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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Give Us This Day  audio

Matt 6:5-8 

We come today to the third petition of Jesus’ model prayer. If you’ve been here over the last 2 weeks, you’ll have seen that Jesus’ economy of words can hide a depth of meaning and that’s no less true today as we think about what it means to pray “Give us today our daily bread”.

But before we look at it in detail I need to point out that there are 2 mistakes we can make when we get to this line of the Lord’s Prayer.

a. We can think it’s all about getting what we want, or

b. We can think it’s irrelevant.

A. Just praying for what we want.

If this is our error it may be because we gloss over the first couple of phrases and jump straight into our shopping list of needs. We forget about God’s majesty and grace; we forget about his kingdom, his will for the world; and prayer becomes simply a mechanism for self-gratification. But that’s not how Jesus intended it is it?
Jesus starts his prayer with adoration, seeking God’s honour, praying for God’s kingdom, for his will to be done here on earth. Whatever our daily needs may be, they need to be connected to the honour and glory of God. Jesus didn’t mean us to race through the first bit. Rather we’re meant to first spend time contemplating God’s majesty, thinking about how God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. If that’s the way we approach this prayer, it might moderate some of our desires and even what we consider to be our needs.

B. Is prayer still relevant?

On the other hand we may come to this point in the prayer and wonder whether it’s still relevant to us middle class Australians. I mean, isn’t our whole social structure set up to ensure we have our daily bread? Isn’t that what enterprise agreements are for, what the Fair Work Commission is for? Isn’t that why we put away money for superannuation, so people my age will be able to afford their daily bread – and much more besides? Don’t we have wage and pension safety nets to provide for those who need it? So some people may think that God’s redundant as far as daily bread goes. But is that the case?

You may remember Steve commenting in his first sermon in this series that Jesus appears to be thinking about the exodus as he prays this prayer. Remember, the reference to God as Father first appears in the exodus narrative when God calls the Hebrews his children. And that connection is even stronger here.
What do you think the Jews of Jesus’ day would have thought about when he mentioned daily bread? I think they would have thought about the manna and the quails in the wilderness. They would have been reminded of how God provided food for his people for every day of those 40 years in the wilderness. Of course that was then and this is now and circumstances have changed.

But having been reminded of the exodus they might also have thought back to Moses’ final address to them before they entered the Promised Land. There he warned them about thinking that the great blessing of the land that they were about to experience was due to their own efforts. Listen to what he said to them: “10When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, … 12Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery … 17You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” (Deuteronomy 8:10-18)

So, you see, the simple act of asking God to supply our daily bread becomes an acknowledgement that everything we have comes from him – even those things we seem to have earned by ourselves.

But let’s think some more about why Jesus puts this phrase into his model prayer. I think it’s primarily to remind us that God is a generous God who wants to bless us. Just as the Promised Land was a land flowing with milk and honey so God wants us to enjoy his blessings wherever we are.

One of the things Jesus was criticised about was that he and his disciples were always partying. The Pharisees described him at one stage as a glutton and a drunkard. When John’s disciples asked him about that he said: “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matt 9:15)

The Old Testament is full of references to feasts. There were the great religious feasts when bulls and sheep would be sacrificed and the meat served up so everyone in town could celebrate. When we get to the later Prophets we read of a time to come when God’s kingdom will be a place of feasting. For example Is 25:6-8 tells us: “6On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” (Is 25:6-8)

What Jesus was showing his disciples was that God’s promised salvation was on its way. We’re now part of a new exodus. God’s kingdom was arriving. So it was time to begin celebrating. In Luke 15 Jesus tells a series of parables about those who are lost being rescued or found again and each time the parable ends with a celebration, with joy among the angels in heaven. This new kingdom that Jesus is bringing in is characterised by celebration, by a welcome to the party.

So when we pray “Give us today our daily bread” there’s a sense in which we’re praying not just for boring old bread but for all the blessings of God’s kingdom as God’s kingdom comes here on earth as it is in heaven.

You see, the way Jesus shapes this prayer leads us to see that our daily needs point beyond themselves to the promise of a kingdom where death and mourning will be no more. Not that our daily needs are irrelevant but that meeting those needs is part of the provision of the kingdom, just as the milk and honey, and manna and quails, were for the Children of Israel in the exodus.

