Prayer Ė Confession of Dependence - 2
The twelve strong, independent men gathered around Jesus were unsure what to say to God in heaven. Jesusí teaching included instruction to ask God for daily bread. The twelve were to go through life with an attitude of dependence on God emblazoned on their minds. So they should ask the Lord God for life, breath, everything.
Should the twelve, however, ask God for any item that struck their fancy? Should they ask for steak for their daily tea? Should the fishermen in their midst ask for a new boat because, well, the neighbour has one too?
To answer the question, we need to appreciate the structure of the Lordís Prayer. We tend to see the six petitions of the Lordís Prayer as made up of two parts. The first three each speak of Ďyourí Ė"Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done"Ė and the last three each speak of Ďusí Ė "Give us day by day our daily bread, Forgive us our debts, Lead us not into temptation". This observation prompts us to conclude Ėmistakenly!Ė that God is central to the first three petitions, while in last three we get to pray for ourselves.
It is certainly true that with the first three petitions we pray with God central to our minds and prayers. But it is not true that with the second set of three petitions we now get a chance to focus on our needs and wants without regard anymore to God. Once we get to the second set of three petitions, we are not to consider our God-centredness finished (as in: Ďweíve asked enough for God; now itís our turní); with the second set of three petitions God remains the centre, the focus of our praying. The theme of that first petition Ė"Hallowed be Your name"Ė sets the tone for all prayer, including when we pray the fourth petition, when we ask for daily bread. Even a prayer for daily bread is to be God-centred.
To appreciate how this petition is meant to be God-centred, we need to understand the connections between the six petitions of the Lordís Prayer. The first petition sets the tone for all prayer: "hallowed be Your name" Ė God-centred. The second petition set the context in which we pray: "Your kingdom come" Ė life is war. In that context of war, now, we glorify Godís name by doing the will of God, obeying His laws. Hence the third petition: "Your will be done." These three belong together.
But: how can one do the will of God? We all understand: we are not able to do the will of God if the God upon whom we are dependent does not supply us with daily needs. No soldier in battle can carry out the commands of his general successfully if that soldierís stomach remains empty and his store of ammunition depleted. To carry out his generalís wishes, that soldier needs his Ďdaily breadí.
The Lord God would have His people, redeemed as they are in the blood of Christ, to glorify Him. They do so in a context of war, of satanic hatred. To be able to glorify God in the context of battle, temptation, hatred, strife, Godís people are to obey His commands. To live obediently for God, Godís people need strength from God, need daily bread and drink, need sleep, clothes, a vehicle, etc. The point is this: the fourth petition interlocks neatly with the first three; this fourth petition concerning daily bread also has God as its focus.
This connection between daily bread and Godís glory is nothing new. In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of such basics of human existence as food, drink and clothes. But, Jesus taught His disciples in that sermon, do not worry about these basics. That is: donít focus your attention on them. What then? If the disciples were not to burn up their energies and their efforts in pursuit of their own needs, what was to burn them up? Jesusí answer was this:
"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
Here is the same thought as Iím here developing: we are to be God-centred in all our activities, thoughts, and prayers, and God Himself will supply whatever we need.
Our petitions for all our bodily needs, then, are to be focused on Godís glory. If the apostle Paul can say that our eating and our drinking, yes, all of our activities, are to be done to the glory of God (I Cor 10:31), then itís evident that also our asking for food and drink is to be done to the glory of God. Just as I am not here for myself but instead for God, so too I am not to ask for myself but for Godís glory. My petitions for daily bread are then to be prayed with Godís glory central to my mind.
Satisfied with the Needful
This focus in the fourth petition determines what we pray for. I need food for tomorrow because my cupboard is empty, and so I pray for food. But I donít go and pray for a steak! I donít pray for a steak (much as my mouth may drool at the thought!) because I donít need a steak in order to do Godís will in my daily life, donít need a steak to resist the evil one and make Godís kingdom come, donít need a steak to glorify Godís name. I receive a job that requires a vehicle to get to it. So I pray for a car in order to be able to carry out the task God gives me in His kingdom. But I donít pray for a Porche, because I donít need a Porche in order to get to work; a Holden will do.
Again, if Iím not to pray for the big and the elaborate (unless, of course, to do my particular task in Godís kingdom I need the big and the elaborate), it follows that my efforts and energies are not to be bent on obtaining the big and the elaborate either. If prayer is to be directed to Godís glory, daily life is to be lived to Godís glory. Itís not without significance that Jesus told His disciples to pray for Ďbreadí, not for caviar. In their daily lives they were to be content with bread, though their appetites might cry out for the more fancy. Here is the same thought for us as we met with the first petition: our goals in life are to be God-centred, not self-centred. What we work for is Godís glory, not our own comforts and empires. Where itís our own empires and comforts we pursue, we ought not to be surprised that prayer is difficult and frustrating.
"Give us day by day our daily bread," Jesus said to the disciples around Him in response to their request for instruction about praying. The disciples now knew what to pray for: the plain, common things needed to live this life to the greater glory of God Ė things like food, faithfulness, shelter, sleep, humility, new shoes, catching the train on time, obedience, etc. Whatever is needed to carry out Godís commands in my daily circumstances so that in turn I make Godís kingdom come and give glory to His wonderful name: thatís what I pray for.
Would God hear a request from the disciples for daily bread? Jesus gave the twelve this promise: "ask, and it shall be given to you" (Luke 11:13). Jesus is insistent: yes, you will receive! Shall I invariably receive, then, the new shoes I want to have because, well, because everybody else has them? No, I shall not. Shall I get the footwear I need in order to carry out Godís commands for me in the concrete circumstances of my battle against sin and Satan as I seek Godís glory? Make no mistake: thatís the promise! In His way Ėmaybe differently than I expectĖ God will surely supply. Thatís the promise.
Paul puts the thought in a powerful rhetorical question like this:
"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).
Yes, itís the promise: all things in the world are here for us! And we are here for God. If we wish to pray, we shall need to deny the self and live for God. Then ask for the daily bits and pieces we need to live for Him, and we shall certainly receive whatever is needed for Godís greater glory.