A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on July 25, 2010.
O God, your law is inevitable. Though we rebel, ignore it, or pretend it does not apply to us, we confess that we face it daily. We thank you that your love is also inescapable. We know that we have tried to ignore your love. We have tried to forget your love, but it draws us back to you and how glad you are. We yield to you today in these moments. In these moments of prayer,we yield to you for we can do absolutely nothing else. Your love compels us to do what we long to do, to lay aside all the trinkets that have distracted us from worshiping you. Your love compels us to lay aside all squabbles that have hindered our hearts from loving and forgiving. We lay aside all of our doubts that have made our steps pause for we know that there is no other who loves us so. We pray for the challenges of this day, for the challenges of yesterday are gone and the challenges of this day are new. We pray for strength for this day because we have used up the strength from yesterday. We pray for the assurance of your presence today because the assurance of your presence yesterday reminds us that you are faithful. O God, we pray for the sense of your presence today because today is enough. In today, we will find you, and tomorrow we will ask again. We ask that you would supply every need as you have done so many days. Today, we pray for rest for this Sabbath and for renewed energy for the week, trusting in you. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
We hoard more than we need today because we are afraid God will not provide for tomorrow. We are like the Israelites who, though God had promised to supply daily manna in the wilderness, insisted on collecting more than they needed. We call this prudence, but for the children of God it is really distrust. — James Mulholland in Praying Like Jesus
Several years ago, there was a book about cultural literacy. Some of the conversation around that related to the things that are a part of our society’s knowledge that become a part of the way of understanding what people are talking about. Many of these things come from quotations from poetry or from Shakespeare. There are many things that people will often use in speech or public conversation that we often don’t even know where we learned that but we are familiar with it.
If someone uses the image of a scarlet letter, we pick that up from Hawthorne’s novel. Many of the images, phrases, and quotes that we use come from the Bible and a lot of people don’t even know where they have come from.
The idea of David and Goliath is practically a clichÃ©. Any time an underdog football team plays some perennial power, somebody in the sports booth will use the idea of David and Goliath. We know the concept of the Prodigal Son because we have all known people who have gone off and squandered their lives in living that they should not have done.
One that is around the fringes of our memory and not used as much is the idea of manna from heaven. It is not nearly as popular or common as David and Goliath but it is something that we have heard about. What is this manna from heaven?
I can think of times as a college student when I was working to earn my share of college expenses. There were times when I was penniless and a check would come from my grandfather. It was like manna from heaven. It was like that unexpected provision that no one could anticipate or predict but it came at exactly the right moment.
Other people have shared stories where in times of need and desperation they were down and out and somebody who owed them money showed up and said, “I have been meaning to pay you this.” It was like manna from heaven, an expected provision that we say comes from God’s hand, an unanticipated need fulfilled at just the right moment.
Let’s go back and look at the full context of Exodus 16. The children of Israel are now escaped from Egypt. Moses has led them out. The Red Sea has parted. The chariots of Pharaoh have gone into the sea, and the sea has come back and destroyed them all. Now they are in the wilderness. In the day before Tupperware and ice chests, they have run out of food. There is just so much food that a band this big can carry with them that will not be used up or spoiled. So the children of Israel began to grumble. One of those great quotations that come from the King James version is, “Were there not flesh pots in Egypt? Where there not meat lockers in Egypt where we could have set down and had our fill and you bring us out here to starve in this desert?” Moses speaks to the Lord, and the Lord provides manna from heaven.
What it was, nobody really knows. Everybody has to put some kind of scientific explanation on it. There are some people who think it is the residue from insects that live in that part of the world. Whatever it was came in the morning and it was enough. It was equated in the minds of the children of Israel as bread. Every day they went out and gathered their full–whatever it was they needed for the day. It does say that if they gathered too much and tried to save it for the next day that the maggots got into it, except on the day before the Sabbath, when they could gather twice as much and they could keep it and not have to gather on the Sabbath. It was manna from heaven. It was what God provided for the children of Israel every day.
In the New Testament, the disciples say to Jesus, “Lord, teach us how to pray,” and he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. When he comes to the place where he says, “Give us our daily bread,” the people who listened to Jesus teach that the first time had a frame of reference—daily bread, just enough manna from heaven provided for the day. When we think about daily bread, it is the same mental image in our minds that we would have manna from heaven, provided just in time for the need that we have.
I will confess to you that I find manna and that concept of praying for daily bread to be one of the difficult pieces of the Christian walk. It is like trying to deal with all of the passages of scripture that deal with the poor. There are so many passages of scripture that challenge the way all of us live about what we are supposed to do with the poor. This idea of praying for daily bread and trusting God daily for our needs is a challenge to me. I am much more prone to pray, “God help me lose weight,” than I am to pray, “God, help me deal with not having enough bread. Help me to trust that you will provide what I need to eat today.”