But if that’s the case then we need to think about a number of issues that come with praying for our needs.

1. What to do with the Shopping List

When you stop to pray what happens to you? Do you suddenly come up with a huge list of needs, both personal and global? Are you confronted with a mix of needs: longing and sadness and puzzles and anger and hopefully even joys? How do you deal with that?

One of the great prayers in our Anglican Communion service is the Prayer of Approach that we say at the beginning of the service. It begins: “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…” That’s both a comfort and a threat isn’t it? Are you bothered by the fact that God knows your every desire? Or are you encouraged to know, as we heard in our Gospel reading, that God knows what we want before we even ask.

Well it should also be a comfort to know that Jesus encouraged us to ask even if God does know what we want. If you think about it, the Bible is full of stories of people who asked for what they wanted. Naomi wanted her daughter-in-law Ruth to find a husband and God provided, not just a husband but a son, so that Ruth the Moabite became the great grandmother of King David. Hannah asked for a child and God gave here Samuel who was to bring God’s word to the nation of Israel. Hezekiah wanted to live a bit longer and God gave him 15 more years.

So this short phrase reminds us that it’s OK to ask for what you want. Of course a purely selfish desire that comes out of greed may not be supplied. I’m reminded of the manna that God said was not to be hoarded. If there was a surfeit it was to be shared with others who didn’t have quite enough.

But to ask for what we want in the context of this prayer is to bring our needs into the realm of God’s kingdom; of his will being done on earth as it is in heaven. When Jesus says elsewhere to pray in his name he’s saying a similar thing. Our multifaceted needs and desires are to be brought under the sway of God’s kingdom will, even if they’re desires for ourselves alone.

2. God wants us to pray for specific needs.

Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray “God bless everyone;” Not even to pray “God bless America;” as you hear so often from Americans. Rather he wants us to pray for specific needs. For peace in Afghanistan; for safety and succour for asylum seekers; for loved ones to come to know Jesus as their saviour and Lord; for safety for firefighters; yes, even for a parking spot when you’re running late for that important meeting. God’s kingdom is a realm of blessing. God is a king who loves to give gifts to his subjects. He’s the giver of every good and perfect gift James tells us. So ask for what you need without being ashamed or apologetic about it.

3. Remember others needs as well.

As I said, the manna in the desert was provided for the community so that if someone had more than they needed they were to share it. Similarly we need to look around us to see what other needs there are in our world that we should be praying for.

But that brings us back to what Steve was saying last week. This is the uncomfortable part of this prayer of Jesus. We can’t just pray about injustice in the world and leave it at that. When we think about our daily bread we’re reminded of all those people who don’t have enough daily bread to live on and so we pray for them as well. But then what? Do we just go home and enjoy our Sunday dinner and forget about them? Or do we begin to think how can we start to bring about change in our world that will prepare it for the coming of God’s kingdom? Do we give to aid organisations that need our support? Do we write letters and emails to our local members protesting at the various injustices that we see at work in our nation? Do we urge our government to work on the international stage to overcome injustice and corruption, violence, slavery, etc.? Do we perhaps even join a political party to supply a balanced Christian perspective on their policies?

4. The ultimate answer to this prayer is in the Lord’s Supper.

You may have noticed that all the way through today I’ve been mostly focussing on our physical or material needs. But there’s a spiritual aspect to this prayer as well. It’s no coincidence that Jesus took bread and gave it to his disciples and said eat this in remembrance of me. There’s a deep sense in which Jesus’ death and resurrection are the means by which God feeds us at the deepest level. We come to the Lord’s Table with all our needs and loss and anger and shame, with our successes and joys and lay them at his feet, then with empty hands we receive the symbols of his magnificent generosity in bringing us new life. And it’s as we do that that our spirits are fed and we go away strengthened to continue our work of building his kingdom. The food that this meal symbolises is healing, forgiveness, support, courage; a joining in God’s own life, in the body of Christ given for us. And as we come to celebrate that great gift we can bring before God those we know who need this same food for themselves.

So let me encourage you as you pray this prayer later in the service to ask with confidence for all those needs you see around you, in your own life or in the life of others, knowing that God’s power is sufficient and that he is the giver of every good and perfect gift.

 

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