Our culture is one that is full of differing diets: gluten-free, paleo, ketogenic—and that is just the beginning. Many of these diets cut out or reduce carbs. So, when Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” many readers may not be so appreciative of bread.
Or perhaps you are appreciative of it, and are mildly irritated because it brings to mind a food you are craving that your diet prohibits you from having. Please do not let this be a stumbling block to your dieting efforts, but graciously journey with me through this section of the Lord’s Prayer—even if you don’t join me when I go to the bakery later.
This section of the Lord’s Prayer is the first petition in the prayer that we pray for ourselves. There are subtle differences between the passage in Matthew and the passage in Luke, differences which, in fact, bring further clarity to both versions. This simple request has much to teach us about humility, contentment, trust and hope.
Comparing Matthew and Luke
In Matthew, the text in KJV says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” while the Luke version says, “Give us day by day our daily bread.” The difference is subtle. One is asking for simply today’s bread and the other asking for bread day by day. Neither version is asking for stockpiles; neither is asking for great riches. One asks for simply today’s need, which could be understood as a one-time request, but the other version helps clarify.
The Luke passage asks for bread day by day. It asks the Lord to continually provide. In light of this, when we re-read the Matthew passage, it is more than a simply one-time request, but rather a greater principle about relying on God each day to provide for that day’s need.
Saint Augustine wrote about this passage, observing that in praying this prayer it turns us all into beggars. He writes, “When thou sayest, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ thou dost profess thyself to be God’s beggar. But be not ashamed at this; how rich soever any man be on earth, he is still God’s beggar.”
This reminds us of our humble place before God. Augustine continues on this line of thinking to remind us that no matter how rich a person might be, they are still beggars in God’s sight. Think of the story of Job, where one of the richest men of the time was brought to ruin simply because God removed His hand of protection. Furthermore, whatever wealth someone might create through their work, it was God who gave them the ability to work, an ability which can also be taken away.
We come to God with our petitions not with a disposition of being boastful or entitled, but as humble beggars in need of God’s provision in our lives.
What is Bread?
Defining what was meant by the word bread has been the source of much discussion by scholars. Early church fathers often talked about this figuratively, Saint Augustine concluding that, “Our daily food then in this earth is the word of God.” Others read it as simply being our literal food for today.
Like many passages in Scripture, this has layers of meaning, which are not contradicting each other, but help bring about richer understanding and application of this passage. Bread can simply mean literal, home-baked, soft and warm; it reminds you of your mama’s kind of bread, which was a staple food in the days of Jesus. Therefore, asking for “daily bread” is asking for God to provide for physical nourishment each day. This brings to mind the Exodus story and how God provided manna in the wilderness for the people every day.
Diving a bit deeper, the request for bread could mean a request for all their physical needs for the day, and going deeper still it can be representative of the holistic provisions needed for someone to do the will of God for that day. Michael J. Wilkins writes, “In the same way that manna was only given one day at a time, disciples are to rely on daily provision for life from God, helping them to develop a continuing, conscious dependence on him.”
As Jesus teaches us to pray, we are taught to ask for daily bread. This is very consistent with what Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
As we pray we are, therefore, taught to not get overwhelmed with all the worries of tomorrow. We are not to become obsessed with all of tomorrow’s needs, but to live our lives being present in the moment, while being wholly dependent on the Lord.
This does not mean that we are to be irresponsible and squander the resources we have been given to steward. After all, Jesus teaches elsewhere about stewardship and the importance of it in Matthew 25:14-30. What this does mean is that we are not to fill today with tomorrow’s troubles. If we were on a journey of 1,000 miles, it would mean not focusing on the daunting task of travelling 1000 miles, but rather on the steps that we have to take today.
One way people get through seasons of difficulty is simply by taking it one day at a time, one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time. This is a basic strategy in addictions recovery and a basic principle for dealing with grief.
In these seasons of difficulty, when people look at the valley ahead of them that they have to walk through it can seem overwhelming. It can even be hard to see where it will end. When focusing on such a huge journey, many get overwhelmed at the daunting reality of what they must go through. Yet when the direction is set and a commitment to moving forward is there, one step leads to another and progress eventually happens.
As a pastor, I have often met with people facing various life challenges. I don’t know if I can count how many times I have heard the phrase, “I just can’t do it anymore.” This portion of the Lord’s Prayer speaks exactly to that. Of course, they “can’t do it anymore.”
This comment is so often spoken with exhaustion because of how much they have had to deal with over such a long time; it is often spoken with tones of hopelessness because there is no end in sight. And, of course, they feel this way!
When we think about the gravity of those journeys, it is paralyzing. We can no more handle those big problems in a single day than we can stockpile a lifetime’s worth of food in our kitchen pantry. It is a big-picture view of the struggle. Sometime we need to think smaller.
If you are in the middle of a struggle, you are not being asked to keep doing this forever. You are asked to be faithful for today. You are taught to pray that God will give you what you need for today—and I absolutely believe that God’s provision will be enough for you to be faithful to Him for today.
So, what about tomorrow? Well, let me put it this way: when bread is stored too long it gets stale, so we can be thankful that God is up long before us every day to make us something fresh.