If we go home today, most of us have enough food in the pantry or freezer to last well beyond tonight. Very few of us really need to pray, “God grant me enough bread for this day. Help me to trust you for my life and my sustenance for today.” I don’t have to pray that prayer, do you? We recognize that there are people in the world who do.
What about us? What is it when I think about the lesson of manna and going out every day and gathering just enough for the day? When I think about Jesus teaching me how to pray, and he says, “Say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’” what it is that I am supposed to know and learn and how is it that I am supposed to live?
Let me suggest a few things. One, praying that prayer as Jesus taught us to pray and remembering the story of Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness gathering that bread every day reminds us that God really is the source of our security. God really is the one that we need to consider when we think about what our needs are for today.
In the past decade, we have had two very powerful and needed opportunities to remind ourselves that some of the things that we trust in cannot provide the security that we want.
On September 11, 2001, we were reminded that no matter how great and how strong our country is and how strong our defenses are, we are all vulnerable. I think in the aftermath of that as we all gathered to worship in this sanctuary and sanctuaries around the country, one of the things we were looking for was a sense of security. No matter how much we trust in other things, the only source of our security is God. Whatever else we may trust in may fail us. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” even if we have enough in our pantry, we are reminded that ultimately God is our security.
In 2008 we had another opportunity. Many people think we were one day away from the collapse of the financial structure of the world. We were a day away from going to the ATM and it not working, a day away from debit cards not working, and a day away from there not being any money market funds. We were reminded once again that our security is not in a big certificate of deposit or a well-diversified IRA but in God.
When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are reminded that we have to come back every day and renew that trust in God and renew that memory in ourselves that God, and God alone, provides.
Another lesson is the lesson of moderation and prayer. What is it that I really, with integrity, can ask God for? We all grew up learning there were certain things that you should not ask God for. In my day, it was a bicycle. Today, it might be an Xbox. These are things we think you do not ask God for in prayer. We think about teaching our children these things, but the truth is we all have to learn this day by day. There are many things we ask God to help us get that really are not on God’s radar.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a vacation home, but if we pray for a vacation home, I don’t think God really cares about us having a vacation home. To have one is a wonderful thing, but to think that God cares more about me having a vacation home than about his children who live in many places around the world and are starving to death and don’t have daily bread just doesn’t work, does it?
When I go to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” I am reminded that I am asking for provision, not for abundance. As I would want to teach younger members of my family the difference between a need and a want, praying this prayer and remembering the story of manna in the wilderness is trying to teach me the exact same thing.
I am also reminded that when we pray, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are all connected. While I am praying for whatever provision I need, maybe I need to be praying for daily bread for people in the world who really do need daily bread.
I read a statistic a couple of weeks ago, and it was talking about the economy of China. Everybody knows how important the economy of China is. The article said there is a difference between the economy in the United States and the economy in China. In the United States, recession means we are worried about paying for our houses or we are worried about at what age we might be able to retire. In China, when they worry about recession, they worry in many areas about starvation. It kind of puts perspective on things, doesn’t it?
When I pray for daily bread, when I think about manna from heaven and provision just for this day, I am also reminded that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” When I think about praying for daily bread, I am also reminded that I am really not so much interested in the gift as I am in the giver.
Have you ever given a gift to a child and it became apparent that they were really more interested in what you gave them than in who you are and how much you love them? I wonder sometimes if God feels that way.
When the children of Israel had to go out every morning and collect the manna, it was a reminder that God had provided again. Every day, it was a reminder that whatever they collected was because of God’s goodness, God’s hand, and God’s mercy. I think sometimes that would be an easier way to remember that I am going out, and what I am really seeking is an evidence of God today. When I pray for daily bread, not only do I pray for the daily things that I need for my physical life, but also for the daily bread of life which is Christ because that is what I truly and earnestly need.
I pray for strength today because the strength from yesterday is gone and I cannot use it again. I pray for strength today from God’s presence in my life and the living Lord, Jesus Christ being real to me because I cannot use tomorrow’s strength yet. I pray for the wisdom that I need today because whatever I dealt with yesterday is gone and I do not even know what I will deal with tomorrow. So I seek Christ today so that Christ’s wisdom can come, lead me, and guide me.
All of the things that I want are really in Christ. They are really a part of knowing the bread of life that has come down that I need to seek every day, that I need to humble myself before every day, that I need to feast on every day.
I am glad that I have more than enough. I am glad that I do not have to pray this prayer and hope that it will be answered in order to live, but I think sometimes if I were in that circumstance, God might be a little bit more real. I might be reminded more powerfully of just how dependent and just how much I need Jesus Christ.
The lesson of manna is not only that God provides, and not only that God provides in the moment of need, but that God provides every day, and that every day I must go and I must seek it again. There is not enough today for tomorrow—just enough for today.
When I pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” I have a new, and more powerful, image and my faith is stronger for understanding.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.