READ: Luke 11
THINK: How many times in your life have you prayed, said, or recited the words “Give us this day our daily bread”? If you’re like me and you grew up in the church then you probably can’t even count the number. Even if you found Christ later in life – or you are reading this now and haven’t ever put your faith in him – chances are that phrase rings familiar and has crossed your lips more than a few times.
My interest, though, isn’t nearly as much in the frequency with which you utter it as it is in what you mean when you make the petition. That is to say, my real question is how many times have you really meant it when you asked for daily bread? The Greek word that we translate “daily” is epiousion. “Daily” isn’t a bad translation by any means, but we lose something if we fail to understand that the thrust behind it is “just what I need to survive right now.”
We live in the midst of a radically materialistic and unprecedentedly affluent culture where concerns about food security – literally not knowing if you’ll have the food you need to eat tomorrow in order to survive – are relatively non-existent. Concerns about the size of our retirement accounts, the amount in our savings, and the diversification of our investment portfolio, however, are rampant. As are concerns about the size and quality of our homes, our vehicles, our wardrobes, and our televisions, among other things.
And it occurs to me that American Christians, collectively though this doesn’t ring true for everyone individually, have no shame in twisting the words of Jesus as we pray. We don’t want to pray for daily bread because actually praying that and actually meaning it would mean asking God to provide far less than the riches to which we have grown accustomed. It would mean taking a leap of faith, believing that he really will keep his promises instead of being a liar who doesn’t come through for us, and putting ourselves in a position where we have to trust him more and trust ourselves less. Gasp!
I know the objections. I’ve made them. Correction, I make them. And I know that the few words I’ve written here are highly uncomfortable. In part, they’re uncomfortable because they chip away at the enculturated foundation of materialism and meritocracy – the idea that I’m not so sinful I deserve nothing and ought to be grateful, but instead I am so special that I’ve earned every last thing I ever got and I owe God no debt of gratitude because I worked for it – that we’ve been surrounded by all our lives. In part because when we really read the Bible and pretend that God sometimes means what he says then this little part of us worries that, well, we ought to willing to give more – a lot more – whenever God tugs our hearts even if it means having to trust him completely rather than trusting ourselves and our money and then calling it “stewardship” to pretend like we really are trusting God for the future more than the number on the bottom line of the letter Wells Fargo sends us every month.
Daily bread is how God provided for Israel for 40 years in the desert. They couldn’t collect more or it spoiled. They had to wake up every morning and trust that God would provide. And he did. And God constantly calls us, over and over and over again, to be generous in the way that we give. He calls us to give to widows, and orphans, and the poor. And yet, we live in abundance while millions around the world starve. Consider the following words written by one of my all-time favorite church fathers – one the great 4th-Century Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa:
“So we say to God: Give us bread. Not delicacies or riches, nor magnificent purple robes, golden ornaments, and precious stones, or silver dishes. Nor do we ask Him for landed estates, or military commands, or political leadership. We pray neither for herds of horses and oxen or other cattle in great numbers, nor for a host of slaves. We do not say, give us a prominent position in assemblies or monuments and statues raised to us, nor silken robes and musicians at meals, nor any other thing by which the soul is estranged from the thought of God and higher things; no — but only bread! …
But you go on business and venture out upon strange seas; you go on a voyage every year only to bring back flavorings for your food, without realizing that … [it] is above all a good conscience which makes the bread tasty because it is eaten in justice …
‘Give Thou bread’ — that is to say, let me have food through just labor. For, if God is justice, anyone who procures food for themselves through covetousness cannot have his bread from God. You are the master of your prayer if your abundance does not come from another’s property and is not the result of somebody else’s tears; if no one is hungry or distressed because you are fully satisfied. For the bread of God is, above all, the fruit of justice.”
PRAY: Pray the Lord’s Prayer today. Take some extra time, afterword, and ask God what it will mean for you to trust so completely that he will provide for what you need that you can give generously to the poor and the hungry and the needy people in the world.