We’re half way through the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer begins, you’ll remember, with the words: ‘Our Father in heaven.’ And we’ve seen already that the word ‘our’ teaches us that we’re to pray with others and for others. And the word ‘Father’ teaches us to pray with confidence, because we’re praying to our Father who loves us and is willing to help us. And the words ‘in heaven’ also teach us to pray with confidence because the One to whom we pray rules over all things from his throne in heaven and therefore he is mighty and powerful and able to help us.
Then, in the first request, which is ‘Hallowed be your name’, we learn that we ought to ask God to enable us and all others to give him the glory and the honour and the praise that he deserves.
And then, in the second request, which is ‘Your kingdom come’, we learn that we ought to pray that Satan’s kingdom will be destroyed and that the Lord’s kingdom of grace will advance through the world through the preaching of the gospel until the Lord our King comes again when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And in the third request, which is ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’, we pray that God will help us and all others to know and obey his revealed will which is his law and all of his commandments; and that he will help us and all others to submit ourselves to his secret will by which we mean his plans and purposes for us and for the world. Remember what James said? None of us knows what will happen to us tomorrow, because God has not made it known to us. But we pray that he will help us to accept whatever he sends us, whether it’s something good and pleasant, or whether it’s some trial or difficulty, trusting that his will for us is always good.
But then, whatever he sends, we must be careful to do the good things he has commanded us to do and to avoid evil. So, think of Joseph in the Old Testament. Think of all the difficult circumstances he suffered: being sold into slavery by his brothers; being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife; languishing in prison for years. And yet, despite all that happened to him, he remained obedient to the Lord and he refused to give in to Potiphar’s wife when she tried to seduce him. So, we must pray for God’s help to follow his example: to obey God’s revealed will no matter what the cost; and to accept God’s plans and purposes for us no matter what they are.
We’re now half way through the Lord’s Prayer and we have three more requests to examine. The fourth one, which we’ll look at this evening, is:
Give us today our daily bread.
Then, the fifth is:
Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And the sixth is:
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.
And then there’s the conclusion:
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever, Amen.
Now, the order is important. In the preface, we remind ourselves who it is we’re coming to in prayer: we’re coming to our loving heavenly Father who is willing and able to help us. And then, the first three requests put him first. We’re praying about his honour and his glory; we’re praying for the advance of his kingdom; we’re praying for his will to be done. When the Lord’s disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model prayer to guide our prayers and in the Lord’s Prayer we’re taught to put God first and ourselves second. We’re taught to put God first and then our needs and concerns second. And that’s an important lesson to learn. God must always come first in our prayers as well as in everything else which we do.
But, having prayed about God’s honour and kingdom and will, we can bring our own needs to God. And what do we need? Daily food. Daily forgiveness. And daily protection. That’s what we need. And the Lord has taught us to bring our needs and all our desires to our loving heavenly Father. And it’s important that we note this as well. God is not so far away, so aloof, so distant, nor is he so great and mighty and majestic that he’s unconcerned about our daily needs.
Sometimes I meet people at meetings where we’re trying to plan something. Some new project or some new ministry. And these people will say that they’re good at the big picture. They have a vision, a creative idea about some new thing we can do. But they’re not interested in the detail. They’re not interested in the day to day details. And there are others who are good at the details. But they’re not so good at the big picture. But God knows all things and he’s concerned about all things. He’s concerned with big things like the glory of his name and the advance of his kingdom and obedience to his will. But he’s also concerned with small matters like our day to day needs and concerns and worries. Look at the birds of the air, the Lord Jesus said. Your heavenly Father cares for them and feeds them. Look at the lilies of the field. God cares enough about them to make them beautiful. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Sure, he even knows the number of hairs on our head.
The Lord knows all about us and our needs and our concerns. And so Peter, in his first letter, teaches us to cast all our anxieties on God, because he cares for us. Do not be anxious about anything, Paul wrote to the Philippians. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
So, we’re to put God first in our prayers because God is concerned with the glory of his name and the advance of his kingdom and that his will is done. But he’s also concerned about the little things in our lives. And so, we’re taught to pray about for daily food, daily forgiveness and daily protection.
Two facts: the fall
Today we’re looking at the fourth request which is the first one about our daily needs. When we pray, we should say to God:
Give us today our daily bread.
This request arises because of two fundamental facts. First of all, there’s the fact of the fall. Think back to the way things were in the beginning. In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth and all that they contain. And he planted a garden in Eden and there he put the man he had formed. And out of the ground, the Lord made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. And a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. And the Lord took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Now, apart from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, apart from that one tree, Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from any other tree he liked.
