Prayer is about our needs. We are to ask the Father to provide for our needs.

One good way of understanding what is going on here is to take a look at how God provided manna for Israel.

Israel was on their way to the Promised Land. We’re talking about a lot of people. Just counting the men who were able to go to war, you have over six hundred thousand people - then add women and children. And they’re all in a desert. So, while you will find an oasis here and there, there are no fields to cultivate to grow food. So, how are all these people going to eat?

God provided for that need. He provided manna. Each morning there would be manna on the ground that the people were to gather to eat.

Now, God could have fed His people in any number of ways. But He decided on this way, and He did so for a reason. He was using the situation to teach His people an important lesson. He teaching them to depend on Him. In fact, He was teaching them that they needed to depend on Him. They needed to learn to depend on God to provide them with food - and lots more.

It’s clear that this is what is going on because God explained His motivation.

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.’ Exodus 16:4

The manna was God’s way to evaluate His people, to put them to the test, to see if they were learning the lesson. That, after all, is what tests are for. And, sadly, at first, they were failing that test.

God had been clear. Each day they were to gather food for that day’s meals. That means no leftovers. God would provide the next day’s food on the next day. But being the rebellious people that they were, they kept a little aside from that first day so that they could be sure that there was food for the next day. After all, you can never be sure about things, right? And being such a foolish people, they thought they could hide this from an omniscient God. But God saw their sin. The leftovers bred worms and stank.

However, bit by bit, they learned that they had to depend on God for a basic need, food. They learned that He would provide tomorrow all the food that they would need tomorrow.

Now, all of that explains this fourth petition,

Give us this day our daily bread.

By having us pray this petition, Jesus is teaching us to depend on the Father. He will provide for each day. And the question implied by this is simple. It’s the Father asking, ‘Will you trust Me? Will you trust Me to provide all that you need when you need it?’ And just as it was for Israel, it is a test for us. Will we give up our independent ways and depend on our Father?

Now, there are obstacles in our way when it comes to learning to depend on the Father. One of them has to do with our culture, the world around us. The persistent message that we’ve all heard in one form or another is that we need to depend on ourselves. The culture encourages us to believe that message by telling us outright that we can depend on ourselves. It also adds the more subtle message that there is no one else to depend on beside ourselves.

Last week I drove past one of those ‘pass it on’ billboards. I’m sure that you’ve seen them. They have a picture of some famous person and a very brief statement about something impressive that he or she did. And at the bottom is printed some virtue. So, for Lincoln, it was persistence. For a fireman who was involved in 9/11, it was courage.

The one I saw was about confidence. It said, ‘You be you. Confidence is in you.’ And it had a picture of a very popular and successful musician - who happens to be fourteen years old. And the point is that you can imitate the confidence of this child. ‘Be confident in yourself. You can do this.’

In this culture, being confident means depending on yourself. It’s just a matter of telling yourself that you can do this - whatever it is. There is no need to depend on anyone else. That is unnecessary. You can do this.

That is the kind of message that you hear, that your children hear.

And you’ve been told this same message over and over and over, sometimes out loud, sometimes more subtly. ‘You can do this. All you have to do is try harder. You can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And let’s be honest. To some extent, we believe it.

So, when faced with some difficulty, our almost automatic response is to muster our forces and have at it. Oh, we might also pray about it. But all too often our hope for success is not in the Father. It’s in ourselves.

It is so easy for us to believe that we can depend on ourselves and succeed. We fall for that lie far too often. Jesus knows this. And that’s why He is teaching us to depend on the Father and not on ourselves. It is He who provides for our needs. It is He who brings success.

Now, this just might prompt a question that goes something like this. ‘Does this mean that we are to do nothing? If we are to depend on the Father to provide for our needs, do we then just to sit back and wait for what we need to drop from heaven? That’s what happened with the manna. Is that how we are to live?’ That’s a good question.

Now, a terrible answer would go something like this. ‘Well, clearly, that’s not what we should think. Let’s be practical about this. It’s obvious that we need to work. God doesn’t want us to be lazy, does He? So, of course there are things for us to do.’

Let me tell you why that’s a terrible answer. There’s no Bible there. It’s as if God forgot to consider our question so we have to dream something up based on what we consider to be common sense. Foolishness!

