A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on March 11, 2012.
We thank you, good and gracious God, for the vision you have given your children in every age, for the promise of that great table where we shall all feast together in glory. We thank you for the promise of plenty that will know no end, plenty to feed every hungry stomach. May the day come soon when we need not pray for bread each day because all of your children will be satisfied. We pray for the fulfillment of this vision, and not for the bread alone, but also for the fellowship of saints gathered around your table. We long for the time when we may eat with Christ himself, not as an unseen guest but as visible friend and Lord. We pray that the day will come when we see him, and he satisfies the hunger of our hearts. We pray for the time to come quickly when our fellowship is complete, for the time when we no longer define your family in terms of those whom we love but by those who have a place beside us at that great table. We pray for family divisions to end, for all quarrels to cease, for nations and peoples of all languages and all colors, to pass the bread of peace to one another even now. Until that day, we simply ask that you would provide bread for this day. If we have more than enough, lead us to share our bread so that we might help answer the prayers of those who look to you for their very provision this day. Teach us to feed one another so that your joy might be made full in us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
I have no idea how many pounds of bread are consumed in the average human life, and I certainly do not know how many tons of bread the whole of mankind will need to reach the day of judgment. But God does not ask us to pray for such quantities at all. He does not even want us to think and calculate so far ahead. Even “tomorrow” with its own cares (Matthew 6:34) is to be left in his hands; we are not to worry about what it will bring, but rather to cultivate the certainty that it does come from God’s hand.
—Helmut Thielicke in Our Heavenly Father
If we were to make a list of the things that we count on God to do for us, high on that list would be the sense that God is going to provide food for us. If we think of the number of things we pray for and count the blessing that we say when we sit down to eat, one of the most common things that we pray for or about is our food. When we teach our children prayers to say by memory, we remember the blessing, “By his hand we all are fed, give us, Lord, our daily bread.”
Near the beginning of God’s relationship with his special people, there is a sense that God provides food for his people. We count on it, we ask for it, and we thank God for it. It all started with manna in the wilderness, and you are vaguely familiar with the story. The children of Israel are escaping from slavery. As they see Egypt in the rearview mirror and have yet to come over the horizon to see the Promised Land, God provides manna from heaven every morning.
We don’t know exactly what it was. People debate what it might have actually been. It might have been something from insects, but it was flaky and looked like bread. The children of Israel called it manna which means what is it because they were not sure what it was. It was provided for them every day. As God was bringing the people out of Egypt, he fed them.
If we listen carefully to scripture and listen to that prophetic vision of a time when we are all gathered together in glory, there is the image of the great feast where the Messiah, Jesus himself, will feed us all. There will be plenty and abundance, and no one will go without.
The passage from Mark 6:30-44 is both an echo of the story of Moses in the wilderness and a preview of what will take place at the end of the age. It is a time when Jesus comes and feeds this great crowd out in the wilderness in the northern part of Palestine. For many of us, we argue about, “What was the miracle? How did it really happen? Maybe it was a miracle of sharing? The boy brought his food out and everybody else was inspired to share. No, it was a miracle. Jesus kept breaking the bread.” The people who witnessed it when it happened the first time had little concern about how it happened, but what they saw was very clearly, “This is the Messiah. He is feeding us in the wilderness like Moses fed the children of Israel in the wilderness and there is enough left over, just like the great banquet when the Messiah feeds us in glory.” We want to talk about the scientific facts. They saw it as a sign.
It is no wonder that Jesus, in this role when he teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, teaches us to pray for daily bread. The manna in the wilderness came every day. Bread is something we have been trained to count on and thank God for. Whenever we talk about praying for daily bread, there are two very predictable lessons. One is that it is OK to pray for material things. There is nothing more material, more earthy, than food and bread. We are reminded of how much we need the material things of life. When Jesus teaches us to pray, he prays and he tells us to pray for daily bread.
But bread is one of the simple basics, isn’t it? When we were small and we thought our parents were going to punish us and send us to bed with nothing but bread and water, it was just one of the basic things of life. When people are held in prisoner of war camps, usually the last thing taken away is bread. We can pray for material things. We can pray for bread for the day, but we don’t pray for tenderloin for a lifetime. The prayer puts limits on what we can ask for. That is basic. We can all figure that out, but I think there is a deeper and more fulfilling understanding of what it means to pray for daily bread.
