Before you read this article, take a quick mental inventory of the perishable and nonperishable food in your pantry, refrigerator, freezer, kitchen cabinets, etc. Finished? Now, estimate just how long you might be able to survive if all of your food supply was cut off for a month. While we might shed a few pounds and have to stretch our imaginations on throwing together a meal, most of us have in our possession more than a daily supply of food. Yet, the Lord teaches us to pray in Matthew 6 “give us this day our daily bread.” Have you ever wondered what this petition means in a society of abundance and reserves that exceed your daily needs? Should we feel hypocritical or is this actual petition only meant to be used for times of deep poverty and scarcity we might encounter in famine or crisis?
The Hypocrite’s Need Exposed
In the context of this prayer, the Lord teaches his followers how to give alms, pray, and fast by drawing a comparison with the hypocrite and his religious service (Matthew 1 – 18). In all three instances, the motive of the heart is revealed in the words “to be seen of men.” With this statement, the Lord unveils the true disposition and aim of the hypocrite is not Godward but horizontal and man centered because he treasures and needs the praise of men (John 12:43) more than the praise of God. He accumulates the earthly treasure of human praise for his religious acts to feed the need of his heart (Matthew 6:19 – 21). Also, the hypocrite is motivated by his mistaken idea that he will gain the ear of God by fulfilling the conditions of good performance and therefore try to use repetition and much speaking to be heard. Jesus calls this kind of prayer vain because it does not achieve the intended results with regard to God. However, it does provide them with the earthly minded goal as stated by the Lord… “verily they have their reward.” The need they have is supplied by the reward that they seek in the open which is praise from man. The common root between the hypocrite and the heathen is that they don’t know God as an all providing sufficient Father. By contrast, Jesus instructs his disciples that genuine prayer is guided by a right relationship with God the Father who knows what things you need before you ask. The meaning of this petition then is not set aside because you have more than enough food for one day’s supply. Rather, it is fulfilled by a disposition that knows and acknowledges the provision of God for both the body and the soul.
Daily Physical Needs
In the wake of the devastating tornadoes that ripped through Alabama recently it was a great blessing to see so many people working to provide the basic needs of the moment in such tragic circumstances. Needs that we so easily take for granted such as food, clothing, water and even helping hands. In a moment of God’s providence, many people literally went from fullness to emptiness. The daily need for basic things was accentuated and felt deeply by so many who, by losing everything material, could no longer walk to the refrigerator or pantry to satisfy their hunger or grab a glass of water to quench their thirst. They were suddenly brought to the place of total dependence on someone else to provide for them, to help them, to be their supplier for the basic staples of life. This would be humbling to say the least. But that is the point of the Lord’s instruction isn’t it? One person in our area who lost her home was interviewed on the news and expressed such deep, humble gratitude to God that someone gave her a tooth brush. Prayer with thanksgiving for our daily needs reveals a humble heart that joyfully depends upon God for what the body needs day by day and moment by moment.
Jesus expressed this reality as he taught his disciples when He said, “except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven “ (Matthew 18:3). The point of His illustration is that a child is glad to depend on the strength of his father to be carried, fed, and helped. The nature of the kingdom according to Christ is characterized by people who have a joyful dependence on the provision of the Father because they know Him personally. Like the strength of the father is made known by the disposition of the child to be carried and helped, our Father’s greatness is made known by a heart that is resting on Him for our daily needs. Therefore, the heart that knows and trusts God is not lulled into complacency because the pantry is full, the house is still standing and the job seems to be secure. Rather, the disposition of a heart that is keenly aware of the need for God’s daily provision is moved to daily prayer whether abounding in wealth or in poverty’s vale.
Whether your pantry is overflowing or soon becomes empty, our confidence must be in the God who provides all our need according to His riches in glory which are by Christ Jesus. You can’t begin to seek and acknowledge God’s daily provision unless you are praying daily. Will you visit your Father in humble prayer as often as you visit your pantry with a hungry appetite? Remember the promise, blessed are all they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.
