11 Give us this day our daily bread
In the 1965 film, “Shenandoah,” Jimmy Stewart’s character, Charlie Anderson, sits at the head of his family’s table and offers this prayer over their food.
Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvest it. We cook the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you Lord just the same for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.
It is a fascinating and, of course, terrible prayer. What makes that prayer terrible is its stark lack of any sense of dependence. There is no dependence in that prayer. None. This is tragic because of the many characteristics of true prayer, dependence is surely one of the most crucial.
Contrast Charlie Anderson’s prayer with the prayer of George Mueller, that amazing man of God through whom God touched and changed the lives of countless orphans in 19th century England. Mueller wrote this about a time when he realized that he had only enough food for one more meal for him and his orphans:
When I gave thanks after lunch, I asked Him to give us our daily bread, meaning literally that He would send us bread for the evening. While I was praying there was a knock at the door. A poor sister came in and brought us part of her dinner and five shillings. Later, she also brought us a large loaf of bread.
No sarcasm. No arrogance. Mueller showed simple dependence on God, and God provided. Give us this day our daily bread.” That simple statement is a powerful cry of dependence. It depends upon the goodness of God. And God is good! Interestingly, in Matthew 7, Jesus said that good fathers give their children bread.
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?
Yes, good fathers give their sons bread when they ask for it, and God is a good Father. What, then, does this fascinating prayer mean? What are we praying when we pray for daily bread? What exactly is this petition Jesus instructs us to make?
I. The prayer for daily bread is a faith-fueled trust that God will provide our daily needs.
Simply put, this petition is a faith-fueled trust that God will provide our daily needs. This petition asks because it believes. It assumes the presence and goodness of God. To pray for daily bread is to reveal the presence of faith in our lives. Consider some fascinating aspects to this little petition.
This is a Daily Prayer of Dependence
In considering the prayer for bread, we might miss the obvious fact that daily prayer is assumed in this little petition. Why? Because daily bread assumes a daily prayer for that bread. Furthermore, daily bread assumes daily prayer because bread, here, refers to the very basic elements of physical survival. When Alfred Delp was awaiting death in a Nazi prison, he wrote this:
Only one who has known the effect hunger can have on every life impulse can appreciate the respect in which bread is held and what the perpetual struggle for daily bread really means.
Without bread, our bodies die. We pray daily for bread so that we might live. But the prayer for daily bread only has integrity insofar as it is prayed daily. You cannot pray for daily bread once a month! No, by definition, this is a daily prayer.
Why? Because the petition for the daily elements of physical survival drives us over and over and over again into the presence of the only true source of life: God. The truth that only God can give us daily survival creates a powerful sense of dependence upon God. This is why God tells us to pray for daily bread: so that we will not drift from Him during long periods of non-prayer. Just think of it. If we only prayed for monthly bread, we might be tempted to abandon God for every other day of the month except that day on which we prayed. But the prayer for daily bread does not allow us to do this. We come before our great God day after day, seeking daily bread.
You will remember that, in the wilderness, God gave Israel daily manna. The followers of Rabbi Ben Jochai once asked him, “Why did not the Lord furnish enough manna to Israel for a year all at one time?” Here was his response.
“I will answer you with a parable. Once there was a king who had a son to whom he gave a yearly allowance, paying him the entire sum on a fixed day. It soon happened that the day on which the allowance was given was the only day in the year when the father ever saw his son. So the king changed his plan and gave his son day by day that which sufficed for the day. And now the son visited his father every morning. Thus God dealt with Israel.”
This is a Prayer for Sufficiency, Not Extravagance
It is also significant that this is prayer for daily bread. It is a prayer for sufficiency, not extravagance. It should be noted that “bread,” here, refers to whatever we need for life. It is not merely a reference to food, but for what we need for life. Martin Luther may have pressed it a little far, but he is, in general, correct to see daily bread as “food, drink, clothes, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money and goods, a godly husband or wife, devout children, good workers, honest and faithful leaders, good government, good weather, peace, health, law and order, an honorable name, faithful friends, trustworthy neighbors and things like that.” Again, we are not promised such things as good weather and trustworthy neighbors, but the prayer is indeed a prayer for the essentials of life that go beyond mere bread. But bread is the staple of life, so that is the word the Lord uses.
