The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 3/6/94
Text: James 2:14-18 (Matt. 6:9-13)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

"Give us this day our daily bread." Is that really a concern of yours? Are you truly worried about whether or not there will be food for you to eat today...or tomorrow or the next day? Probably not. We who live in America know very well that there is MORE than sufficient food for all OUR citizens - TOO much for many of us. Granted, we have a problem in getting the food properly distributed (as in Bosnia), but the food IS there. That would make it sound as though our prayer for daily bread is irrelevant.

Consider it. First of all, this petition is NOT irrelevant. Our need for God's provision in this matter might not be so painfully obvious as it is in many parts of the world, but the need remains nonetheless.

Perhaps we will understand that more fully when we think of the words we use. We begin with GIVE. "GIVE us this day..." What do we mean? Are we asking that God drop our food magically from heaven like he did with the children of Israel in the desert? Of course not. If we WERE, I suspect our disappointment at not finding any manna on the ground would have long since destroyed what little faith we have. Our request is for God to make sure that provisions are available for us. When we ask God to "GIVE us" anything, we are making ourselves available for use in the granting of the request.

For example, if we pray fervently for divine help in finding a job, we are affirming (without necessarily saying so) that we are willing to pound the pavement in search of something and then go to work once employment is found. If we are praying that a broken relationship be healed, we are committing ourselves to do whatever is necessary to make that prayer a reality. When we pray "GIVE us this day our daily bread," we are saying we are willing to participate in the effort.

There is a good example from New Testament history to explain it for us. As you probably know, there were many in the years following the Lord's death and resurrection who expected him to return any minute. Some of the Apostle Paul's earlier writings show that he himself held that belief. But some folks decided that, since Jesus was coming again so soon, there was no need for them to work anymore; they were content to just sit around and wait for the second coming. As time went along, these folks who spent their days doing nothing but waiting found that their money and provisions were running out, so they began to "sponge" off the other folks in the church who were still working. This was particularly true in Thessolonica. It became such a problem that Paul was prompted to write about the situation and, in great frustration, finally said, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."(1) That sounds harsh. Now, no doubt, these folks were praying fervently, "Give us this day our daily bread," but Paul's message is clear: prayer is NOT a labor-saving device; God DOES make provision for us, but WE are expected to participate in the task.

There is a well-worn story that you may have heard of a farmer who had done exceptionally well on a plot of ground which, prior to his efforts, had proven particularly unyielding. A friend commented on the remarkable change and said, "You and the Lord have done quite a job here." To which the farmer replied, "Yeah, but you should have seen it when the Lord had it all to himself."

Yes, God provides what is needful for the well-being of the creation. The Psalmist says, "You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing."(2) The Lord gives us sun and rain...fertile ground...the mental and physical capacities to do what is required. But God ALLOWS and EXPECTS us to participate in the creative work, and that is how God GIVES us our daily bread.

Then there is the second word we say: "Give US this day..." It is not "give ME..." There is a marvelous affirmation of community here, a declaration of, not INdependence but inTERdependence, upon one another which is too often neglected in an affluent society. That is the reason we need things like the welfare system, Social Security, and so on. God's people long ago apparently forgot the US in "Give US this day our daily bread" with the result that the government had to step in to keep people from starving to death.

It is a sad commentary on modern life that there are still so many millions who go to bed hungry. It is not God's fault. God has made adequate provision. In John MacArthur's book, Jesus' Pattern of Prayer,(3) he points out that only fifteen percent of the arable land in the world is under cultivation and only half of that each year. He notes some of the problems in a nation like India where so many go without adequate food and reminds of all the animals which CANNOT be used for food in that nation because of the Hindu belief in reincarnation - that means that cow over there might be somebody's grandmother. Economists have pointed out that America has more than enough grain to feed the people of India, but we cannot simply GIVE it to them because that would ruin the grain sales (and thus the economy) of a nation like Sri Lanka. Humanity has done a horrible job of managing the resources God has given.

It becomes more plain to me everyday that when we pray "Give US this day our daily bread," God has already DONE so - there is enough food on this planet to feed 2-billion MORE people than are currently alive. But what God has done is arranged for a sort of cosmic warehousing system of which we in the West have been given temporary charge. If we are faithful managers, the problem of global hunger can be wiped out. According to the World Bank, it would take a redistribution of only TWO PERCENT of our planet's grain harvest to end malnutrition - TWO PERCENT!(4) But if we do NOT do the job entrusted to us, there will come a day of accounting when we will have to answer some very uncomfortable questions. Someone has written that God hears the cry of the needy, and what is withheld from them is kept back by fraud. Fifteen hundred years ago St. Augustine said, "Find out how much God has given you, and from it take what you need; the remainder which you do not require is needed by others...Those who retain what is [excess] possess the goods of others." As D. T. Niles said, "Bread for myself is an economic problem, but bread for my brothers and sisters is a theological problem."(5)

The epistle of James is most explicit on this point. Listen again to what is said. "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, `Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?"(6) For James, the way we respond to situations of need is the truest barometer of our commitment to the Gospel.

