Give us today our daily bread - 10th August 2014 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Mark 6:30-44

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God has a way of cutting to the heart. He opens up the problem like a surgeon, and he pokes and prods it a bit so that we can feel it. Here’s a great example of that from the letter of James in the New Testament. It’s James chapter 4:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?  2 You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.  3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

There’s God cutting us open and exposing a couple of big problems with prayer. 1. We don’t pray. “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” We don’t pray. There are so many different reasons we might give for that. So many excuses that if I began listing them now it’d be a long morning. The outcome is the same, though: You do not have, because you do not ask God. Or, and here’s the other twist, 2. We pray wrongly. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” We pray selfishly. And God, being good, is not interested in feeding our selfishness. So we ask but don’t receive.

Ow. Pretty uncomfortable, isn’t it, that? I guess many of us feel a bit vulnerable when it comes to the subject of our prayer life. But God doesn’t mean to leave us there. When he pokes around in a wound, he does so with healing hands. So the intention of the next three weeks is to let Jesus teach us how to ask. I’ve called the series “If you know what’s good for you…” because very often we don’t know. We’re going to think about what Jesus has told us to ask for. We’re going to look around his word to see examples of what that means. And we’re doing that so that we can be people who ask and who ask well. God’s people know his blessing as they pray. This is important stuff.

So, open your Bibles on page 970, and let’s see what Jesus tells us to ask for. Today we’re going to study Matthew chapter 6 verse 11. Shall we have a go at reading it together? I reckon you can do it. “Give us today our daily bread.”

There you go, easy. Jesus tells us to pray that. “Give us today our daily bread.” Daily bread. It’s not rocket salad, is it? It’s one of the most famous phrases in the Christian vocabulary. Nice short sermon today then.

Ah yes, but. If you know me by now you’ll know that I’m often saying how we need to read a Bible passage in its context if we’re going to understand it. Bible words have Bible meanings and all that. And James says that it’s possible to ask with the wrong motives. So it’s not just a magic spell: say these magic words and it’ll all work out. If we’re going to pray this rightly, we need to understand what Jesus means by it. And if we’re going to do that then we need to look at some context. We need to look at it through the wider angle lenses that Jesus gives us, if we’re going to see straight. OK, here we go:

Wide angle lens: the other things Jesus says in Matthew 6

Let’s build up a picture from what he says just before, and just after. Ok, first obvious thing to notice: this isn’t the first line in the prayer. By the time we ask this, Jesus expects us to be already asking some other things. Verse 9 and 10 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done…” That’s the stuff to ask for first.

So straight away we can kick out a big misunderstanding of this verse. We’re not asking a genie to give us what we want. So many people think that this is what prayer is. Or even if they don’t really think that this is what prayer is, they pray like it. Genie stories all work out the same don’t they: “Master, you may have three wishes, ask for whatever you want.” “Ok, I’ll have fabulous wealth please.” “Certainly master, here you go, but I’ll put a little twist in it so that it comes round and bites you on the behind. Ha ha ha….” Christian prayer is just not that sort of thing. Jesus says we pray to our Father. We’re dealing not with a vending machine, a blessing-dispenser, but with a Father who knows us, who loves us, and who what is best. It’s relational prayer. It’s personal. And we’re explicitly told to ask him to do what HE wants. “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Or to rephrase that, “You be the boss; do what you want.” Do you see that? That’s got to shape our understanding. “Father, glory to you, you be the boss, do what you want, give us today our daily bread.” We’re asking our loving Father to give us what we need, according to his priorities.

OK, let’s pan back a little more and see what Jesus says just afterwards. What does Jesus talk about just after this prayer, have a look at verse 16 onwards. Can you see? He’s talking about fasting isn’t he? How to fast. Fasting which is going without. Fasting is going without so that we remember how much we depend upon our Father. So straight away we can see that we’re asking God to give us our daily bread, knowing that sometimes it might be best for us to go without, so that we remember that we depend upon him. Perhaps at the moment an issue for you is that you’re hardly aware of your dependence on God at all. You’ve swallowed the old materialist lie that you produce what you need yourself. If so, perhaps a first step for you is some fasting. Either deliberately by deciding to go without something for a bit – you know, food or your phone or Facebook or whatever else you can’t live without – or by God in his wisdom taking something from you, so that you discover you need him. So you discover that he himself is better than the other things he’s given you.

Ok, pan back a bit more: what does Jesus say next? Well, verse 19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.” Right, so when we ask for our daily bread we’re talking about what we need. We’re not interested in stockpiling earthly things. The place for stockpiling is heaven. We want riches with God, not riches on earth. Here we need, well, what we need. Daily bread.

