This article is an excerpt from my book, The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution. This post is the fifth in an eight part series on the Lord’s Prayer.
God's Abundant Physical Provisions
In his magisterial work The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the sixteenth-century reformer John Calvin remarked that we can never truly know ourselves without first coming to know the character of God. As Calvin famously stated, "It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God's face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself." God is our starting point in every theological and spiritual endeavor. God's character and glory are our first frame of reference.
Up to this point, the Lord's Prayer has revealed a great deal about the character of God. We have seen that for those who are in Christ, God is a caring Father. Jesus emphasized God's transcendence and omnipotence by observing that he is "in heaven." He established the worth of God and the value of his glory by teaching that God's name should be hallowed. Finally, Jesus emphasizes that God is king--the sovereign Lord who will bring his kingdom to every corner of the earth.
Indeed, the first lines of the Lord's Prayer paint an awesome portrait of God. In light of these truths, Jesus' subsequent turn to consider our own needs--"Give us this day our daily bread"--serves as a clear and unmistakable reminder that we are merely creatures; God is the creator. We are needy; God is the provider.
God has designed humans to be dependent. From the moment of birth, we rely on the kindness of others to meet our needs. We need our parents to feed us, dress us, and even train us to sleep. Even as we grow older, we remain tremendously needy. We depend on others for relationships. We need communities in which to live and work. We depend on the government for safety and security. In other words, there is no such thing as the "self-made man." We have no sufficiency in and of ourselves, and we delude ourselves by believing we can be truly independent of others. Luther once reminisced that our physical needs remind us that we are but creatures composed of dirt. Our lives are frail, fragile, and wholly dependent on the goodness of God.
The petition "give us this day our daily bread" reminds us of our dependence on God for even the most fundamental needs of life. The contrast with the depiction of God given earlier in the prayer is striking. He is glorious, hallowed, in heaven, and omnipotent. We, on the other hand, are incapable of even getting basic sustenance without his help. In these words, then, Jesus teaches us to exalt God while humbling ourselves. The radical God-centeredness of the prayer continues. Man's pride has no place before the throne of God.
Physical Needs in Biblical Perspective
We are dependent on God. Even prior to the fall, humans needed God to provide for them. Adam needed God to provide Eve to fulfill his need for a relationship. Adam and Eve could tend the garden, but only God could make it grow. Sin did not create our dependence; we are dependent simply because we are creatures.
Even though Adam and Eve were dependent before the fall, their only experience was one of surplus and abundance. They never knew a day of scarcity. After the fall, however, their experience was quite different, as is ours today. Our default experience is no longer abundance but scarcity. Food must be produced by the sweat of our brow, and its existence is never certain. Thus, after the fall we became even more dependent on God for our daily sustenance. We are no longer merely creatures in need of provision; we are sinners in need of the Creator's mercy...
Bread of Earth, Bread From Heaven: Echoes of Eternity in Jesus' Petition for Bread
This request also reminds us of our daily need for the Lord Jesus. Moses reminded the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8:3 that the reason God let the Israelites go hungry for a time before providing them with manna was so that they might learn that "man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." This passage teaches us that God designed physical needs to point to our deeper spiritual needs. Our need for daily physical sustenance is a faint echo of our daily need of spiritual sustenance and satisfaction from God. This was true for ancient Israel and is true for Christians today. The only way that we will taste the goodness of God's provision is by living according to what comes from the mouth of God.
This is why Jesus regularly referred to himself as the "bread of life," the true manna sent from heaven (John 6:35). He is God's ultimate provision for our spiritual lives. Each day, as we pray for our daily bread, we should be reminded of our daily need for Christ to forgive our sins and empower us for obedience. Each time we pray for daily bread, we should recognize our deeper need for the bread of life--the only one who can truly satisfy.