I have a manual grain mill. That means I buy my wheat and other grains in kernel form from a farmer in New York and grind them into flour by hand. What that further means is that I have between 30 and 45 minutes of round-and-round-and-round-and-round to do, left hand, right hand, both hands, any and every time I need flour for breads and biscuits. So what that ultimately means is that I have a lot of time early in the mornings when I am grinding that I have to figure out what to do with my thoughts. If you’ve ever done a manual, repetitive job such as that, you know that the discipline it takes mentally to keep going can be quite a challenge. Up to the plate steps the Teacher–God and/or Jesus are never at a loss for a lesson or an insight to teach us if we’re open to it, and so I’ve come to think of my time at the grain mill as my daily grind of spiritual food.
As I was grinding away a few weeks ago, what should come to mind but the phrase, “give us this day our daily bread.” That, as you know, comes from what has been termed in Roman Catholic circles as “The Our Father.” Being raised as such, this had deep roots for me as one of the prayers often handed out to me as a penance for my soul after observing Confession with a priest. But I took a good look at it this particular morning as my arms went round-and-round, and I found a hearty meal of spiritual insight.
The prayer appears in Matthew 6:9-13 and is taught by Jesus to his disciples as an example of what the contents of a prayer might hold. Prefacing in verses 5-8, Jesus instructs them about prayer with the following:
(5) “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
(6) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
(7) And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
(8) Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
But how about the prayer itself? That morning, I saw what Jesus was trying to do–he did not give them a rote method of chanting a “penance,” but rather a beautiful standard by which to understand what prayer was and could be. As I recited the prayer in my mind, I thought it would be a great sharing for fellowship. Let’s look at it. I have not, however, “researched” this sharing. I am taking the words at face value from the English translation, but I think an enormous amount of insight could be gained by some word studies for those so inclined.
“Our Father” —Wow! Jesus, who made known God to the world, called him a “Father.” I would imagine a lot of the Jews sitting there were quite astonished at this shift in relationship with Yahweh and Elohim. Jesus opened to them the tender side of a loving God, not One on the smoking mountain unto whom they were afraid to come. “Father” opens up images of one whose lap you can crawl into, one who teaches alongside of you, and not one from whom you must hide.
In our fellowship that next Sunday I asked how each person opens his prayers. “Dear God” and “Heavenly Father” seemed to be pretty standard. Great, we’re on track with Jesus’ teaching. But then, if we’re honest, what is usually the next word we utter? One of our brethren piped up, “I!” Yep. There it is— “Dear God, I…” (I must note that a few beautiful souls admitted their next word is “thanks.”) Spoiler alert: there is not one single “I” in the whole prayer. The closest we see is “us,” a beautiful word that reminds us that we belong to one another, that we prosper or suffer together, that our sins and our triumphs affect not only ourselves, but also the rest of the Body of Christ.
What is the next thing Jesus taught? “In heaven”–a prepositional phrase telling us where our Father resides, and reminding us that He is God Almighty, whose perspective of both our lives and the world around us is far broader than our own.
“Hallowed be your name”—After acknowledging that God is our Father, and before we get to our own needs, we PRAISE Him! How beautiful! I am reminded how God, answering Job out of the storm, never addressed his suffering or his needs, but instead points out to Job how great He is!! Why? Because He’s a pompous attention-grabber? NO. God is Love, and as Love, He seeks the best for us. When we focus on Him and His greatness, what fear, what need, what despair can consume us? None. So, God our Father in heaven, we praise you!
“Your kingdom come” —the Hope! Next in line Jesus reminds us to look forward to our glorious future, when the Devil will be an afterthought.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—We are to recognize that God has a will, and do our best to line up with it. I’ve heard some mighty teachings on prayer being an invitation to God to come in and “POW!”, knock the Devil on his derriere.
Now, finally, we come to “us.” “Give us today our daily bread.” This statement could be taken very subjectively. Note that the word “us” was chosen instead of “me.” As a body of believers who live and move in diverse individual circles, we are nonetheless intricately connected to one another. We must ask ourselves how we define our personal “daily bread.” Has God prospered you above and beyond your needs? Perhaps it was not for you alone, but also that you could help someone else. Come to think of it, giving is itself a need, and we therefore must have something to give.
If we define our “daily bread” way beyond what we need, we will likely become unthankful. I submit that God keeps His Word, and that He does give us our daily bread need. Our modern society, however, would like us to believe, as Eve did, that God is withholding good from us, that our needs are not met, that we can and should have what we want, and have it now. I love Colossians 3:15, which states as an imperative, “And be thankful.” An “imperative” is a command: “(You) be thankful.” This is the only sentence in the entire prayer that addresses physical need.
“Forgive us our debts”: reminds us that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Boy, if you first recognize your own personal need for forgiveness, if you first look in the mirror and see the real you looking back, it sure makes it a lot easier to forgive someone who wrongs you.
And finally, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus reminds us that life is a battle, and that we’re all in it collectively. It is imperative that we pray daily for one another to succeed in this war against spiritual powers. None of us is above that need, and our God is a God Who delivers!
As Jesus came to make known God, he came to also lead us into a relationship with Him, and certainly prayer is an indispensable component of that relationship. It is a prayer of recognition of who God is: a loving Father who forgives, supplies, and delivers. It is a prayer of praise that acknowledges the hope of a future life filled with God’s will. And it is a prayer that acknowledges our need now for community, forgiveness, help, deliverance, and of course, our daily bread.