This is significant. We pray for bread, not cake. John Chrysostom noted that “it is not for riches or frills that we pray. It is not for wastefulness or extravagant clothing that we pray, but only for bread. And only for bread on a daily basis, so as not to ‘worry about tomorrow.’” The word “daily” is significant, but so is the word “bread.” It is enough that we have daily bread.
Again, in the wilderness, the Lord gave Israel daily manna for survival. We find this in Exodus 16.
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”
So God gave Israel enough for the day. However, many of the Jews found this arrangement insufficient. Daily manna did not sufficiently allay their fears about the days to come. So they tried to hoard the manna, but with disastrous effects.
19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.
Do you see? Real trust trust does not need to hoard. Does this mean that our homes should literally only have just enough food for one day. No. That is not the point. The point is that we not think that by hoarding and greedy accumulation we guarantee our survival. Brothers and sisters, many a rich man has died with his pantry full and many a poor man has lived a long life with only enough food for the day. The prayer for daily bread is simply a recognition that we truly gain nothing but frantic, fear-based, anxious attempts to insure our own survival. We may have food for the week in our homes. Fine and good. But never trust that your life is in your pantry or your bank account. Learn to pray for daily bread.
We see the same principle at work in Mark 6, when Jesus sent his disciples out as missionaries. Listen closely to what He tells them as they prepare to embark.
7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.
Ah! “No bread.” Do not take any bread! Why? Because He did not want His disciples to embark on their mission with the thought that their lives were in any hands other than His own. He would give them daily bread. That should be enough for His disciples.
In Judaism, there is a series of eighteen prayers called the Eighteen Benedictions, or the Amidah. The 9th prayer of the Amidah is called the Birkat Hashanim. It, too, is a prayer for God’s provision and sustenance. But listen to what it says. This is how the Jews would pray.
“Bless for us, Adonai our God, this year and its crops. Grant us a blessing on the earth. Satisfy us from Your bounty and bless our year like other good years. Blessed are You, Adonai, who blesses the years.”
Do you see? The Jews were accustomed to pray for yearly bread, yearly sustenance. This would have been a prayer that the Jews of Jesus’ day knew well. Give us this year our yearly bread! But Jesus changes this. We are to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
In Proverbs 30, Solomon actually asks that the Lord not give him too much bread. Why? Because extravagance has a way of tempting us away from the Lord. Listen:
7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
Dear church, beware the danger of having too much! Content yourself with daily bread.
This is a Prayer Born of Certainty
There is daily dependence and simplicity in this prayer. There is also certainty. This petition assumes God’s provision. Jesus does not lead us to ask for something that the Lord wants to deny us. God is not playing with us. It is not a petition without a foundation.
R. Kent Hughes tells the story of a lady who purchased fifty Christmas cards to send to family members. She bought them in a rush and signed them in a rush and mailed them in a rush. She sent almost fifty cards. After having mailed them, she relaxed, her Christmas duty having been completed. A day or so later, she noticed one of the leftover cards and looked inside. It said, “This card is just to say, A little gift is on the way.”
She had promised a coming gift to almost fifty family members. Those gifts never came. Just imagine how let down they were!
Thankfully, the Lord is not like that. God does not say, “A gift is on the way,” carelessly or flippantly. He means what He says. He does not dangle the promise of daily bread before us, toying with our hopes and expectations. God always delivers.
In 1836, Josiah Conder wrote the following hymn:
Day by day the manna fell;
O to learn this lesson well!
Still by constant mercy fed,
Give me Lord, my daily bread.
“Day by day,” the promise reads,
Daily strength for daily needs;
Cast foreboding fears away;
Take the manna of today.
Lord! my times are in Thy hand;
All my sanguine hopes have planned,
To Thy wisdom I resign,
And would make Thy purpose mine.
Thou my daily task shalt give;
Day by day to Thee I live;
So shall added years fulfill,
Not my own, my Father’s will.
Fond ambition, whisper not;
Happy is my humble lot.
Anxious, busy cares away;
I’m provided for today.
