Give us tomorrow's bread - John 6:1-15

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 17th June 2007.

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This week I came across some prayers by children which make interesting reading. For example. Dear God, Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother. Larry, aged 6. Dear God, I’ve read the Bible. What does "beget" mean? Nobody will tell me. Love, Alison, aged 7. Dear God, Did you really mean "do unto others as they do unto you"? Because if you did, then I'm going to fix my brother. Dave, aged 10. Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. Please can we swop? Joyce aged 8. Dear God, It rained for the whole of our holiday and my dad was mad! He said some things about you that people aren’t supposed to say, but I hope you will not hurt him anyway. Your friend, (But I am not going to tell you who I am, in case you find out where we live!).

            Well it was JC Ryle, the nineteenth century bishop of Liverpool who once said: “If I want to know what kind of God you believe in, I’ll just listen to your prayers.” It’s quite a sobering thought. That the way we pray reveals a great deal about the God we really deep down believe in. Do we really believe he is the majestic holy sovereign God who holds history in his hands, who knows everything about us. Then our prayers will be matched by that understanding. And it’s a sobering thought especially so if we find prayer hard and perhaps sometimes find ourselves relegated to praying the sorts of prayers that those children prayed. It raises the question as to whether we really know the God we are praying to. But I hope that as we have studied the Lord’s prayer these past few weeks, we have found our horizons expanded. Because one of the reasons Jesus teaches us this prayer is surely to teach us something about the God we pray to. And we have discovered some wonderful things. For Jesus has shown us that this God is our heavenly Father. He is both the Lord of the universe, who holds the nations in the palms of his hands. And he is our heavenly Father. The very one who can blow away a savage dictator with the breath of his mouth, is the same God who knows the very hairs on our heads and cares for his people so tenderly and intimately. He’s the God whose honour and glory is his key concern. His kingdom will come, in that he will be seen to be king and ruler over all things. His will for the universe will be achieved, to bring all things under Jesus Christ. That’s the God we pray to.

            And Jesus has shown us that the main priorities in our prayer lives should be the glory and honour of God’s name. That’s why the first three requests centre around God. May your name be honoured, may your kingdom come, may your will be done. The focus is on God. But now as we move through the prayer, the focus switches. Now Jesus commands us to pray for our needs. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts. Lead us not into temptation. Jesus specifically commands us to pray for our needs. We move from a passion for God’s glory, to a humble dependence each day on his grace. But we are not meant to forget all that we have learnt in the first three requests. We’re not to sideline God’s glory and think to ourselves: “Excellent, now we’ve done with the God bit, we can get praying for our needs. Right God, I’ll have that new Porsche and the house in the country.” No, that is not how it works. Rather the honour and glory of God’s name is to be the driving force all the way through the prayer. So when we are praying about our needs, it’s understood that we see our needs within the framework of God’s glory. We won’t want to ask something for ourselves which dishonours God or hinders his kingdom, or which is not his will. No, our needs, if we truly understand the God we pray to, will be shaped by what God wants for us. His will for our lives, his glory in our lives, his kingdom priorities in our lives. And with that in mind, we turn to the first of the three requests for our needs. “Give us today our daily bread.” Just what exactly does Jesus mean we he tells us to pray for our daily bread. Well we’ll look at the answer under two headings:

1) God’s Present Provision

2) God’s Future Promise

And we’ll see that although we’re praying for our needs, we must never stray from the concern for God’s glory and honour.

1) God’s Present Provision

So first then, God’s present provision. “Give us today our daily bread.” Now it has to be said that down the ages, this request of the Lord’s prayer has suffered from an interesting track record. Many commentators down the years have leapt quickly to the conclusion that this request cannot be about earthly things. It’s just too common, too dirty, too unspiritual. Surely it cannot be about asking God to provide us with bread for the day can it? And so early writers believed that Jesus was telling us to ask for spiritual food or the bread of the holy Communion. Now we will see a little later that there is another angle to this request, but we must not leap too quickly to the conclusion that Jesus doesn’t want us to pray for our immediate physical needs. The fact is God is interested in every aspect of our lives. He is our heavenly Father who provides food and shelter and clothing and sunshine and rain. He is a God who joyfully made the physical world we live in and the physical bodies we have. So it is not at all unspiritual to ask God to provide for our daily needs. In fact, says Jesus, it is precisely what we should be doing. It was Martin Luther the very down to earth reformer of the 16th century, who said that “bread” was a symbol for “everything necessary for the preservation of this life like food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, children, good government and peace.” So we are talking first and foremost about God’s provision of our daily physical needs. And there are two aspects that we need to bear in mind when we are making this request:

