Give us today our daily bread - Exodus 16:1-21

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 23rd November 2008.

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If you’ve been watching the news this week, you will have seen the latest instalment of the crisis in Congo.  In recent weeks, we’ve already seen women mourning over their children who’ve died of malnutrition.  But this week we’ve learnt that the rebel soldiers have been systematically raping their conquered subjects;  and not just adults, but raping children as young as 3.   Those crammed into the refugee camps are literally begging for help from the outside world.  And no doubt the Christians among them will be praying to their Heavenly Father to provide for their daily needs.  

And so where is God in all this?  What do we mean when we pray:  give is this day our daily bread?  And what kind of answers are we expecting?    Because we need to beware of the crass and glib answers that Christians sometimes come up with to the difficult issues of the day.  Sometimes those crass and glib answers can even be doctrinally correct, and yet still be totally insensitive to the pastoral realities of the world around us.  Any understanding we have of this part of the LP must reflect the reality of the world we live in;  the reality of the fact that we are not yet in the perfect new creation where there is no more crying, no more pain, and no more death.  In the now, we live in a broken world where children as well as adults get ill and die; where families’ hearts are pierced with the pain of bereavement, where relationships are dysfunctional and where conflicts and wars seem to multiple across the globe.  And so what did Jesus mean when he taught us to pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, give us this day our daily bread. 




Link/  Recap

If you’ve been with us this term, you’ll know that we’ve been going through the LP line by line.  So you might want to turn back to it in Mt 6 on p [902/  1504].  And we’ve seen that the first half of the prayer is all about God:  it begins by addressing God properly;  our Father in Heaven.    And then it moves onto asking that God’s name would be glorified:  Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name.  Next it asks for God’s kingdom to come;  and last week we were unpacking God’s will:  And there’s been a considerable overlap between these first 3 petitions:  God’s glory, His coming Kingdom and His will are all wrapped up with that coming day:  J’s second coming;  a day that will usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  But in every petition, there’s also been a present aspect as well;  a now as well as a not yet perspective. 

Pray for Spiritual Bread (Jn 6:25-69)

And this week’s line of the prayer begins a new section.  If the first half of the prayer focused on God and His glory, His kingdom and His will, now in the second half, Jesus shows us how to pray for our needs.  And we start with our daily bread:  Dear Heavenly Father, give is this day our daily bread.    By using the word daily, Jesus is deliberately picking up on the daily provision of manna or bread in the desert in the time of Moses which we read about earlier.  But He was actually talking about much more than lunch? Turn back with me if you would to Jn 6 on p[994/  1657].

And of course the context is that in the first part of chapter 6, Jesus has just fed a crowd of 5,000 people with a small boy’s packed lunch.    Yes Jesus was providing for the physical needs of 5,000 people.    Yes it’s a physical miracle showing us that Jesus has got divine authority over creation.  But the main point is even bigger:  look with me at v25:

 26Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, and you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

After the feeding miracle, Jesus did a bunk, and the crowds were looking for him.  When they found him in v25, he says:  look:  you’re only after me because I gave you a free lunch.  Before I fed you all miraculously on the mountainside, I was preaching my heart out for several hours:  weren’t you listening?  Because you’ve missed the point.  I’m not primarily talking about lunch.  I’ve got a much bigger agenda:  saving you from an eternity in hell;  I’m talking about eternal life.  And in v28, the penny begins to drop a bit:

v28:  “Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" 

V29: Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom [the Father] has sent."”

And look onto v35:

v35: “Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

And on again to v40:

v40: “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."

And finally onto v47:

v47:    “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."”

If I miraculously provided food for every starving person, says Jesus, they’d still die one day.  If I healed every disease and sickness in this world, it would still only be temporary:  you’d still all die one day.   I’m not talking about lunch.  I’m talking about giving you eternal life.  That’s the main reason I came down from heaven in the first place.  Not to win the preacher of the year award and build a reputation as the greatest moral teacher the world has even known.  No the reason I came from heaven to earth was to give my life;  to have my body broken as I took on board your sin;  I came down from heaven to die in your place;  to take the punishment you deserved so that you could be forgiven and receive eternal life.  I am the bread of life:  he who eats this bread, he who believes in me and my central message gets it:  gets eternal life that is.  But if you don’t ask you don’t get. 

And so coming back to the Lord’s Prayer, that’s the primary force of asking for our daily bread:  we need to pray for Spiritual bread;  and that’s been the first main point this morning:  pray for Spiritual bread.  Because on that coming day, the day Jesus returns, Judgement day that is; on that day, we will need to have eaten the bread of life;  we will need to have believed and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins;    because unless we’re in Christ, then it won’t matter how much money or bread we’ve had in this life, it won’t matter how comfortable or happy our life in this world has been;  if you’re not in Christ by the end of your life, then you’ll be spending a very miserable eternity in hell, paying the price for your own sins.   And so we need to pray for Spiritual bread.  That’s our greatest need;  our need for Spiritual bread.