And then pan back one more step and what have you got? Verse 25: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or your body, what you will wear.” So asking for what we need is an alternative to worry. This is a big Bible theme. Paul says “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything with prayer and petition, present your requests to God.” Peter says “Cast all your anxiety on God, because he cares for you.” Asking for what we need is the enemy of worry. Worry is what we do when it all depends on us. When we don’t know what will come next and we feel powerless and out of control and, and, and… Prayer is saying “Father, you have the future in your hands, do what you want, give us what we need.” It doesn’t mean prayer has to be serene and unemotional. Asking our loving Father for our needs should be heartfelt, it can be gut-wrenching and impassioned. But it’s not lonely, inward, isolating like worry is.

Then pan back one more click and notice how Jesus ends this section. Verse 33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Jesus finishes where he began, doesn’t he? It’s almost the same as “Your kingdom come, your will be done, give us today our daily bread” isn’t it? Jesus is saying that our priority, our first desire needs to be for our Father to rule in our lives and in our world. For him to change and shape us. That’s what we seek. As we ask him to give us what we need we’re also asking him to change us, so that we want the right things. We’re asking him to shape our desires so that we ask rightly. And as we seek that God will give us what we need now, as we ask him.

So, we’ve panned back using this first wide angle lens, the “what Jesus says in Matthew 6” lens, and what have we got? Well, when we pray “give us today our daily bread” we’re asking our loving Father, who knows best, to give us what we need for today as we seek him. And we’re allowing for the fact that he might withhold things from us to help us to seek him, so that we don’t get bogged down seeking treasures here on earth instead.

Do you see that? Do you see how might shape the things you pray for?

Ok well let’s pan back even further so that we might see even more clearly. Let’s use the extra wide angle lens of not just Matthew 6 but the Exodus story as it gets picked up by Jesus.

The reason we read Mark 6 before – the account of Jesus feeding the 5000 – was so that we might see this connection between what Jesus is telling us to pray here and that great background history of God saving his people that we’ve been thinking about in the last few months – the Exodus from Egypt. So have a quick flick on to Mark 6, it’s page 1009, and we’re looking at verses 30-44.

This is such a famous miracle that we run the risk of not spotting the Exodus language, but actually it’s all over it. In verse 31 we see Jesus calling his disciples away to a ‘quiet place’, then in verse 32 “So they went away by themselves to a remote place” and then in verse 35 the disciples say to Jesus “this is a remote place”, the people need to eat and so on. Those three expressions in the original language are all the same. The word literally means “a desert place” or a “wilderness place” – it’s the same word that gets used for the desert that the people of Israel travelled through with the LORD after he has brought them out of Egypt. And here in that desert is Jesus being a shepherd to these wandering people, like Numbers chapter 27 tells us Moses and Joshua were shepherds to the wandering people of Israel bringing them through the desert and to the promised land. And there, in the desert place, Jesus the shepherd teaches them and gives them bread from heaven.

You see in all of that we’re being shown that Jesus has come to rescue and feed and sustain his people and bring them safely to his promised land; to the new heavens and earth that he has promised. Jesus has come to bring about a new Exodus, a greater one than the one from Egypt, saving his people from sin and death for everlasting life with him. So when we pray “Give us today our daily bread” it’s a real Exodus prayer, isn’t it? Just as God gave the Israelites manna in the desert, bread from heaven, just enough for each day to keep them going on that journey to the promised land; so we are asking God now to give us what we need to keep us going on our journey to everlasting life. We’re asking God to keep us walking with Jesus. See it’s not just physical provision we’re asking for, is it? Jesus describes himself in John chapter 6 as “the bread of God who comes down from heaven.” If we’re going to keep going as Christians we need daily feeding from Jesus. We need his Spirit to keep turning our hearts to him, protecting us from turning back. We need that. Just like any other food we can’t produce it ourselves. We can’t photosynthesise spiritually, just as we can’t physically. We need the food to be given to us. So we ask. Give us your word. Give us Jesus. Give us today our daily bread.

So do you see what a big prayer this is? Father, give us what we need today, physical and spiritual, give us what we need so that we might keep going with you, so that we might keep following Jesus, bring us safely through this desert to the everlasting life which you have in store for us. Do you see that? That’s big stuff we’re asking for. Stuff which only God can give. It’s the sort of thing we need to pray for every day without exception. Give us today our daily bread.

This is a little verse with a big picture. And it’s important we keep that picture in mind, so that we don’t misuse this prayer like James says, and treat it as a magic way of getting whatever we want. It’s also important we keep this big picture in mind so that we don’t end up getting jaded and disillusioned when we suffer.