a) My dependence not my independence- First praying this request is about my dependence not my independence. You see when we pray this request we are acknowledging that we are totally dependant on God for everything. Everything from the food we eat, to the breath in our lungs is given by God. And in the society in which Jesus was ministering at the time, this would have been very apparent. It was an agrarian society, which meant that everyone lived off the land around them or the lake by which they lived. And they realised that they were totally dependant on God to give them what they needed to survive. One bad storm and a whole year’s crops could be ruined. One month of too much rain or too little rain and again the whole thing was ruined. Life appeared to be more fragile, and thus they would understand what Jesus meant when he told them to pray, “Give us our daily bread.” They knew that the bread they needed came from God’s hand. And they knew they needed to pray to God to provide.

            Now our problem is that we have largely forgotten that. We now live in what we call a global village. We get our food from all over the world. And if there is a famine in Africa, or a drought in America, or a storm in South East Asia, then it really doesn’t matter that much. We can always get our food from somewhere else for the time being. After all, in Europe we have a milk lake, and a butter mountain. We’re in no danger are we? And in this country, we are relatively free from major environmental disasters. The worst I can remember was in 1982 when we were snowed in for three days, and I remember my Dad and I had to use our sledge to go and get provisions from Weston Super Mare town centre. Now of course, people do suffer from floods and storms and the like, like the last few days, but let’s be honest, it’s rarely very bad. By and large we think, consciously or subconsciously, that we are independent, that we can get by. We have technology, we have the global food market. We’re fine. We’re safe. But we’re not. And such proud presumption leads to two problems.

One is a failure to trust God with the details of our lives. And that failure to trust him is seen in our prayerlessness. We perhaps think that God is necessary for the spiritual side of our lives, but the nitty gritty, the food on our plates, our health, the peace in this land. Do we really need to trust God for those things? After all, life goes on doesn’t it. We can go to the shops if things are looking dicey. We can vote out the government if they get too bad. But we forget that all good things come from God. We forget that it is God who gives us political stability, God who allows crops to grow on a global scale, God who allows us to meet together like this. Have you ever wondered how amazing it is of God to have allowed us to get through this past week? Is it not a mark of his amazing grace that he should give us life for another week? We don’t deserve any of his good gifts. And so often we arrogantly presume on God’s good gifts without trusting him to provide and showing that trust in prayer.

And there is a second failure too. And that is a failure to thank God. Because when he does give us all these things, we all too often fail to give him the thanks and praise that he deserves. How many of us take the time to pause to give God thanks for the food on our plates each mealtime. Or to thank God for safety at the end of a journey in the car. Or to thank God before we sleep for another day whereby he’s sustained us to the end? Or to thank him that those test results were not as bad as they could have been? Or to thank him that are children have survived another day at school? And the danger with ingratitude is that it can so often lead to a hard heart and eventually forgetting God himself.

No what this request teaches us is that we are dependant on God for all good things. And the humble believer will acknowledge that fact every day in this prayer that God would give us our daily bread. By way of illustration consider these words of Fiona Castle who had to endure her husband Roy Castle going through the painful process of dying of cancer. She wrote a while ago: “Recently a friend commented to me that many people live their lives as though it were a dress rehearsal for the real thing. But in fact, by tonight, we will have given the only performance of ‘today’ that we will ever give. So we have to put our heart, our energy and honesty and sincerity into what we do every day…. So as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God to “give us this day” thankfully receiving one day at a time- looking to him to sustain us with everything we need, whether it be food, shelter, love of family and friends, or courage and hope to face the future. And at the same time we echo the words of the psalmist: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.””    

            Or again consider these words of the sixteenth century reformer, John Calvin as he speaks about prayer. “Believers do not pray with a view to informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as if he were reluctant. On the contrary they pray in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they might exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they might relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his arms. In a word that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect both for themselves and for others all good things.” So let me ask you, are you someone who shows their dependence on God for all good things as you pray. Or do you show your independence from him by breezing through the week without ever asking him to grant you your daily bread, those things you need from him to get through the day. Because this requests teaches us my dependence, not my independence.

b) My needs not my greeds- But there’s a second aspect of this present provision that God gives us in this request. And that is it’s about needs not greeds. You see if we are to be dependant on God, then what are we dependant on him for? Well notice again what Jesus says: “Give us today our daily bread.” In other words he tells us to ask for what we need not what we necessarily greedily want. It’s a request for dependence on God to provide us with our daily necessities. Bread was the staple diet of the day and so daily bread was that which was sufficient for the day. So Jesus says pray for what you need each day.