And so, we have this picture of a wonderful life. Paradise. A garden full of good things to look at and to enjoy. An invitation to eat from virtually every tree. So, there’s Adam and Eve, walking through the garden, seeing some fruit in one tree, and picking it to eat. Seeing some berries in a bush, and taking them too. Round a corner, and there’s a host of golden daffodils to admire. Round another bend, and there’s the juiciest apples anyone has ever tasted. Now, of course, Adam and Eve weren’t to be idle. There was work to do. Adam had to work the garden and keep it. But we don’t get any impression that it was hard work. It was idyllic. Perfect. Wonderful.
And so it would have remained, if it were not for one thing. The Devil came along, in the form of a snake, and tempted Eve first, and then Adam, to take the one forbidden fruit in the whole garden. And having disobeyed God, they fell from the state of innocence into the state of sin and misery into which we’re all born.
And what did the Lord say to Adam?
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
Do you see? Work became hard and difficult and frustrating. The earth will continue to produce food for them to eat but their work will be marked by pain. And there will be sweat. And there will be death. So, life is hard. It’s full of troubles. And work is hard and demanding and often frustrating. Getting food to eat and all that we need each day is no longer easy. It’s hard work. And so, that’s the first fact to think about. The fall. Because we have fallen into this state of sin and misery and because our work and our life is often hard, we need to turn to God and ask for his help to give us what we need.
Two facts: grace
That’s the first fact that lies behind this request. The second is the grace of God. And by grace we mean God’s kindness towards sinners. Now, last week we learned that we ought to distinguish between God’s revealed will and his secret will. This week, we need to learn to distinguish between God’s common grace and his particular, or special, grace. His particular grace, or his special grace, is his kindness towards his people which leads to our salvation. So, we say that by grace alone, or on account of God’s kindness to us alone, and not because of anything in ourselves, God pardons our sins and he accepts us as righteous in his sight. That’s his particular, or his special, grace and it refers to his kindness in saving us from our sins and giving us eternal life.
But his common grace is his universal kindness upon all that he has made. Because of the fall, and because of our own personal sinfulness, we deserve nothing from God apart from condemnation. He would be perfectly justified in withholding all of his good gifts from us, because, as sinners, we deserve nothing from him. But because of God’s common grace, his kindness towards all that he has made, he continues to supply us with what we need and to fill our lives with good things every day. He does this for his own, believing people. And he does it for those who have never believed. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the wicked, as well as the good. He does good to all that he has made.
And so, think of the story of Noah. We see God’s particular grace to Noah and his family, because the Lord was kind to Noah and to his family and he delivered them from the flood. But we also see God’s common grace, because once Noah and his family had come out of the ark, the Lord promised:
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.
God promised that he would ensure the changing of the seasons from that time on and for ever. As long as the earth remains, he will continue to ensure that the crops grow and that we have food to eat. None of us deserves this. All of us deserve what happened to Noah’s neighbours: all of us deserve to be condemned for ever by God for our sin. But because of his common grace, he preserves our lives every day and he supplies our needs. He does this for all kinds of people, whether they believe or not.
But, of course, the believer has an advantage. Because the believer has been reconciled to God for ever. And the believer knows he can turn to God in prayer and seek God’s help for all that we need.
Our life in this world is full of troubles and trials and suffering because of the fall. But since God is kind towards all that he has made, believers are taught to turn to God in prayer and to ask him to give us what we need each day. As the psalmist says in Psalm 145:
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
The Lord is always kind. Therefore we should look to him for all that we need. And, if he gives us what we need, it’s not because we deserve it, because none of us deserves anything but condemnation from God. No, if he gives us what we need, it’s because he is gracious and kind to all that he has made.
We see God’s kindness in the Old Testament in the way he supplied the needs of his people as they made their way through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. And so, first of all, when they left Egypt, the Lord gave the Israelites favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that the Egyptians gave them silver and gold jewellery and clothes to wear. And then, he gave them manna to eat. All they had to do was climb out of their tents in the morning, and there is was, waiting for them. And so, the Lord supplied them with quail to eat. And he provided them with water to drink. He ensured their clothes did not wear out nor their shoes. He provided for them day by day for those forty years in the wilderness.