2.  Pray for Physical Bread  (Ex 16:1-21)

But of course, we also need to pray for physical bread; which is our second main point:  pray for physical bread. 

Come back with me to Ex 16 on p [67/  112].

And again remember the context;  the Lord had brought His people out of the land of slavery;  out of the land of Egypt;  and then through the red sea and onto safety from the pursuing Egyptians.  But look at v2:

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

They’d developed a selective memory;  or maybe they were even telling a bare-faced lie;  but either way, they were grumbling again Moses, and ultimately grumbling against the Lord.  Not thanking Him for His amazing and miraculous provision so far and asking him to continue providing for their needs.  No grumbling and complaining with rose tinted spectacles about the past. 

And what’s God’s response?  Does he send a fireball of judgment against this ungrateful and disrespectful people?  Well look onto v4:

4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

No the Lord doesn’t judge them immediately.  He provides for their needs in the desert.  But he provides for them on His terms;  He provides for His people in such a way that they have to obey His word.    They must depend on His provision for them one day at a time.  And in this way, they not only receive bread for their bodies but they also learn an important lesson:  that ‘man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes form the mouth of the Lord’.    Or in other words, during their time in the wilderness, God was teaching his people not just gratefulness, but dependence on Him.  One day at a time, they were to trust in the Lord’s miraculous provision for their needs. 
But would they pass the test?  Would they trust the Lord:  Well look onto v19:

19 Then Moses said to them, "No one is to keep any of it until morning."
 20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

Some the Israelites were saying:  come on this is the real world:  if there’s bread on the table today, and there’s some left over, are you seriously expecting me to throw it away when I’ve got no guarantee of finding more bread tomorrow?  Surely that’s a common sense failure isn’t it?    Well may be, because that's how the worldly person thinks.  But the godly person learns to live by faith in God’s word;  and at this particular time, that literally meant trusting the Lord to provide exactly enough bread to eat on a daily basis.  No more, no less.  And that takes faith doesn’t it:  what guarantee have I got of bread on the table tomorrow?  Only God’s promise;  only God’s word.  And so the issue is:  will I trust in God’s word, or trust my supposed common sense?

Now, of course, the application of this changed when the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land.  On the day they set foot in the Promised Land, the manna stopped.  The Lord was now providing for them through fertile soil, through sunshine and rainfall.  The Lord’s provision for them had changed from the miraculous to the apparently natural.  But the OT is clear:  because He’s the Creator, the Lord is the ultimate provider of fertile soil, sunshine and rainfall.  And ultimately the Lord’s the one who provides His people with the strength and skill to work the soil;  which is why we sing:  we plough the field and scatter, the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. 

And what’s true for farmers is also true for all of us, no matter what job you do.  Ultimately the Lord’s behind our economy and our income;  individually and corporately.  At any moment, the Lord could withdraw his blessing and providential hand, and the economic miracle could turn into a depression;  at any moment, our buoyant housing and stock markets could crash;  at any movement, our savings could be wiped out and our job be made redundant.    Whatever our agricultural or economic system, ultimately the Lord is behind the lot.  The Lord’s in control and the Lord has promised to provide for the needs of His people;  provide for their needs, not necessary all their wants;  but the Lord has promised to provide for His people’s basic needs.   

The Lord knows the number of hairs on our head.  He’s not just the almighty creator God out there, He’s also the intimate personal God who knows every detail of your life and mine.  And he has promised, normatively, to provide for the needs of His people.  And that provision might sometimes be miraculous;  but often the Lord’s provision will be through the creation he’s made for us:  through our own hard labours in the jobs that he’s called us  and equipped us to do.  And often he will answer His people’s prayers by prompting others to help out.  SO it may be that the Lord is calling you to give to your Christian brother and sisters suffering in the Congo.  And there are plenty of charities through which you could channel that help, but if you need help choosing an appropriate one, then come and speak to me afterwards.

But coming back to the main point. in teaching us to pray for our daily bread, Jesus is primarily teaching us about dependence on the Lord for our material needs.    And the problem is that the wealthier we become, individually and corporately, the less we feel the need to depend on God.  If your crop depends on a good summer and no rain at harvest and if you’ll have nothing to eat if the crop fails, then, chances are, you’ll pray hard to God for good weather.  But if you feel financially secure, like the rich fool in Lk 12;  a man who had plenty of things stored up for the future and felt he had no need to rely or depend on God;  well if that’s you, then you probably won’t express your dependence on God in prayer.  You’ll be a self-made man who’s worshipping his creator.    And that’s exactly the kind of idolatry that Jesus is trying to wean us off in the LP:  give us this day our daily bread:  dear Heavenly Father, pl provide for our financial and practical needs both today, tomorrow and for the rest of our earth lives.