Oh, to live exempt from care
By the energy of prayer:
Strong in faith, with mind subdued,
Yet elate with gratitude!
Yes! That is it! “Day by day.” Give us this day our daily bread. God will provide for our physical needs.
This raises an interesting and troubling question, however: why do some who pray for daily bread starve? Is it not the case that many followers of Christ have starved to death over the years and are starving even now? Is it not the case that many pray for daily bread that they never receive? Indeed, that is the case. But let us simply acknowledge that the starvation of human beings today is a direct result of human selfishness and greed. There has always been enough bread in the world to feed the world. The problem is not God’s provision. God has provided enough bread! People starve because governments and individuals thwart the good intention of God through their own wickedness, refusing to let themselves be the vehicles through which bread comes to the poor. The existence of daily bread, then, is not the issue. The availability of daily bread is the issue. And bread is often unavailable because human beings do not want to make it available to other human beings.
There is therefore also a missionary challenge in this petition: am I being the hands by which God gives the poor daily bread? Can I pray, “Lord, give me today daily bread, and also give my poor neighbor daily bread. And give my neighbor daily bread through me!”
II. The prayer for daily bread is a Christ-informed trust that God will nourish our souls.
That is the plain meaning of the petition. I think we proceed past the plain meaning of a passage only when there is very good reason to do so. Human beings have an amazing capacity to spiritualize plain passages. Again, we should only do this when there is reason to do this, otherwise we may just be reading into the text what we want. We are not to read into the text, we are simply to hear the text for what it says as the Holy Spirit speaks to us.
But it is indeed very interesting to see how often the Lord gives bread a non-literal meaning at many points in scripture. For instance, in Matthew 16, Jesus actually rebukes the disciples for not being able to think beyond the physical components of bread.
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
So Jesus used bread in a physical and non-physical sense. Perhaps on this basis we can carefully consider what non-physical meanings might be present here. Again, the petition has a clear, physical application. But does the prayer for daily bread suggest a deeper kind of nourishment as well?
Let us consider two such non-literal uses of the word “bread” by Jesus. In Matthew 26, we find the amazing words of institution at the Lord’s Supper.
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
Here, the word “bread” is used to refer to Christ’s body broken on the cross. As such, bread refers to the very heart of the gospel: Christ’s work on the cross. “Give us this day our daily bread” speaks then of our salvation and the forgiveness of our sins. Our hearts need daily bread! Our hearts need the assurance that we have been born again through the work of Christ on the cross and in the empty tomb.
And in John 6, we find an even more extensive spiritual application of bread.
31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Amazing! Jesus is the bread of life (v.35a). Jesus takes away all of our hunger and thirst (v.35b). Jesus is the bread that comes down from Heaven (v.50a). He is the bread that grants life eternal (v.50b). He is the living bread (v.51a). And He is the bread that God offers to the world (v.51c).
The prayer for daily bread is a Christ-informed trust that God will nourish our souls. To pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is to pray not only for daily sustenance, but to pray Christ Himself! “Give us this day our daily bread of life! Give us this day, Jesus!”
Do you see? We live, daily, on the presence and truth of the living Christ. He is daily bread. What a tragedy, then, when we forsake the daily bread of His presence in prayer and in His Word. To go a day without prayer is to say to the Lord that you have no need for the daily bread of Jesus. To go a day without feasting on scripture is to tell God that you have no need for the daily bread of Jesus. To not share the gospel with others is to say to the Lord that your neighbors have no need of the daily bread of Jesus.
I ask you: is Jesus daily bread to you? Is He? Do you wake in the morning with a hunger and need for Christ Jesus? Do you turn, time and again, to the bountiful feast of God’s Word?
Friends, God has given us daily bread in Christ. There is no need to die from spiritual starvation because we will not turn to Jesus.
Give us this daily our daily bread: nourishment for our bodies and souls.
 Nicholas Ayo, The Lord’s Prayer. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 1992), p.56.
 Darrell W. Johnson, Fifty-Seven Words That Changed the World. (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2005), p.70.
 Manlio Simonetti, ed. Matthew 1-13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol.Ia. Thomas C. Oden, ed. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.136.
 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), p.184.