These posts are summaries of the messages on Sunday and are put here mainly for the benefit of our regulars who either missed the service, or would appreciate the chance to review the big ideas.
'When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread..." '
At first glance this line in the prayer feels trivial compared to the others. However, this line gives us the most profound and important insight into spiritual principles. It teaches us about the matter of dependence which is right at the heart of the Christian understanding of spirituality; it’s at the heart of the Gospel.
We are not naturally inclined towards dependence on God. We’re more likely to depend on ourselves or the many idols we construct. And so, learning how to pray this prayer can have massive repercussion for our spiritual lives. (And the opposite is true: failure to pray this prayer will only leave you spiritually weak and anaemic, since weak spirituality is in essence independence from God.) What is Jesus teaching us about dependence?
First, dependence is comprehensive. In other words, we should not compartmentalise lives into ’spiritual’ and ‘unspiritual’ sections, and then only seek God’s help for the spiritual. By teaching us to ask our Father for bread Jesus is showing us that we need God grace and kindness in something that's basic to the survival of our bodies, and not obviously ‘spiritual’. But this is wholly in sync with the rest of the Bible’s teaching on God’s involvement in every detail of his creation. Not only does he set up and topple governments but he also knows when a sparrow falls to ground, and numbers the hairs on your head. So, when Jesus said ‘apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15.5) he wasn’t just referring to those things we associate with the Christian life (prayer, evangelism, worship, etc.), he meant everything. It’s with this understanding that we come to God and know that we need to bring even our most basic needs to him in dependence. This implies a few things: (1) No prayer is too small. (2) No part of your life is too ‘unspiritual’. (3) No part of your life is beyond the need of God’s sustaining grace; Jesus upholds all things by the word of his power, including the very breath in your lungs right now (Hebrews 1.3).
Second, dependence is ongoing. There is something very childlike about this prayer, which is hugely significant. When we raise children we hope they will grow in maturity to the point where they become increasingly self-sufficient and independent. They go from needing us to do everything for them to (hopefully) moving out and not needing help in anything like the same way. But here’s the weird thing: Christian maturity is the very opposite! Instead of growing more independent as we grow up in Christ we actually grow more dependent. Maturity is dependence! It’s kind of like the Christian version of the bizarre case of Benjamin Button.
This prayer pushes us towards that understanding by showing us that we need to keep coming back to God every day, just like a child. Or, to put it more negatively, God doesn’t make guarantees beyond this day so don’t stray from his Fatherly protection and care.
Perhaps the most vivid depiction of the principle is seen in Exodus 16 when God provides manna for the Israelites, but they are only permitted to collect enough for that day (except on Fridays when they can collect for the Sabbath). Why on earth does God give them this directive? Surely it is to teach them that he is reliable, but also that it’s sinful to not trust him, to gather more than you need in the fear that he won’t show up tomorrow.
We live in a society of exceptional and unprecedented security with the NHS, benefits, insurance, credit, pensions, and whatever else. Risk is not usually that close to us. That means that we’re tempted not to see how much we need God for basic things (surely the reason Jesus says it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom). We need to develop this childlike dependence on God if we would hope to grow in our faith.
Third, dependence is confident. It would be wrong to pray this like a beggar, or like Oliver Twist (‘Please sir, can I have some more?’) Jesus isn’t teaching us to grovel and expect only basic sustenance from a begrudging Father. In fact, the very opposite is intended here. Jesus wants us to see that God will take care of us, and that we can rely on him for what is most important, for what is essential to life.
In teaching us this Jesus wants us to have greater confidence in the Father’s love and kindness towards us. Confident faith is important. If you don’t have it then you’ll be afraid and anxious and that does not bring God any glory; it portrays him as distant and unloving. God cares how you feel, he cares whether you are anxious or confident, and he wants us to walk in faith, showing by our emotions that the things we say about God are actually true! And so this prayer is teaching us to lean into God and discover his reliability and trustworthiness. As the Psalmist puts it, ‘I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread’ (Psalm 37.25).