After Jesus tells us to pray about the big picture of His plan – Our Father who is in heaven, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – He then tells us how to ask the things we need. Let’s take this word by word.
The first word is give. Don’t most of us work for our food, our shelter, our clothing? So, why does God tell us to ask Him to give us these things? Well, this is a simple one. Are you healthy enough to go to work? Are there many people who can’t work because they’re not healthy enough? How is it that you’re not one of those? How did you get the job you have? Many people, just as bright and talented as you are, are out of work right now. So, how is it that you’re working? It’s sort of like the ancient Israelites in the desert. They had to go gather manna every day, if they wanted to eat, but where did the manna come from? By telling us to ask God to give us something as basic as our daily bread, Jesus is telling us to remember that, in reality, we have control over very little in this life. To think that we do is an illusion. Jesus is telling us to remember that, in reality, we have control over very little in this life – that we’re essentially powerless. The only thing we really have control over is our choices. And we have those because God gave us that ability, as well.
I had a young woman come to my office five times in five days this past week. She was home for the holidays and wanted to do as much work as she could while she was off work. All her life she had a cousin her own age that she played with from a little girl. She loved her cousin with all her heart. Now, she grew up here in New Mexico, but she moved to another state to go to college when she was eighteen. And after college, she got a good job in the city where the university is, so she doesn’t live at home anymore. She tried to maintain her relationship with her beloved cousin, but time and distance took its toll on their relationship – still friends, but both busy with their separate lives. One day, her mother called her to tell her that her cousin had committed suicide. The sudden shock of this horror threw my client into PTSD. Now she grapples with the uncertainty of a life she thought was secure. No matter how much she misses her cousin and wishes she had not done such a terrible thing to herself and her family, she can’t change a thing. And this shock has caused her to become anxious. She now finds herself afraid to fly. She worries about her family getting in an auto accident. She feels completely helpless to protect herself. And her fears are out of range, compared to the chances of the dangers found in everyday life. There are accidents, but statistically, the chances are not high that one would have one.
But she’s now aware of the uncertainty of life, and that’s why Jesus tells us to ask God to give us the things that we need every day. In an instant, they can all be gone. Life is uncertain. We have only control over how we will react to uncertainty. And so God says, “Don’t worry about the future, just take care of today.”
The next word is us – “Give us….” First of all, He wants us to acknowledge that we’re not the only ones in need. Need is a permanent human condition. Everyone has needs. I go to my office every morning – sometimes concerned with my own needs, but soon, as I start to realize that my needs are minimal compared to some – I meet people every day that are in terrible straits.
I met a nineteen-year-old once, who told me that she had a year-old baby. The baby’s father was in jail for abusing her – that is, the mother. She had a job at a call center, making near minimum wage. She had an apartment and an old, old car that creeked and squeeked whenever she drove up. The suspension was shot. And she was pleased that she was able to escape her abusive family of origin and live on her own. There was no self-pity there at all. She mentioned that her mother and her sister, alternately, watched her baby while she was at work. One day she noticed a bump on her daughter’s head, so she took her to an urgent care, where they told her that her daughter had a fractured skull. The police were called. Child protective services were involved. The child was placed in foster care. The young mother was bewildered at how this could have ever happened. She was required to take a psych evaluation and to begin counseling. She was allowed to see her daughter twice a week for an hour. If you know anything about human attachment, that’s a problem, not just for the mother, but for her year-old daughter as well.
When we ask God to give us what we need, remember there’s an us, and that a large part of that us needs much more than we might need. Compared to some, we’re blessed. And still, it’s good to know that God wants us to ask for the things that we need, even though He knows what we need before we ask for it. Why does He do that? Well, we’ve talked about this before. He’s after a relationship with us. He wants us to learn to ask so that we remember how much we need Him and the reality of our own lack of control in life and our own weakness. Nor do we need to think that we’re better than others because God has given us things that we need. Look with me at an interesting statement that Jesus made. It’s in Matthew 5:43.
Matthew 5:43 – For He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
It’s not what we do that causes God to love us. It’s who we are. We’re His children. And that includes all of us. All people are His children. So, we’re all in this together. We’re all His family. God takes care of us all as He sees fit, as much as we allow Him, dictated by the choices we make. You know, when we make bad choices, God doesn’t always step in and rescue us from our own foolishness. On the other side of that coin, look at what God says to those who ask Him for their needs. Look with me in James 5:14. Heath is a need, isn’t it? I would think so.
James 5:14 – Is anyone among you sick? Let him call on the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick. And the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
God helps those who call on Him – a principle – very important. It doesn’t matter whether we’re good, or bad, or part of His church, or some other religion. If people call on God, He will help them.
There’s a story in the Bible about Naaman, the leper. He was an Assyrian warrior, and he had leprosy. And God healed him. And everybody in Israel was astounded by that, because they thought they were special. Well, they were, but not above anybody else in the family.