            Now this request is very much in line with what Jesus has urged us to pray in the lines before. Because the last request was “may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven”. And we saw that one of the applications of those request was that we should live lives which reflect God’s kingdom priorities. It was a boomerang prayer. If we are praying for God’s kingdom to come, then we need to embody the priorities of the kingdom in our lives. And part of that kingdom lifestyle is the ability to be content with what we have and to be happy with the provision of basic necessities, which God promises to give us. So to pray “give us today our daily bread” is to pray a prayer that reflects kingdom priorities. You are not going to have your head turned by all this world offers us. You won’t want more than you need.

            Now of course in our consumer dominated culture that is extremely hard to do in practice. It reminds me of the story of the old miser who called together his minister, doctor and lawyer, as he lay dying on his deathbed. And he said to them: “They say you can’t take it with. But I’m going to try. I have here three envelopes with £30,000 cash in each one. I want each of you to take an envelope, and as they lower my coffin into the ground, throw in the envelopes and that way I’ll be able to take it with me.” Well the old man died and the day of the funeral came and went. And the minister, doctor and lawyer did as requested. But as they were going home, the minister was the first to break the silence. “Gentlemen, I’m afraid I have a confession to make. I needed the money for the church, so I took out £10,000 and only threw in £20,000.” The doctor went next, and said: “Well I confess that I needed £20,000 for my new clinic, so I only threw in £10,000.” At which point the lawyer piped up and said, “Gentlemen, I am ashamed of you both. I threw in a cheque for the whole amount.”

            And that desire for more and more affects Christians just as much as it does non Christians. And that is why Jesus’ prayer is so radically counter cultural. It is so different to the attitude and the atmosphere we are breathing in on a daily basis. Because he is saying that we are to be content with what we need. Our daily bread. God promises to provide us with what we need, not necessarily what we want. So just glance on later on in chapter 6 and see what Jesus says in verse 25 and following: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away on barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” And then verse 31: “So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Do you see what Jesus is saying? He is saying that God, our loving heavenly Father promises to provide us with everything that is necessary. And we are to trust him. We are not to worry.

Now I don’t think I’d be the only one in this building if I confessed that I find this aspect of the Christian life hard to do. The strange thing is I can trust God to look after me spiritually. I know he gives me eternal life through the gospel. But why is it that I find it hard to trust him when it comes to my physical life, that he will provide everything I need. Why do I worry so much about my health, my family, my future, my employment and everything else? Well is it not because I think that’s my part of the bargain. God will look after my eternal spiritual health. I’ll do the earthly bit. But that is not the deal. No our heavenly Father promises to give us what we need. So we needn’t worry. And we need to ask ourselves if we really and genuinely believe that promise. Do we really believe that God will give us what we need? Do we believe he will see to it was are adequately employed so we can feed ourselves? Do we really believe he will provide the strength we need today to be good parents? Do we really believe he will give us the wisdom to make tough life changing decisions? Do we really believe he will see to it that we will be fed and cared for? Well if the answer is yes, and I take it those are some of our basic needs, not luxuries, then he will provide and we needn’t worry. Now of course, sometimes God will allow us to go through times of great need, perhaps to discipline us, or to show us dependency on him. But he will always provide what is necessary for our lives until he sees fit to take us from this world.

So consider this story of James Hudson Taylor. Hudson Taylor was the founder of the China Inland Mission and at the age of 27 he was preparing to go to China. He was working hard, ministering on Sundays, and living a very frugal life. One Sunday, after he had had a bowl of gruel the night before, porridge in the morning and nothing for supper, he was asked to go and pray for a poor man and his wife. Hudson Taylor had two shillings and sixpence in his pocket, and when he saw their poverty he felt the urge to give. He thought to himself: “I have two shillings and a sixpence. So I could give one shilling.” While they continued talking, he thought again. “I would gladly give the family 1 shilling and sixpence.” He then told them about God’s love and suddenly felt a hypocrite. He thought: “No, if I have 2 shillings and sixpence, then I will give them the 2 shillings and keep the sixpence.” Well this internal struggle went on and eventually he prayed the Lord’s prayer with them. At the end the man said: “If you can help us, for God’s sake do!” After a tremendous struggle Hudson Taylor gave up the whole 2 shillings and sixpence, and immediately he felt a sense of great joy. He went home joyful and fell asleep. The next morning he was amazed to find that on his doorstep was a brand new pair of gloves and a half sovereign coin, a 400% increase on his original gift. Hudson Taylor never forgot that incident and it taught him to give generously and trust the Lord who always promises to give us what we need. Now I don’t tell that story so that we expect God will miraculously provide in that way every time we are in need. But it does illustrate that God looks after his own, and we need to trust him. And praying that God will supply our needs is a mark of child like dependency on our heavenly Father. And that is what we are asking for when we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” And the question for us is this: Is it a prayer we pray, and is the attitude of dependency on God for our basic needs one we have. God’s present provision.