To see what this might be, let’s journey back to the story that Jesus’ feeding in the wilderness is an echo of, and that is the manna in the wilderness. Imagine that you are one of the Hebrews who is leaving Egypt and you are looking for the Promised Land. It is the day before processed food. It is the day before any kind of restaurant or market or any place where you can go buy something. It is the day before refrigeration. Things spoil almost immediately. Just a few days out into the wilderness, everything you have brought with you is either already gone or it is not edible. Perhaps you are one of the lucky few who packed a few extra things somewhere in your cloak. You shared it with your family. You yielded to the temptation to go ahead and take it, and even though you had more than anybody else, it is gone. Just this morning when you got up and went out, there it was out there on the ground. You went and gathered it up, feed it to your family, and miracle of miracles, it was enough.
The day before, you tried to gather extra but when you woke up the next morning, you found that it had spoiled because God said, “Only take enough for today.” You have seen it provided and it has been enough, but now it is nighttime. You are trying to sleep and you are thinking about tomorrow. You wake up very early, and you hear the transition from insects in the night to the birds of the morning. It is still dark and you have not looked out yet, but you are praying that today will not be the day that it does not appear and it isn’t enough. You are praying for daily bread. “Yes, it was there, but God, let there be enough for today.”
You have probably seen the cover for the worship bulletin we are using during Lent. You have probably seen how the different words of the prayer appear in the crossbar of the cross. Today, the word is bread. Maybe the best word would have been daily—daily bread—because when Jesus teaches us to pray for bread, it is not just for the bread but it is to pray for it daily. This is the only way we can really receive it, and it is the way that God wishes to give it.
Let me put it this way. What are you praying for? In your life, what is it that is pressing so deeply upon your life, so firmly that it hits a pressure point and you want to cry out in pain? What are you praying for? Maybe you have an addiction. What will we call it? We hate to call it willpower, but we will call it strength of will for lack of a better word. We are praying for the willpower to resist the addiction. How on earth are you going to pray for enough of that to last for a lifetime? We think about how much it takes to fight it today. We begin to think about the week, the month, and the years. How on earth could we pray for enough of that to last for the struggle that it is going to be for a lifetime? So we pray for today. Give it to me today, I trust that it will be there, and I will pray for it again tomorrow.
Let’s say you have an illness—maybe cancer—and you are praying for perseverance because the doctors have told you that you will need 40 sessions of radiation or six months of chemo or whatever it may be. On the front end of that you think, How on earth am I going to pray for enough perseverance to get all the strength I need today to make it through this period that I see coming? So we pray for enough strength for today. Tomorrow we will pray for the measure that is needed for tomorrow.
Maybe you are a single parent or you are caring for someone in your home who is physically ill. You try to think how much energy it is going to take to do this until they are 18 or until the illness has ended. How much energy is it going to take? Is there any way to pray for all of that for today? Just give it all to me today. It is just impossible. So Jesus bids us to take enough for today, and then come back tomorrow and pray again. Pray daily for bread, for strength, for perseverance, for strength of will, or whatever it may be. It is the only way we can use it. We can only use it one day at a time so that is the way we pray for it.
The second thing is that it is the way God wants to give it to us. If we could pray, I would like enough bread for the next year, first of all, it would spoil before we could use it. We know ourselves too well. If God said, “Here is enough bread to last you for a lifetime,” we would take the bread and forget about God.
If God said, “Here is all the strength you are going to need for your chemo. Here is all the strength you are going to need for your addiction,” it would be very easy for us to take it and forget about God. God wants to be involved in our lives. God does not want to bestow it upon us so we can simply go on our merry way. God wants to be invested every day. The way God wants to give us our bread, our strength, our will, our perseverance, and our energy is every day so that God continues to be in touch with the need that we have.
The prayer is not just for bread. The prayer is for daily bread, to remind us not only about the bread itself but about the way any of the important things come to us, the way we can use them, and the way God wants to give them to us. God wants to be able to hand us each day what we need. God wants to be involved and in touch with our lives. He wants us to recognize his love. God does not want us to think we can run ahead with the gift and forget the one who gives it to us.
If we get the things we pray for, it is a blessing. If I am hungry and I pray for daily bread and I get it, it is a blessing. If I get strength for today for whatever task or issue I am facing, I have received what I asked for, and it is a blessing. If we think about the Hebrew fleeing Egypt years ago as he prayed in his tent for bread for the morning, if he got it, it was a blessing, but God wants us to have one more thing. That is faith, not just the item we are praying for but the faith that it will be provided again.
Bread may fill my stomach, but it is faith that lets me sleep at night. It is the blessing that satisfies me for today, but it is the faith to trust that it will be provided once again that lets me sleep at night.
This is the way we use it, and this is the way God wants to give it. God not only wants us to have it, but he also wants us to have the peace that comes with knowing that the next day, and the next day, and the next day, we can ask and we can receive again.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.