Now, through all the time they were in the wilderness, he provided for them by means of miracles. The manna was sent miraculously from heaven. The quail came miraculously to them. So did the water. But then, he brought them into the Promised Land. And what was it like? Well, it was a place flowing with milk and honey. In other words, it was a place where their crops would grow and flourish and where they would have enough each day. In the wilderness, he fed them by miracles. But in the Promised Land, he gave them what they needed through natural means: through sunshine and rain and fertile land.
And that’s how he helps us today. He works through the changing of the seasons and through the hard work of our farmers in order to supply us with food to eat. When we’re ill, he restores our health and strength by working through the staff in our hospitals and through our GP and through the medicines and treatment they prescribe to help us. And he enables us to earn a living and to put food on the table. God works through all these ordinary, everyday things in order to provide us with our daily needs so that, when we sit around the table to eat, we begin by bowing our heads and giving thanks to Almighty God who had given us these things to enjoy. And whenever we’re out of work, and whenever we struggle to make ends meet, we cry out to our loving heavenly Father for help, because we understand that he alone is the one who can give us what we need.
And so, we have the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount where he teaches us not to be anxious and not to be worried about what we will eat or drink or wear. Why not? Because these things don’t really matter? No, he didn’t say that. The Lord Jesus knows we need food and drink and clothes to wear. He knows we need lots of other things every day. The Lord Jesus knows we need these things. And so does our heavenly Father. And that’s why we shouldn’t be anxious or worried about these things — because our loving heavenly Father knows we need them. And being our loving heavenly Father, he cares for us and will help us.
And so, the Lord went on to teach us to ask and to seek and to knock.
Ask and it will be given to you.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened to you.
And to underline the certainty of the promise, the Lord repeats:
For whoever asks, receives.
And the one who seeks, finds.
And to the one who knocks, it will be opened.
And then he adds:
[W]hich one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Since we know how to give good gifts to our children, then we can be sure that our loving heavenly Father certainly knows how to give good gifts to his people who ask him.
Throughout the Bible, we’re encouraged to seek from our heavenly Father every good thing we need for day-to-day life. And throughout the Bible, we’re reminded of how God supplies the needs of all. On some occasions, he used a miracle to supply the needs of his people. But ordinarily, his normal way of helping us, his ordinary way of helping us, is through ordinary means. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall and the crops to grow. He sends the farmer out into the fields to work them. He enables us to go out to work each day to earn a living. He provides us with a government who offers support to the needy. Through all of these ordinary means, God provides for us. And in the Lord’s Prayer, we’re encouraged to go to him in prayer and to ask him to give us all that we need day by day. And we ask him for these things, because we believe that all of these things come from him and apart from his grace and mercy towards sinners like us, we would have nothing.
The Catechism explains this request by saying two things: First of all, we should pray that by God’s free gift we may receive a sufficient share of the good things of this life. In other words, we go to God and ask him to give us what we need. But secondly, we should also pray that we might enjoy his blessing along with his good gifts.
So, there’s the parable of the rich fool, who had so much he was able to retire. And he thought he would be able to eat and drink and take life easy. But that same night he died. He had plenty of wealth, but he wasn’t able to enjoy it. And we perhaps know of others who have plenty, but they’re not able to enjoy it. Think of all the celebrities we hear about who have it all, but they’re in and out of rehab and perhaps they’ve been married multiple times and all their relationships never seem to work out. They have it all, but they don’t have much happiness.
On the other hand, we all know others who have so very little, but they’re happy and content with what they have and they’re able to enjoy life. That’s what we want, isn’t it? That’s what we need. We need God’s blessing on our lives so that, instead of always wanting more and more and more, we’re satisfied with what we have and are able to enjoy it. And we pray that God will make our homes happy and safe places to bring up our children and to invite in our friends. ‘Be content with what you have’, the writer of Hebrews said. That’s our prayer to God. Or there’s the example of Paul who had learned the secret of being content in whatever situation he found himself. Or, whereas the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, godliness with contentment is great gain. That’s our prayer. Or, we have this prayer in the book of Proverbs:
give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me.
Why did the writer pray for that?
lest I be full and deny you … or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of the Lord.
And so, the Lord teaches us to pray that God will give us what we need every day. Not riches, because then we’re tempted to believe the lie that we don’t need the Lord. Not poverty, because then we’re tempted to steal. But give us what we need. And bless us so that we’re happy with what we have and are able to enjoy your good gifts every day, giving thanks to our heavenly Father who does not treat us as our sins deserve, but who is kind to all and who promises to help us.