“‘This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’”
The older I get the more I realize how blessed of a childhood I had. I grew up living the American Dream in so many ways. I had a nice house in a nice neighborhood. My parents are still together to this day – happily so. My sisters and I got along for the most part. Every night for dinner we would all eat together at the family table. You don’t see pictures of families like that very often anymore and that’s a shame.
Yet even for a healthy family like mine, the dinner table was not always a peaceful place. Wars were fought at the dinner table and I was the cause for many of those wars. Now, what you are probably thinking is that I was a spoiled brat causing problems or something. But once I share my side of the story you’ll understand that I was the victim. See, my parents kept trying to put this substance on my plate and, I’m telling you, it was something that the human body is not supposed to consume. It was green, it had a stem, and it had little leaves on the top. It looked like a little baby tree. They told me, “Andrew, you don’t get to leave the table until you eat all those little trees.” I’m thinking, “You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?”
So I came up with some battle strategies. Plan A: I just cry and scream and whine until they give in. Plan A never worked very well; I just got spanked and then I had to eat the baby trees anyway. Plan B: Milk is opaque. When you put the trees in the milk they become invisible. Plan B didn’t work; they found the trees when dumping my milk so then I would have to eat milky trees. That’s where Plan C came in: I can just throw the trees on the floor and they’ll never know the difference. I tried that once and my dad caught me so I got in pretty big trouble.
Okay, maybe I was just a spoiled brat. Here I am, such a lucky kid who never has to worry about food being on the table and I spend my time complaining with what I have. What I really needed to learn as a kid was the Lord’s Prayer.
“Give us today our daily bread.” That doesn’t sound too complicated a thing to ask. It’s short. It’s simple. What else is there to say about it? This prayer is simply asking for God to provide for our needs. It’s not necessarily literal bread but it is the material needs that we have in this world. We already do that, don’t we? We ask for God to give us the things we need.
Well, I am not so sure that we do. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is difficult because it is asking God to interfere with our life, our boundaries, and our values. So, we often merely recite the prayer rather than pray it. We may say the words, “Give us today our daily bread.” But are we really asking God to do that for us – or do we feel that God has bigger things on His mind?
After all, there is unrest in the Middle East – God should be working to take care of that. There is a presidential election coming up next year – maybe God should be focusing on ensuring the right candidate gets voted in. There is the cliché that there are children starving in Africa – they need their daily bread. But we can take care of our own, right? We do not need God to provide that for us. After all, we live in America where we can work hard and provide for ourselves.
I spent some time this week looking up definitions for the “American Dream”. Every definition that I read had its own spin on exactly how to define it but there were some key words and phrases that I saw in just about all the definitions. “Opportunity”, “Equality”, “Freedom”, “Liberty”, “The pursuit of happiness”, and “hard work”. Essentially, we define the American Dream as the idea that, in America, you can be whoever you want to be if you work hard enough. You can achieve all that you want to achieve. You can have all that you need and want to have. Because in America all are created equal and we all have the opportunity to become successful.
In America, no one needs to provide our daily bread for us. At least that’s what we seem to believe. But remember – the gospel has a way of challenging our values. The one who believes in the American Dream does not find it necessary to pray, “Give us today our daily bread”. The one who prays the Lord’s Prayer rejects the American Dream because it is to admit that we cannot sustain ourselves and we are dependent upon the grace of God in all things.
See, we like to pretend that God has His little boundary in our life. He affects us spiritually. He makes us better morally. But we don’t need Him to provide for us materially because we can do that ourselves – at least we want to. We need God’s grace to save us from sin but we earn the food on our table. We earn the roof over our head. We decide what the bread that we need is. God just needs to stay in His boundary, right? Because otherwise, we become a little too dependent on Him and when that happens we lose control.
Now, don’t get me wrong – it is important that we work hard to put food on the table and to do what we can to make a life for ourselves. Praying this prayer is not an excuse for laziness.