Daily Spiritual Needs
During Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wanderings, God proved or tested the chosen nation so that they might come to understand their greatest need prior to entering the Promised Land. As soon as God delivered them out of the Egyptian’s dark night with powerful signs and wonders, the people anxiously murmured against God concerning daily food (Exodus 16:4). There was only one food on the menu and that didn’t change for 40 years, daily bread only. With the exception of the sixth day, no one was allowed to stock the shelves with food for tomorrow. It was a test of trust and obedience to God with an empty pantry. Trust, will God provide for the future as He said? Obedience, will we keep walking today as He commands?
Interestingly, the book of Deuteronomy makes clear that the test was designed to prepare them for the overflowing pantries of Canaan by teaching that man does not live by daily bread only. In Deuteronomy 8:2 – 3, Moses repeats the purpose of the ongoing test that lasted 40 years in the wilderness so they would know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep His commands or not. Moses’ warning to Israel before he departs to climb Mt. Pisgah’s lofty heights is remember the lean testing years and beware when you eat out of Canaan’s overflowing pantry’s and get full that you forget not God (Deuteronomy 8:6 – 19). This long test of daily bread was designed to show them what was needed in order to remember the Lord in fullness like they should have known Him in emptiness.
This time he adds the deeper level meaning to the test, to know what was in their heart that “man does not live by bead only but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live.” Here’s a question, if man does not live by bread only why should we pray for bread only? Jesus said pray for daily bread and God said you can’t live by daily bread only. If something more is needed than bread only then how should this reality shape the petition in Matthew 6, if at all?
First, we need to understand the reason man doesn’t live by bread only is because man is more than a physical body only. Bread and food may satisfy and sustain the body but it can do nothing for the soul. Bread can’t enter the heart but into the belly and out in the draught (Mark 7:19). What Israel needed to know was that their greatest need was to know God’s satisfying fellowship in the soul by His words. Jesus identifies himself as the True Bread from heaven in John 6:35 and by coming to Him and believing on Him we would not hunger or thirst. What we need is a savior to bring us out of Egypt’s dark night into the light of fellowship with God by satisfying the demands of God’s justice against our sin. God is satisfied with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, are you? Have you come to trust and know the satisfying fellowship of God in your soul by resting in the blood of Jesus Christ?
Our Deepest Need
In the Matthew 6, Jesus adds this deeper meaning to our prayers when he places a banner to fly over every petition that we make in His name. He teaches us to make it our deepest need, unlike the hypocrite above, that God would hallow his name and that the kingdom would come and that the will of God would be done on earth. Is this not the ultimate aim and goal of every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God? Was this not the ultimate aim of Christ when He said “my meat is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work.”
The point is not that prayer for daily needs is wrong but that these needs must not take the greater priority of the Kingdom focus on God’s name, the Kingdom aim of advancing His cause and the kingdom pursuit of doing His will on earth. When this becomes the priority of prayer, then the desires and needs of our physical bodies will take the subordinate position to the desire and need of the spiritual body or the soul, namely, the exaltation of God’s name in your life and among the nations.
The result that flows from prioritizing the kingdom of God and His righteousness is not that God simply adds all the things that the Gentiles anxiously seek after because we ask (Matthew 6:31 – 33). Rather, the condition that precedes and empowers those that seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness is a hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6). This hunger and thirst begins only after God opens the eyes of your understanding to see the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, a righteousness that far exceeds the nonexistent righteousness of scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). When this hunger is being filled by joyful fellowship with Christ and His words, then the tune of our prayers will rise up more consistently in the key of “G” for God’s Glory rather than the key of me and my physical need alone. When we pray for the deep need of the soul to be supplied by God, then we can find contentment with whatever and whenever God decides to add all those physical things we have need of. Why would that be so? Because man does not live by bread only and therefore must not pray for bread only. The soul of God’s people must also live by the word of God and therefore pray that His Name would be the daily bread for our souls as we pray for daily bread for our bodies to expand His kingdom and do His will.