How did Jesus – the founder of the largest movement in history – respond to our greatest questions?
Who is God?
How should we approach God?
What is our purpose for being alive in the world?
I love that Jesus doesn’t give us abstract answers. He gives us a spiritual practice to weave into the fabric of our consciousness in every context of life. He teaches us to lift our minds above our selves and talk with God.
Jesus starts his prayer by inviting us to address God as our loving and liberating Father. That’s who God is. He then challenges us to humbly name “Gxd’s” otherness and difference – God’s holiness. That’s how we should approach God. And he calls us to fix our hope on God’s upside-down kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. That’s God’s endgame for humanity and history, what truly matters.
The fourth moment in Jesus’s prayer is comforting and practical. But it’s also challenging and counter-cultural. It responds to the silent but nagging question, “Will God actually provide for us when we live for his kingdom instead of our own?”
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11
There’s so much packed into this simple, seven-word petition. But let me mention three layers.
First, Jesus teaches us to ask God for our basic needs. This request deepens Jesus’s affectionate invitation to call God “our Father.”
Our need for food could easily seem too small and beneath a holy God on a cosmic mission to heal our world. How dare we waste God’s time?
But Jesus teaches us to boldly talk to God about our basic needs. God actually cares for us and wants to provide for us. We don’t have to grovel or twist God’s arm. We can simply ask: Give us this day our daily bread.
Second, Jesus challenges our craving for surplus and security. So this request also intensifies our petition “hallowed be your name.”
As we surrender our kingdom-building, God calls us into radical trust and dependence on him. God doesn’t promise surplus and security. Instead, Jesus starves our bloated appetites and invites us to ask God simply for “daily bread.”
Exodus 16:4 is likely in the background here:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they follow my instructions.” (Emphasis added)
Israel had just been liberated from 400 years of slavery. God’s kingdom was finally coming on earth for them. But now they find themselves wandering in a barren desert and hungering for the food of Egypt (Exodus 16:3). Yes, Egypt was filled with “misery” and “suffering” (Exodus 3:7). But at least it was certain.
How unnerving the unknown is. Many of us have a higher tolerance for enslavement than uncertainty. We would rather survive domination than depend on an invisible God.
So God designs a test. God will miraculously “rain” bread from heaven. But God commands the people to gather only “enough” for each day. The test will expose whether they actually trust God to provide again tomorrow or secretly worship material surplus and the security it promises.
Of course, many of the Israelites stockpile bread. But it rots by the day’s end and can’t satisfy their anxiety to secure the future.
Can we live with contentment in the present when the future is uncertain? Are we willing to live a life of radical dependence on God’s provision as we seek his kingdom? Or do we believe deep in our anxious guts that our kingdom ultimately sustains us?
This petition profoundly challenged me when Lily and I were preparing to move back to Ethiopia in 2016. We were convinced that God had called us to serve his kingdom there. We had spent six years in training at the University of Chicago, and we were excited to devote it to people we love. But we didn’t have money, and I had accepted a position at an Ethiopian seminary that couldn’t pay me a salary.
I confess that I had many days wracked with anxiety. (Isn’t anxiety the emotional hunger-pain of our certainty and security?) Perhaps you know the experience: you look composed and get on with your work, but your stomach is churning and your mind restlessly racing.
“Daily bread” haunted and disturbed me. It towered over me like a mountain each day as I prayed with Jesus. I didn’t want daily bread. I wanted monthly bread, yearly bread, retirement-sustaining bread. Frankly, “daily bread” was terrifying.
But I’m grateful for that anxious season and how it lingers with us as we continue to live by faith in Ethiopia today. It forced me to wrestle with a crucial but all too avoidable question: Do I really depend on God or only when I don’t actually need God and my kingdom is secure and self-sustaining?
Thus far, Lily and I have never lacked. In fact, we’ve seen God’s faithfulness in the most unexpected and inspiring ways. But my stomach still churns, and I’m still learning how to pray with Jesus for daily bread.
Finally, notice how Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread.
If you’re like me, anxiety about tomorrow can be powerfully self-enclosing today. My restless mind digs into itself and forgets about others and their basic needs.
But once again, we’re not praying alone when we pray with Jesus. We’re also praying with others who hunger – with others who know the anxiety of tomorrow’s needs and the struggle to trust God. The intimately individual pangs of hunger and anxiety are converted into alarm bells to pray with Jesus for all people who hunger for “daily bread.”
I find this brilliant: a concern that easily traps us in ourselves turns us toward others in the fellowship of dependence.
To sum up, the New Testament scholar Joel Green writes that Jesus meant for his prayer to “engrave itself” on the lives of his followers.
First, this prayer for daily bread engraves in our consciousness that God actually cares for our humble, human needs. God is not too distant or important to hear our prayer and provide daily bread.
Second, this prayer engraves a challenge to our craving for surplus and security. Our consumeristic desires that make radical obedience impossible are starved, and our appetite to take risks for God’s will is nurtured.
Finally, this prayer engraves sensitivity to others’ hunger. It creates community in vulnerability as we pray.
Will God provide for us when live for his upside-down kingdom instead of building our own? Jesus answers yes. But discovering this for ourselves will require a radical dependence as we pray for “our daily bread.”