The bread request. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re back to the Lord’s prayer today talking about what it means to ask God for daily bread.

As we do this we’re moving into the second section of requests in the prayer. Remember, section one focuses on God’s agenda – the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of his kingdom. Section two focuses on our needs. And the petition for daily bread begins this second section of requests.

We start with the question –

What are we really asking for here?

“Bread” literally means “a baked product produced from a cereal grain” (BDAG). In Jesus’ day it could be made from wheat, like today, or for the poor from barley. The word is also commonly used as a way of talking about food in general, not just bread. Still broader it can be used to talk about our basic needs or material provisions for our lives. So not just food but also things like shelter and clothing.

This idea still persists and shows up here and there. In our culture, in the 60’s – “bread” was a way of talking about money – which we use to provide for our needs. Sometimes still today we talk about getting some “dough.” In this broader sense “bread” can also mean a livelihood or a job. So to have bread is to have your basic needs met.

The word “daily” seems simple enough. But it’s actually the first place that this word shows up in all the ancient world in all the surviving documents. And it’s not clear what it means. So there’s lots of disagreement in discussions of what this word means. But we won’t get into all that. I would just say that “daily” works, but it’s not so much a reference to time, but to amount.

Here are some texts that help us get the sense of what this is about. Proverbs 30:8-9 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” The author doesn’t want too much or too little, but what’s needful; an amount.

Exodus 16:4 talks about gathering the manna in the wilderness. It is surely connected to our petition. It says, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day . . ..” Again, an amount is in view. Enough bread for the day.

So when we put these two words together – “daily” and “bread” – what we’re doing is praying for what we need to sustain us day by day.

Just a note here on –

The difference between Matthew and Luke

They give the request in slightly different forms:

  • Matthew 6:11 – “Give us this day our daily bread”
  • Luke 11:3 – “Give us each day our daily bread”

Luke’s present tense verb “give” and the phrase “each day” emphasizes the progressive day by day provision. Matthew’s request is more general.

Let’s look at some –

Lessons we learn from this request

1. Bread is very important. Notice that this very mundane request for material provisions comes first – before forgiveness, and for help in difficult times of faith testing. I’m not saying it’s more important, but it’s important.

We sometimes marginalize it, maybe because we have so much abundance around us. Or, we say let’s focus on the spiritual because it has priority. But the material is necessary too. And it’s hard to be focused on other things when you’re hungry.

So the very practical nature of this prayer comes out here. It’s very much connected to the reality of life around us.

2. We are to trust God for our provision. This is why we ask for it in prayer.

As Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:32-33 – we are not to be like the Gentiles who devote their whole lives to the pursuit of material provisions and trust in their own powers for this. We are to seek first the Kingdom of God and righteousness and then trust God to provide for our needs.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-26 – “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” God will provide for us if we seek him and trust him.

For many to whom Jesus taught this  they literally did depend on God for food each day. They had no reserve. They lived hand to mouth. If they worked a given day they would eat, if not they didn’t. And they had no job security. Maybe they’ll have work tomorrow. Maybe not. And this is still true today in places.

But even we who have a lot – several weeks or more of food stored up – we need to remember that what we have can perish. It really could all disappear tomorrow. The future is not in our control. We feel that nothing can touch us, but it could. Nations rise and fall and people’s lives can turn from calm to turmoil in a second.

And so we must never trust in our resources, but in God. And so we continue to pray daily for our needs.

3. We pray for bread for ourselves and for others. As we saw before, this is a corporate prayer – “give us.” It’s both petition and intercession at the same time. We pray for our material provisions and at the same time we pray for the needs of God’s people throughout the world. It’s not just about us or selfishness. And, of course, we can pray for others who have need of bread as well.

4. We are to pray for “daily” bread. This teaches us to learn contentment. Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray for more than we need. Jesus doesn’t say pray for abundance, indulgence, extravagance. So, you see this speaks against various prosperity preachers who say that God wants you to have luxury and to seek God for this. We pray for the bread we need day by day.

In our culture of more is better, and where every few seconds we are bombarded by messages that say we need more and better stuff – we need to learn once again what contentment is.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” God is our portion, not wealth and we can be content that God is with us.

1 Timothy 6:7-8 says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Who among us can say this?? Content with food and clothing? Now, granted, Paul was single and a missionary, and we live in a colder climate – but this is amazing.

So this is a challenge to our abundance and our ingrained expectation of continued abundance. I hope we can receive this and truly learn to pray for our “daily” needs.

5. If we receive more than we need, we ought to share with those who have less than they need.  We live in the most affluent society that has ever existed on earth – not everyone here is rich, of course, but by the standards of history – most are. And yet all around us in the world there are those who don’t have their basic needs met.

  • More than 805 million people in the world go hungry
  • About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger related causes
  • One person dies every three and a half seconds – mostly children. How many is that just since we started our worship service?

And there are Christian families among these who cannot feed themselves.

Is God not giving enough daily bread? Well, there’s more than enough food in the world. It’s just that God distributes it in such a way that some get more and some get less  – and God expects us to share.

Paul makes this point in 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 where he references the giving of the manna and gathering just what you need. He says to the Corinthians, “Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” Because of this sharing all had their needs met.

So the question comes back to us: Will we who have more from God than we need, give to those who have less than they need? We need to learn contentment so that our excess can become their provision from God of daily bread.