It’s important to have questions when you’re interacting with the Bible. That shows that you’re thinking. But the way to get answers to those questions is not to appeal to human pragmatism. The Bible has all the answers to all our questions. And this is no exception.

Let’s go back to Israel in the desert. For all the time that they were in the desert God dropped manna from heaven. All they had to do is gather it up. But, think about it. Did He continue to provide manna once they entered the Promised Land? Listen to this from Joshua.

And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. Joshua 5:12

Israel enters the Promised Land, and they eat some of the produce of the land. And that was the end of the manna. God had brought them into Canaan just as He had promised. Now, it was time for them to grow their own food.

But wait! What about depending on God? Was that a lesson only for their time in the desert? Were they to depend on themselves now?

Listen to Moses as he prepares the people to enter Canaan.

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 8:11-18

Yes, Israel was to farm the land. And, they just might become wealthy in doing that. But the word of the Lord is clear. Even if their hard work results in great wealth, they were to still remember that basic lesson taught in the desert. God grants wealth in the same way He granted manna. It’s still a matter of depending on Him. The situation has changed, but the facts remain the same. They need to depend on their God.

This leads to another question. And it’s actually an application of a theme that runs through the Bible. It’s about the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

There are times when you are to pray and then wait for God to sovereignly act. That is, there are times to wait for manna to drop from heaven. But then, there are times when you need to take responsibility in the situation and act. That is, there are times when you need to do some hard work. But which is when? How do you know when to pray and wait, and when to get busy?

This is where I talk about being able to use your Bible. Last week I told you that Jesus didn’t just know His Bible. He also knew how to use it. He was much more sophisticated in this than the Pharisees. This sophistication is just another word for wisdom. There are those who know their Bibles. They know where various doctrines taught and all the rest. But, sad to say, only a relative few have the ability to use their Bibles wisely when it comes to everyday living. When it comes to the question of praying and then just waiting or praying and then going out to do something, what is needed is wisdom.

Let me remind you of the definition of wisdom. It’s understanding God, people, yourself and the situation. But no one gains this wisdom in one big step. It’s something that grows slowly over time. It’s a matter of gaining experience in understanding God, people, yourself and the situation.

As I talk with my kids each week, our conversations will often include issues that they are dealing with. And from time to time I remind them that as they work through these issues they are developing wisdom. I have also told them that they won’t have enough wisdom to share with others until they’re about forty years old. It just takes time to grow in this, connecting issues you’re facing with appropriate parts of the Gospel, praying that the Father would give insight into Scripture and then coming to a conclusion that either works or doesn’t. It’s that process of coming to good conclusions, and learning from bad conclusions, that results in wisdom.

So, I have no simple, one-size-fits-all kind of answer when it comes to the question, ‘When do I wait for God to act, and when do I get doing something?’ You need to grow in wisdom so that you will be able to answer that question in the many different situations that you face. So, work on developing your understanding of God, people, yourself and the nature of the situations you find yourself in. Growing in this wisdom is a result of knowing the Scriptures, praying to the Father, coming to conclusions and learning from it all. How can a Christian live well without doing this?

There is still one more element that I want you to see in Jesus’ command to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. Up to this point I’ve stressed that you must depend on the Father. Anything else is foolish rebellion. Here I want to stress that you can depend on the Father.

It makes no sense to ask the Father for daily bread unless it is clear that He will provide daily bread. And it is clear that that is exactly what He will do. Why else would God include the story of the manna in the Bible? It’s a lesson for us, too. You can depend on the Father.

We live in a culture filled with people who are very anxious. If a person believes that it all depends on him and him alone, anxiety is inevitable. And that’s because no one is able to handle it all. Fear about being able to deal with tomorrow is inevitable for people like this. This is one reason why anti-anxiety drugs are so popular these days.

There is great comfort in knowing that your Father will certainly provide for your needs. And that is true whether we’re talking about praying and waiting for manna to drop from heaven, or praying and then going out to do some work. The Father will provide for all of your needs. All of them. The saint who believes this part of the Gospel, who believes that his Father will provide for each day, has great peace.

Let me encourage you to take the time to consider what this petition has to say to you as you deal with life. There is a reason why Jesus teaches His disciples to pray this. Consider His teaching and be blessed.