2) God’s Future Promise

But there is another aspect of this request that we need to consider and that is God’s future promise. Because this request is not just about the present, and the way God provides. It also looks forward to the future. Because the word Jesus uses for “daily” can also mean “tomorrow”. It means something like “give us today the bread of tomorrow.” Now in what sense might we pray a prayer like that? Well we need to remember that the whole of the Lord’s prayer has had a future aspect to it so far. When we pray “Lord, honour your name” and “may your kingdom come” and “may your will be done,” we are praying that God will bring about the fulfilment of his plans for the universe. We are praying for his kingdom to be seen in all its fullness and reality. Literally we are praying for heaven. For that is the time when we will see God come in all his glory and honour. That will be the time when all the wrongs will be righted, and God’s name will be lifted up and glorified, when his will will be done completely by his people in his new kingdom. And we have seen those future aspects of the Lord’s prayer at each stage. So it would be odd if there were no future element to the second half of the Lord’s prayer.

            But also all the way through the OT, God’s provision for his people was always supposed to point them on to a greater provision. They were always looking forward to something better. So when God provided his people with manna in the desert when they were wandering for forty years, it was to point them forward to a time when God would give them a permanent land flowing with milk and honey, a land were they would never go without. There bread would be abundant. And when they eventually got into the land and experienced all the blessings of that provision and rest, it was supposed to point them forward to a greater rest and place which God would provide for his people in Jesus. So when the prophets look forward to that greater provision in Jesus, how do they describe what is coming to the people of God? Well they describe it as a place of abundance, where their grain will not run out, a place of feasting and enjoying the rich food of God’s table. You see there was always a future aspect to God’s provision for his people. It was supposed to point them forward to a better time.

            But now for us, that time has dawned. What did Jesus say? “I am the bread of life… If anyone eats of this bread, he will never go hungry.” And because his body was broken on the cross for you and me, so we can begin to experience the blessings of the future kingdom now in some way. We can know the forgiveness of sins today. We can know the joy of the Spirit’s work in our life today. We can know the comfort of meeting with God’s people and being supported on the road to heaven today. We can begin to experience tomorrow’s bread today. And how did Jesus describe the coming kingdom? As a feast. We will sit down with him and eat and be satisfied fully! It will be a fantastic time of rejoicing with our God and king. That is what we have to look forward to. And as we share literal bread and wine this morning in remembrance of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are both looking back and looking forward. We look back to that great provision of rescue, as the bread of life himself was literally broken for you and me. As Jesus said, the bread, meaning his body, is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. And we look forward to that great day when we will see Jesus face to face and eat with him in his kingdom.

            So when we are praying “give us today the bread for tomorrow” we are praying with one eye on the future. We are trusting God to provide for us today in all the ups and downs of life. But those present pains are seen in the light of the future hope, as we look forward to that glorious feast with our king. So we are praying, “Lord, keep me going in the present by reminding me of the future. Keep me trusting your provision today, keep me believing your promise for the future.” And that surely is a wonderful prayer to pray.

            So as we finish, let me tell you about one man who knew the reality of these truths. His name was Henry Lyte. Now not many of us will have heard of Lyte, but all of us will know one of his most famous hymns: “Abide with Me.” Unfortunately it’s now associated with funerals and often stirs memories of sadness, but actually Lyte wrote that hymn as a hymn of victory. Now when Lyte penned that hymn, he himself was within months of his death. He had serious chest complaints and knew his time was short. And one day, as he pondered Luke 24 where the risen Jesus appears to the two on the road to Emmaus, he began to write down his thoughts in verse: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me.” He knew that God alone was the one who could sustain him and be his helper in all the ups and downs of life. Now for much of his life, Henry Lyte had feared death, but shortly before his death, he received a new confidence because of a deeper appreciation of Christ’s resurrection. So he was able to write: “I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless, ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness; Where is death’s sting, where grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me!” He said just a few hours before his death, “I glory only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. O there is nothing terrible in death. Jesus Christ steps into the grave before me. Blessed faith… Today piercing through the mist of earth; tomorrow changed to sight! Abiding with the Lord forever.” Here was a man who knew the reality of the present provision and the joy of the future promise. And so he could write in the final verse, “Hold thou the cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom and point me to the skies, heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”          

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