Then there are the words THIS DAY. "Give us THIS DAY our daily bread." Why not simply pray "Give us the bread that we need?" The answer harks back to the story of the wilderness wandering of the children of Israel. If you recall, after their hasty exit from Egypt, they began to murmur among themselves about how, even though slavery was not much of a life, at least they had enough food. Now, out in the desert, they might starve. God answered their concerns by providing manna from heaven. Each day, the people could go out of their tents to find enough bread on the ground to take care of their needs for that day. All they had to do was gather a sufficient amount for their families. But God told them NOT to gather more than they would need for that particular day. If someone gathered more than one day's ration for fear that there might not be any more the next day, they would awaken in the morning to find that what they had gathered in excess of their daily needs had gone rotten. Plenty was provided for each day. All God asked was that the people have enough faith in the divine provision to trust that the manna would continue to come as long as necessary.

The message is clear: God is our provider EVERYDAY; God did not simply wind this world up like a clock then wander off to let us fend for ourselves. The God who gives you and me the day to begin with will also give us what is necessary to get through that day.

There is also the implicit teaching for living life one day at a time in this petition. It was Jesus who said, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt 6:34). I like the old ditty:

Better never trouble trouble
Till trouble troubles you,
For you only make your trouble
Double trouble when you do.(7)

The last two words of the petition, of course, are the main thrust of our prayer: "Give us this day our DAILY BREAD." We are asking God that our physical needs be met. Luther's comment on the passage was, "Everything necessary for the preservation of this life is BREAD, including food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, children, good government, peace."(8) He saw bread as meaning every necessity of life...not luxuries (those he saw as God's gracious gifts)...but necessities. And I agree with him.

Christianity is not merely a SPIRITUAL religion. As William Temple, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, pointed out, "Whenever people are truly followers of Christ, they build hospitals for broken and sick bodies; they feed the hungry and they distribute clothing." There is no question that our only concern is NOT just for the physical, but our spiritual message is not likely to mean much to hungry people unless we help them to be fed. As Gandhi said, "The only way God CAN come to some people is in the form of bread."

And so we have come full circle. "Give us this day our daily bread." GIVE...make provision for us as we participate; US (not just ME)...a concern that others' needs are met; THIS affirmation of God's continuing and uninterrupted care; our DAILY BREAD...everything necessary for physical sustenance. All that is left is the question with which we began: is this prayer relevant for us? As I said at the outset, I think it is. And the prayer will take its particular and individual relevance depending on our own situation.

For many in the world, there is no doubt that the stress is placed on God's help in getting the necessities of life...EVERY DAY. But perhaps we who live in the lap of luxury need to stress the US in the prayer. Perhaps we need to look on the words as a challenge to make the truth of God's provision for this world REAL in the lives of so many who might find it hard to believe.

I think of that great man of faith whose life was totally given to the service of those in need, George Mueller of Bristol, England. Mueller's efforts were directed at the care of orphans who, without help, would have been left helpless and homeless in an uncaring society. Mueller was convinced that God's command for his life was to do what he could to meet that need, and to that end, he founded an orphanage that became world-famous.

The watchword of George Mueller's life was faith. He was absolutely convinced that God would provide every need, and that was the basis upon which the orphanage was operated: there was no particular church support, no fund-drives, no regular benefactors, only prayer to the God who promised to supply.

One night, Mueller's staff came to him with the bad news that there was no food in the house for breakfast the next morning, and they wanted to know what to do. Mueller told them to set the table as if all were normal and then not to worry about it. The director then went into his room, got down on his knees and poured out the need to his heavenly Father. "Give us this day our daily bread." Then he went to sleep, confident that the Lord would take care of it.

Early the next morning, a knock came on the orphanage door. It was a neighborhood baker with a load of bread and rolls. The man said that, during the night, he had gotten the feeling that the children needed some food, and the feeling was so overpowering that he simply HAD to go down to his shop and bake something for them. A few minutes later, another knock came on the door...this one from a local dairyman whose cart had broken down right near the orphanage. The man knew that his milk would spoil before the cart was repaired, so he asked if the orphanage would like to have that milk. "Give us this day our daily bread." God did it.

We ask again, "Does this prayer really matter?" George Mueller, the baker, the milkman, would most certainly say that it does. For Mueller, the emphasis was on GIVE; for the other two, the emphasis was on US. May God grant that, the next time we...the ones who have it made...pray the Lord's Prayer, we might KNOW just how much it matters, and then take it as a challenge to do what God would have us do. "Give US this day our daily bread," and put us to work to see that it gets to those who need it.

Let us pray.

Lord, we of all people know how marvelous is your provision for us. But we also know that others have no idea of that. Convict us for being tempted to keep all your goodness for ourselves. Then help us to share what you have given, not only physically, but spiritually as well. For it is in Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

1. II Thessalonians 3:10b

2. Psalm 145:16

3. Chicago: Moody Press, 1981, pp. 87-103

4. Noted in an address by Douglas Oldenberg, "Christian Faith and Economic Justice," delivered at Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC, 11/3/87

5. Quoted by Albert C. Winn, A Christian Primer, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), p. 61

6. James 2:15-16

7. David Kepple quoted by Clarence Macartney, The Lord's Prayer, (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942), p. 51

8. Quoted by MacArthur, p. 89

The Presbyterian Pulpit Sermon Library

Mail Boxclick and send us mail