You see the expectation that Jesus has here is that we Christians pray this as travellers in the desert. On a journey to the promised land, but not there yet. The desert road is hard. It’s not a place you sit down and rest. I met a man the other week who was telling me about how he had been to visit Death Valley in Arizona, and how when you’re there you’ve just got to keep going through; it’s not a place to try to get comfortable. Rest there and you’ll die. If and when we lose things here and now, if and when life here and now is horrible, that doesn’t mean that God has failed us. The rest we look forward to is coming, it’s future; it will be glorious. That’s where we will be comfortable; that’s where we can store up treasure; not here. We need to keep asking God to give us what we need now to keep going with Jesus Christ along this desert road to glory. Praying “give us today our daily bread” doesn’t mean “make us comfortable here and now.” In fact, part of it is “Father, keep us from getting too comfortable here and now. Keep us moving on the road to life.”

It’s been a horrible week for God’s people across the globe, hasn’t it? The reports from northern Iraq and Syria of Christians being displaced, oppressed, killed, crucified even have been utterly heartbreaking. It’s impossible to talk about asking God for our daily needs without being aware that in the last three or four days alone 200,000 Christians have been forced to flee from the advancing armies of IS around Nineveh, and so today are bereft of house and food and, in many cases, loved ones. How do we respond to that?

Well, Jesus has not been dethroned by this. He told us that lots of things like this would happen. This is fulfilling what Jesus said, it’s not defying it. Even this week many have entered eternal life with the Lord. They are out of death valley, they are home. For them, that is great news, however hard it is for those left behind. As Jesus said, the attackers can only kill the body. After that, they are powerless.

But also let’s remember that these are our family. We belong to a suffering, exiled community of God’s children travelling through the desert. Remember that. Let their witness make you remember that.

And let it drive you to prayer. “Give us today our daily bread.” Father, not just me, not just us in Finchley, us across the world. Your children, Give us what we need this day. That prayer has an extra edge at the moment, doesn’t it? Will you pray it? Instead of just shrugging our shoulders and sighing about yet another tragic news story, will we pray?

And actually, not just in the big things like this – in the little things of this week too, will we pray? For daily things, small scale stuff? Will we bring God into the conversation?

Because that’s important too. The small stuff of life is part of our discipleship, just as the big stuff is. Sometimes people can be thrown off track because they don’t pray this prayer when something really big happens, and so the turn away from the Lord. It’s just as easy to drift away because we don’t pray this prayer in amongst the thousands of little day to day decisions that we think are inconsequential. Bit by bit we can squeeze God out of huge sections of our daily life. And so we settle down on the desert road.

I was talking to someone about how great prayer is the other day and they were saying how helpful they find it to just pray in all sorts of situations – going to the shops, finding a parking space and so on. Many of us wouldn’t think of praying about those things. What we buy, what we do on holidays, the day to day normal bits of our work. The little things. Somewhere deep down maybe we feel that God isn’t interested. We might even feel bad praying about those things because there are other things going on in the world which are more important.

But think about that for a moment. What if we don’t pray about those things. We still go to the shops. We still do our jobs. We still park our cars. But we do each of those things without inviting God into the conversation. It’s the flipside of that materialist’s lie – the idea that we provide ourselves with what we need without having to turn to God.

When we pray “Give us today our daily bread” about small things, then we are setting those things in this bigger context of God’s rule, of him keeping us going on the journey to life. We are inviting him into the conversation, we’re seeking his will to be done even in these areas of our life. We’re therefore opening up to the possibility that this thing we’re praying about might not be what God wants for us. Buying that thing might not be help for our discipleship, it might be a hindrance. We’re inviting his action into all of these areas, our Father who knows what’s best for us. Give us today our daily bread covers all things. Right from the big stuff down to the small.

So, this week. Will you pray this? Will you join with me? If you’re wanting some helpful practical advice or just a bit more encouragement to pray I recommend this book to you – it’s called “You Can Pray” by Tim Chester. It will help you to pray.

Will you pray with me? Every Monday evening at 7.15pm a couple of us meet to pray here in church. It’s usually only two or three. There’s so much to pray for. Will you come and join us?

Will you pray now? In a couple of minutes I’m going to be inviting people to come forward for prayer. Perhaps in the light of this talk there are things in your life which you’d like to bring before God in prayer. You can do that – just ask him. Sometimes it’s good though to do so with the help of others. So why not come down to the front and we’ll pray. I and a couple of others will be here, just ask for prayer and we’ll pray.