So, God helps those who call on Him. It’s a blanket statement. That we are a community implies openness and trust on one side, and support on the other. We’re supposed to be supportive of people who need help, and who have problems. And, if we’re on the problem side of things – which we all are from time to time – that implies that we need to be open and trust those who are in our community. Can we be open and trusting of each other? Well, it’s true that some can’t be trusted for support, because they’re so judgmental. If we are careful, we can find those who can be trusted, however.
So, the us is important to prayer, because we ask each other for help. Those of us hearing the request and the confession need to take that as a sacred responsibility to refrain from judgment, to keep it confidential, and to realize that, by the grace of God, there go I. The way that statement comes out, that even sounds a little bit self-righteous to me, but it just means that I would be the same way, or have similar problems – or different problems, but just as bad – except for God’s grace – maybe I even do have those problems, in spite of it.
I had a young client once – a fourteen-year-old boy – who had been abused terribly by his mother. He was in foster care for a while, but when he was – I think – six, he was adopted. As he arrived for his second session with me, I could see that he’d been crying. I inquired. He said, near my office, on his way to it, he saw a homeless man pushing a grocery cart over the Alameda bridge. He urgently asked his mother to stop the car, got out, and gave the man the ten-dollar-bill he had in his pocket. I asked him why he did that. And he replied, “Had I not been adopted, that would be me.” Unlike many, his horrific past made him aware of us.
So that’s the second part – Give us…. What comes next? Well, “Give us this day” – or today. I’ve heard people say that God is never late, and, if we need it today, it’ll come today.
I want to tell you a personal story. I’ve told this story before, but I love to tell it, because it shows how great God is. So, here we go again. Many years ago now, we were notified with a phone call that our salary was going to be cut in half the next day. After I got over the shock and outrage of it – I say, “outrage,” because a 4% cut across the organization could have prevented a number of us from being slashed to the bone – it seemed like they were delegating the sacrificing to others – I told stock and realized that we were going to lose our home, if we didn’t do something to reduce the payments. The thought of refinancing came to mind, so I did a bit of research and quickly realized, we didn’t have enough money to make a difference. We had all our money already in that house. Our house was all we had. I took another look at our resources and noticed that I’d missed one thing. Years before, I bought a hundred shares of stock in a cellular telephone company – and relative to our mortgage, it was an insignificant amount. I hadn’t looked at it in years. But, when I did look at it, I was astounded. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here. I’m not sophisticated at all in stocks and bonds. I think, to date, I’ve only purchased about three stocks in my entire life. But there it was – worth eight times what I’d paid for it. I sold it immediately. The amount allowed us to lower our payment enough that we could survive on our much smaller salary. So, when we needed it most, there it was. Five years later, I looked at the history of that stock, and that stock had never been as high as the day I sold it. Was that a coincidence? I really don’t think so. Not long after I sold it, it dropped, and it had not reached the same level for five years. So, God was right on time for us.
So, when we ask God to give us today what we need today, we’re praying the way Jesus told us to pray. Right? You know, I think it’s so interesting how Jesus could add one phrase – Give us today – you know, maybe even just one word – our needs – and it can have so much meaning. We could have survived if we’d lost our home. We were probably not going to go hungry, but still, it felt like a need to us. So, that helps me realize that God is rather lenient on that one, I think, most of the time. I try to keep in my mind that God is a generous God, who uses His resources for our good. When it helps us spiritually to give us something, He gives it! When it would hurt us spiritually, He doesn’t. Whichever way it is, it’s best for us in an amazing, intertwined, unfathomable plan that He works.
Jesus had a lot to say about the today thing. Let’s look at it. It’s in Matthew 6:25, where we want to start.
Matthew 6:25 – Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life – what you will eat, and what you will drink – nor about your body – what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet, your heavenly Father feeds them.” You know, they don’t have jobs and they don’t have bank accounts. And God takes care of them. “Are you not more valuable than they? And which of you, being anxious, can add a single hour to the span of his life?” So anxiety is futility. It doesn’t help anything. “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” He knows what we need before we ask for it. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” So there is something we have to do to receive those things – to have our prayer answered. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added to you.” “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
You know if we can get through today, we’ve done a good thing. Tomorrow will take care of itself. It’s a new start. From this perspective, asking only for what we need today, is an exercise in faith, and a way to train ourselves out of anxiety. You know, we can say, “That’s just my anxiety at work. I don’t have to follow that way. I can let God handle it all.”