There are some “preachers” out there who will say that they do not spend any time working on a sermon throughout the week. In fact, they’ll say that even come Sunday morning they don’t know what passage they’re going to look through. They’re just going to be led by the Spirit and preach what He is wanting them to preach.
I have a couple of words for preachers with that kind of mentality. One of them is lazy. Every Sunday morning, you bet I am praying desperately that God gives me the words to say and that I don’t get in the way of what He is trying to do. But if Sunday is the first time I’m expecting the Holy Spirit to lead me then I’m in trouble. Because I need to be praying that He leads me all throughout the week as I study, as I wrestle with the passage, as I write out the words that I want to use. When I write a sermon I work hard. Just because I am seeking for the Lord to lead me does not mean that I sit around all week and do nothing. But I also understand that no matter how hard I work, on my own strength my efforts will amount to nothing.
It’s good to work hard but we all have to realize that it is the Lord that sustains us not our own hard work. There is actually very little that we can control.
That is what I learned when I was little kid whining about eating my broccoli. You know what’s great about my parents: when I was a good kid, obeying all the rules, finishing any chores that were asked of me, my parents would put food on the table for me. And when I was not a good kid, when I didn’t obey the rules, and when I didn’t do what was asked of me, my parents still put food on the table for me. That was not a conditional thing and it was not something that I could control in one way or another by my behavior. They just provided for me. But I also didn’t get to choose what they fed me. Sometimes I had broccoli put on my plate and so I often found it easier to complain than to actually trust that my parents were seeking out my best interest.
It is much easier to complain than it is to trust. See, when we complain we get to play the victim and everyone loves a good victim. Turn on the news and there’s always a new victim that we need to be sensitive towards. Kids are “victims” of bullying. Gays and lesbians are “victims” of discrimination. Christians are “victims” of religious persecution. Immigrants are “victims” of unjust legislation. Veterans are “victims” of an unthankful country. I do not mean to be insensitive because many of those individuals are certainly mistreated. But it illustrates how much we love to be the victim. It gives power behind our complaint. It allows others to feel sympathetic for us. It puts the attention on us. And it allows us to try to gain control back rather than being dependent upon God.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t seem to give any room for complaining. Because we turn to our Father in heaven and ask Him for our daily bread – for what we need – and when we truly pray that prayer we believe He can and will provide for us. So there’s nothing to complain about. It’s out of our hands. There is nothing to worry about because we believe that God has it under control. He will sustain us.
Every time that I complained as a child about what parents fed me I was telling them that I did not trust them to give me what was needed. Every time that we complain we are telling God that we do not trust Him to give us today our daily bread.
To pray the Lord’s Prayer is to be reminded that God is our Father in heaven, and like the best of father’s here on earth, He’s going to provide for us. And yes, we need Him to provide for us. We need Him to give us our daily bread. It may not always be what we want. There will be times He may give us something akin to broccoli. But when we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” We are praying with confidence that God will sustain us.
God cares about our physical needs and He is present in the daily circumstances of our life. God is not only “out there” making His will done, He is also providing us something as simple as bread. We work hard to do what we can but we understand that it is ultimately God who gives us the strength to do the work and it is God who puts the food on our table.
And this challenges us because we grew up believing in something called the American Dream. We believed that if we worked hard enough that we could decide what is best for us: what we need and what we want. The Lord’s Prayer rejects that idea because it says we are dependent upon God to sustain us. We have to trust Him rather than our own strength. So here’s a new dream, a better one I have found: We are a people who seeks that God’s will is done in this world and that is what we live for. We do not chase after our own desires or affluence, we live to be God’s hands and feet in this world. We don’t need, we don’t want the materialistic possessions that the world finds so important. And we trust that in the daily grind the Lord cares about us and for us and He will provide what we need to survive.
In this dream there is no room for complaining because God is present and we can trust Him to give us today our daily bread – even if it is broccoli.