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By Ted Schroder
Nov. 21, 2018

In my Faith in Action Bible by World Vision replacing the usual maps at the back there are several charts that provide a picture of the world in the 21st century. One of them is entitled "Access to food and water." It states that every day 799 million people in developing countries -- about one of every seven people worldwide -- go hungry. Every 5 seconds a child dies because he or she was hungry. A child dies every 15 seconds from a water-related disease.

Probably none of us has ever suffered from involuntary hunger. Praying, "Give us this day our daily bread", takes on an entirely different meaning if you are starving. Our prayer can be anemic, tepid, complacent, if we are well-fed, and know where our next meal is coming from. It can be almost a throw away phrase. Yet we would be missing the meaning of Jesus if we treated it so cavalierly.

Jesus teaches us to ask for the simple basic things of life -- food, forgiveness, guidance, deliverance from evil. It expresses our dependence. We depend upon God our creator for each breath and for each day's food. But such a request offends our pride, our longing for self-sufficiency, our hubris. Swinburne expressed this attitude when he wrote: "Glory to Man in the highest, for Man is the Master of things."

The prayer takes on even greater meaning for me when I consider bread to be anything for which I hunger. I hunger for meaning, I hunger for love, for affirmation, for encouragement, for protection, for peace. Bread can mean anything that feeds our mind, our body and our soul. We have bodies which hunger for food, we have minds that hunger for knowledge, and we have hearts that hunger for love. The bread for which we pray is the bread that will sustain all of life, not just our flesh. This is a prayer for education, for books, for art, for music, for fulfillment, as well as for religion.

When I consider what I ought to be preaching or writing I am always asking for the bread of God's Word. I am praying that the Holy Spirit would lead me to the truth that would feed souls and meet needs. There is no point in me providing spiritual food that is inedible, or inappropriate for the diet of my listeners. It must be food that is appetizing and wholesome.

The prophet Amos warned:

"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD,

"when I will send a famine throughout the land --

not a famine of food or a thirst for water,

but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.

Men will stagger from sea to sea

and wander from north to east,

searching for the word of the LORD,

but they will not find it." (Amos 8:11,12)

The famine will be caused by the refusal of people to hear and to obey the commands of God. If they don't hear and obey, then God will withdraw his word of life from them. Such a famine of the word of God would be a terrible thing. There would be no food for the soul, no words of comfort or hope, no good news, no guidance. It would be like children, having refused to eat their meal, or otherwise misbehaving, being sent to bed without food, and their privileges being withdrawn, until they apologized and changed their behavior. God places his Word before us. We need to receive it, inwardly digest it, and assimilate it into our lives.

When we pray, "Give us this day, our daily bread," we are praying with others. We are praying, not only on our own behalf but of the whole world in need. We express our concern for all who hunger. We remember our responsibility to those in need. We live in a world that suffers from famine. Yes, famine that causes hunger for 799 million. When we pray this prayer we are not passing the buck to God to solve those problems, but we are committing ourselves to being part of the solution, as God works through us. That is why we support such organizations as World Vision. It means we are committed to a life in which we cannot have too much while others have too little. We cannot think only of our own needs.

When Jesus fed the multitudes, there was so much left over that it filled many baskets. When Jesus feeds us, in our affluence, there is much that is superfluous to our needs which we can give away. Jesus taught us to pray for daily bread, what we need for today, not to pray for cake, or more than we need. We are to pray for bread not luxuries.

One of the early church fathers, Gregory of Nyssa wrote:

"So we say to God: Give us bread. Not delicacies or riches, nor magnificent purple robes, golden ornaments or precious stones or silver dishes. Nor do we ask for landed estates, or military commands, or political leadership.....We do not pray for luxuries in order that this stomach, this perpetual tax collector, may live daintily through all this."

Yet bread also covers everything that we need in order to sustain life. It means our work, our income-producing activity that enables us to buy food. We are praying that God would give us enough work, and hence money, to enable us to survive and prosper. There is never enough money to provide for what we want. So, when praying for our "bread", the street term for "money", we must be careful that we are not being greedy, or lack gratitude for what we have been given.

A perceived lack of sufficient funds creates anxiety. As we get older we sometimes are anxious whether our resources will be adequate for the rest of our lives. Anxiety is fed on fear about tomorrow, not today. Jesus teaches us not to be anxious about tomorrow. "I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life.. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:25-34)

This does not mean that we should not make prudent plans for tomorrow, but we cannot cover every exigency. There is no way we can foretell what can happen to us. Jesus teaches us to pray for the present day: "Give us this day our daily bread: that is, what we need for today. "Daily": This word occurs nowhere else in Greek literature except in a shopping list for daily rations. Jesus tells us to trust in the providence of God. We don't ask for providence for the future but only for today: today is all we have.

Praying does not absolve us from working. This is the other side of the matter. If we would have our food, our money, we must work for it. God's giving and man's toiling must go hand in hand; and the more man toils, the more God opens his hand and pours out his gifts upon him.

When we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," we are also praying that God would give us the health, and energy to provide for ourselves. We are praying for our families, and friends, that they will be able to work and provide for themselves and their dependents. St. Paul was very strong on this point: "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle... We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)

"As, in the soul's life, will and grace rise and fall together, so in its prayer, effort and abandonment are not alternatives, but completing opposites; and without their rightful balance there is no spiritual health. 'If a man will not work, neither shall he eat,' said, St. Paul'. 'He gave them angel's food from Heaven'; but they had to go out and gather that manna daily for themselves." (Evelyn Underhill, Abba, p.52)

There are many in this world who suffer from hunger. There is a famine of hearing the word of God. Many think that the answer to the problems of the world are economic, but they are spiritual. They cannot be solved only with financial aid. After the feeding of the five thousand the crowd followed Jesus to the other side of the lake. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.... The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never grow hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:26-35)

To pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," is to pray that Jesus will meet our total needs, and those for whom we pray. It is a prayer for that which will eternally satisfy. It is to pray that humanity will be transformed, so that there is no more hunger, no more famine, because all will come to Jesus, and feed on him as the Bread of Life.

(Excerpted from SURVIVING HURRICANES pp.187-194)

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