Some people have a hard time with anxiety. And that is usually because of what has happened to them. It doesn’t mean they’re evil or faithless people. Sometimes our background makes it hard for us to have faith. What can we do when we’re in that situation? Well, let’s look at one man’s approach. In Mark 9, Jesus came upon a group of people, arguing with the scribes. There was a man who had a son, who, from early childhood, had a demon that would cause the child to convulse. He told Jesus that the demon had done this while the child was near fire and near water, hoping to destroy the boy. And then the desperate father said to Jesus – in Mark 9:22:
Mark 9:22 – “But, if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes!” But you see, this man had anxiety. And immediately – it says, “immediately,” in verse 24 – the father cried out and said, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
So, the man acknowledged his ambivalence – his weakness – and asked for help with it. “Help my unbelief!” So what happens next is very important for those who are plagued by irrational anxiety. And what was that? Well yes, the boy was healed, even though the father was anxious.
So the lesson here is, you don’t have to have perfect faith to be heard. Didn’t Jesus say, “If you even have as much faith as the tiny mustard seed, God can move a mountain for you?” He did! So, it doesn’t have to be perfect faith. We just have to know that it’s not perfect.
What’s next? Well, in dealing with anxiety, there’s another helpful scripture. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12, speaks of all the revelations God has given him. It’s in 2 Corinthians 12:7.
2 Corinthians 12:7 – So, to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of revelations – Paul had a lot of revelations from God, and he tells us that, so he wouldn’t become conceited, he says – a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Now we don’t know what that was. It could have been a sin. It could have been an illness. Who knows? Some people think he had a speech impediment. Some people think he couldn’t see well. Who knows? Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me, but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
So when we have a tormenting weakness, such as anxiety, the thing to do is admit it and ask God to apply the grace granted through Jesus Christ to our weakness, and then go on to use the mustard seed of faith that we have. It’s so important to do that – don’t let anything stop us – not our own weaknesses, not the weaknesses of others, not time and chance – but to go forward. There’s no excuse not to. We have the grace of Christ – a huge protective bubble over us.
So, “Blessed is that servant who is found so doing,” we’re told. Right? That’s not unless we have anxiety, or unless we have problems, unless we’re weak or uneducated, or whatever. “Blessed is that servant who is found so doing.” Do what we can. We take what we have, we get up, and we start working, and rely on the grace of Christ to supply what we lack.
Okay, now we come to the last word – bread. “Give us this day our daily bread.” What is bread? Well, back in Jesus’ day, bread was what people ate as one of the staples of life. You know, they didn’t have refrigeration, so they could catch fish, they could have chickens and things, but they lasted a day. Bread lasted longer than that, so it was important to have those kinds of foods. The staples today, I’ve noticed, seem to be Mountain Dew, beer and heroin and cigarettes. It’s a sad thing when you look at people who are on those things. In Jesus’ day, bread was probably much more nourishing than what we can get as bread today. Grain has been weakened in our efforts to make it taste different or produce more per acre. But all that aside, bread was, then, an essential – an essential food. So we can ask God for essential food – and not just bread, but the basic things that we need every day to live.
It’s okay to ask God for things that go beyond our essentials. I had a friend who asked God to give him a watch. And so that he knew where it came from, could He please put it in a red box. Not long afterwards, there it was – red box and all. See, God can do anything. And He is generous when it’s good for us.
So, in the Bible, there are many rich people who followed God. They didn’t have to be poor. God blessed them way beyond their needs. And there are people who got great wealth while following God. But, if we ask for the essentials, we are definitely on solid ground.
I remember Tevia, in Fiddler on the Roof – the poor Russian Jew who sold milk and eggs to support his family. He asked God if He would not bless him with a small fortune. This request was not about being rich. It might have sounded like that, but no. In the context of the film that I saw – I think it came out in the 60s – Tevia had the essentials most of the time, but his life was hard and full of cares, because he just barely made it. He was asking for some security for his family in the face of the uncertainty of life in Russia.
So, God knows what we need. And when we go to bed at night, we can look back on our day, and ask if our walk was a good one. Did it please God? And did God give us enough to eat? Did He shelter us? Did we have clothes to wear? Did we have work to do? Is our family safe? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then we can thank God for His blessings. And that helps us build faith. Then, the next day, when we get up in the morning, and we ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread,” what happened yesterday will help us go through that day in peace and confidence that God is our Rock, our Shield and our Fortress.
So, to reiterate, we can see that Jesus’ prayer was a prayer outline, and that, if we follow it, it’s a powerful faith building practice. Jesus was giving us a great gift in that outline and we ought to use it. I might also mention that we need to use this outline with our children. Children think very concretely. Notice how concrete this outline is. Very young children can understand it. What a gift we can give them!
All right. That’s it for this presentation. As I mentioned in the beginning, don’t forget to go to our Website, liferesource.org, and check out the rest of this series, The Lord’s Prayer. We also have over 250 other presentations on the site about many, many, many topics.
Until next time, this is Bill Jacobs for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families, and the Church of God.