How the Lord answers such prayers will depend on our circumstances.  But one man whose prayers in this department have made a lasting impression on me were those by a pastor called George Muller.  Muller lived during the 19C in Bristol.  And as well as Pastoring a church, he became famous for running orphanages.  In fact, during his lifetime, Muller helped 123,000 orphans and had raised £1.5m to fund his ministries;  in today’s money we’re talking about several million pounds.  So how did he raise such sums:  well Muller refused to take a fixed salary, never made direct appeals and died virtually penniless.  He simply told people what he felt the Lord was leading Him to do, and prayed that the Lord would provide the necessary funds for the work;  and the money just keep coming in;  sometimes at just the moment a bill needed to be paid. 

And on a much smaller scale we’ve seen exactly the same answer to prayer here at [SF/ Riv] over our finances this year.  A few months ago we were 10% behind our budgeted income.  We laid our needs before the congregation, prayed to the Lord to provide, and through the means of His people, the Lord has provided;  more than provided and we’re now on course for a small surplus this year compared with our budget.  Give us this day our daily bread.

But if the Lord has promised to provided for our needs, and if we appear to be lacking something, individually or corporately, how can that be? 

And the first reason could be that we’re not asking.  In James chapter 4, God’s people are told quite bluntly:  you don’t have because you don’t ask.    Yes the Lord is sovereign;  yes the Lord is in control;  yes the Lord has the power to provide for all our needs and more.  And yet, as we learnt last week, the Lord has chosen to work through the prayers of His people. 

And so if we’re not asking him, then he might not be providing.  Which is why Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread;  for all our material and practical needs; for health, for friendships, for enough people to man the crèche rota, for help to find a new job when we’ve been made redundant and so on.    Corporately as a church, the [bi] monthly prayer mtg should be one of the most important mtgs in our church calendar:  because if we’re not asking the Lord corporately for things as a church, it’s we shouldn’t find it surprising if he’s not giving them to us;  asking for things like people to start coming to church and to become Christians.

But James gives us another reason why we might not be receiving our daily bread.  In chapter s 4:3, James says this: 

3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Or in other words, your prayers for daily bread won’t be answered, if you’re asking for the wrong things or even if you’re asking for the right things with the wrong motives.  As we learnt earlier in the LP:  God’s own glory is His supreme concern;  even more important than our salvation.  And so He will only answer prayers that are in line with His will;  And he will only answer prayers that are for our ultimate good.  As Jesus puts it the sermon on the Mt:

9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

What does it mean to pray:  give us this day our daily bread:  and first of all we’ve seen it mean that we’re to pray for spiritual bread;  salvation and eternal life.  But secondly, we’ve seen that we’re to pray for physical bread; for our physical needs that is.  And God has promised normatively to provide for the needs of His people.   And we’ve looked a  couple of instances where prayers for physical bread haven’t been answered.  And the solution was:  make sure we’re praying;  make sure we’re truly depending on the Lord that is;  and make sure we’re asking for the right things with the right motives.  If you’re praying for a Porsche, then the chances are, the Lord will say no.  Pray for spatula bread then and pray for physical bread.

3.      Trust the Lord when there is no Bread

But let’s come back to the crisis in the Congo.  What are we to make of situations where the Lord’s people, Christians that is, are praying for the right things with the right motives;  things like enough food, water and shelter.  What’s going on when the Lord appears not to answer those prayers.

Well it could be that the Lord is disciplining us either individually or corporately.  Hebrews 12 reminds us that the Lord disciplines us like any good human father would.  No discipline seems good at the time, but it’s intended for our ultimate good; to produce a harvest of righteousness as the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it.  And so when we’re going through a tough time;  when the Lord seems not to be answering our prayers, prayers for good and right things, prayers with right motives, we need to step back and ask what the Lord might be doing in our lives;  the Lord’s will is His plan for my life we learnt last week;  and so the Lord might be rebuking me and trying to address a certain sin or issue in my life;  or he might be stretching my faith and helping me to grow in my dependence on Him;  testing us as he did the Israelites in the desert with that daily provision of manna.   

But there could be another reason:  a reason we might call the ‘Job effect’;  remember the Lord permitted the Devil to afflict Job, not because Job needed discipline;  but for the Lord’s greater purposes;  purposes that were to bring greater glory to God’s name and, ultimately for Job’s greater good as well;  except Job didn’t know about all that when he was going through the mill.  And so when we hit tough times, when the Lord appears not to answer our prayers, we might not know the reason and might never know this side of heaven;  and so in those circumstances, we simply have to trust that the Lord does have a reason;  a good and perfect reason, because He’s totally holy, loving and good;  a reason that will magnify His own glory and be for the eternal good of His people.  And so that’s our 3rd and final point this morning.  Trust God when there is no bread;  Trust God when there is no bread. 

What does it mean to pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, give us this day our daily bread:  and we’ve seen that Jesus wants us to pray for spiritual bread;  he wants us pray for physical bread;  and finally he wants is to trust God when there is no bread.  So as close, let’s reflect on these closing verses from the prophet Habbakuk:

Hab 3:17:  “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Let’s pray.

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