Monday 2 July 2012

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

[I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the sixth in a series on the Lord’s prayer.]
Moses said... ‘It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: Each one is to gather as much as they need...’ The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it... the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Each one had gathered just as much as they needed. Exodus 16:15-18
After the far-reaching requests about honouring our heavenly Father’s name and longing to see his reign exercised on earth as it is in heaven, the next line in the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Give us today our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11) – can come as something of a jolt in its seeming mundaneness. And yet it reminds us that God is concerned with the nitty-gritty aspects of life. ‘Bread’, in this sense, is always an appropriate topic for prayer.
For starters, praying this line enables us to become aware that we depend on God for everything. It fits with what Jesus says later about not being anxious about basic necessities, since ‘your heavenly Father knows that you need them’ (Matthew 6:32). In the daily practice of gathering manna in the wilderness, Israel was to learn to trust that God would supply their needs. Like them, we do our bit to bring it in, to turn it into something that nourishes, but we do not forget the ultimate giver in the process of doing so.
Then, we are to ask for bread, as the Israelites were to gather manna, on a daily basis – reminding us that we live in constant reliance on God. Although it is not true for many people in the world, the daily provision for most readers of this email is usually guaranteed ahead of time. For us especially, perhaps, the regular discipline of reaching out to God who reaches out to us will allow us to foster a sense of dependence and thankfulness.
Moreover, that it is our daily bread means I pray it for others too. The work of farmers, bakers, truck drivers and supermarket sellers mean that none of us eats alone. The prayer is an acknowledgement that I am not a self-sufficient automaton. It may also lead me to take some responsibility for making sure others have enough, particularly when I have an excess. Paul makes this clear to the Corinthians in encouraging them to support their poorer brothers and sisters in Christ. Drawing on the account of the manna, he notes that ‘your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need’ (2 Corinthians 8:14).
No less than the opening lines, praying this deceptively simple request becomes a powerful shaper of our everyday lives as disciples of Christ.

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