 

Christians and wealth. Luke 12:13-21

Jesus has a lot to say about his disciples and wealth. In fact, besides the general theme of the kingdom of God, there’s nothing he talks about more. And what he has to say is quite radical, especially to us, who live in what is certainly the most wealthy country that has ever existed; and who live in a culture that glories in wealth – in the seeking of it and in the indulging of it. But Jesus teaches us another way – and this is our topic for today.

Our passage is found in –

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (NRSV)

I chose this text for two reasons. First, because it shows us how serious this topic is. God says, “You fool” to the man as an expression of judgment and condemnation. And we don’t want to be called fools by God or be condemned.

Second, because it gives us the closest thing to a definition of what it means to be wealthy that I can find from Jesus. There is an abundance beyond one’s needs (bigger barns), which you store up for yourself. It’s as simple as that. It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep for yourself. So if you’re here today and you have a large income Jesus isn’t necessarily talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. And, if you’re here today and you have a small income Jesus may well be talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. In both cases it all depends on what you do with what you have.

With this background in place, let me share with you three things that Jesus teaches regarding wealth. And the first is –

Don’t go on accumulating wealth

There are two obvious reasons to accumulate wealth beyond our needs, both of which will kill us spiritually:

1. We want wealth as our security, to rely on in an uncertain world. The farmer stored up his abundance in bigger barns to take care of his future. But this is not loving God with all our heart – the greatest commandment. This is idolatry, which is actually hatred of God, because we make wealth to be our true god. We trust in it to take care of us.

As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

2. We want wealth in order to enjoy it. The farmer said to himself, “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (v. 19). But this is not loving our neighbor – the second greatest commandment. This is love self love and hatred of our neighbors. For even though there are many in the world who don’t have their basic needs met – including fellow believers – we want to keep our abundance for ourselves, for our fleshly desires and comforts.

So whether we accumulate wealth beyond our needs for the sake of idolatry – which is hatred of God, or indulgence – which is hatred of our neighbors, our lives with God will be destroyed. And so we should have nothing to do with it.

Hear the words of Jesus from our passage in v. 15 – “be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” And hear the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:9 – “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Love God, not your wealth

This has to do with getting our heart in the right place regarding our wealth.

1. Be content with God’s provision for you. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Give up seeking after more and more and more. Work hard, but be satisfied with God’s supply whether it’s much or little, because he’s with us and that’s our true treasure.

2. Give up your possessions. Jesus says in Luke 14:33, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up (or renounce) all your possessions.” (NRSV) Notice he isn’t talking about a certain percentage, say 10%. He’s talking about all our possessions, all we have.

We have to recognize that whatever God gives you is not your own, it’s God’s. And if he takes it all, or asks you to give it all away – that’s fine. But how many of us can say our hearts are committed to this? Do we own our possessions or do they own us? This is talked about in Acts 4:32 when it says about the early Christians,  “and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own,” but they were willing to part with them.

So this is a call to dethrone your possessions, because without this we can’t follow Jesus. As he says, “none of you can become my disciple . . .” if you don’t do this.

Well, if we give up holding onto our abundance for our security and comforts, and if we have a right heart toward our possessions being content with God’s supply and renouncing what we do have – then we are ready to do with them what God wants us to do with them, which is to –

Love others with radical generosity

We are to act with our wealth to love our neighbor. Let me just highlight two basic patterns for doing this in the New Testament.

1. We give to the needy. Jesus says in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” Jesus isn’t saying, “become needy” but rather get rid of your excess – sell it, give it to those in need. (And you can even give up what you need to help others, because giving sacrificially is encouraged, as we learn from the story of the widow who gave all she had in Luke 21:1-4.)

An example of this is seen in the early Jerusalem church in Acts 2 and 4. As there was need, those who had excess would sell and give to the needy among them – 2:45; 4:34-37.

2. We share what we have with others. Jesus said this in Luke 14:12-14 – “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Use what you have for God’s kingdom. It’s God’s so share it.

An example of this is found in Romans 16:23 – “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you.” Here was a well to do man who used his large house to host the church in Corinth (they had no building) and he hosted Paul as well.

A final word, wealth is dangerous. But only if you accumulate it for yourself. The other side of this is that wealth is a blessing of the Lord, as Psalm 112 says, but again, only if you are generous with it.

Wealth is a strange thing spiritually. It’s from God, but if you keep it for yourself, it’s like trying to store up God’s provision of manna – it spoils and becomes a bad thing. But if you’re generous with it, you can bless many in need and thus store up treasures for yourselves in heaven. Wealth can be a curse or a blessing and it’s your choice which it will be in your life.

Hannah’s gift. 1 Samuel 1:21-28; 2:11a

Follow the link for The literary structure of 1 Samuel 1:21-2:11a

Last week we began the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel. We saw how she was in a difficult situation – she couldn’t have children. And so her husband Elkanah married another woman who did have children. And then this rival wife tormented Hannah over this. We heard how Hannah became so troubled and overwhelmed that she couldn’t eat. So she poured out her heart to God at the tabernacle in prayer. And that she made a vow that if God would give her a son, she would give that son back to serve God forever.

She prayed boldly and persistently until she felt that God had heard her prayer – and then she went away in faith and at peace. And sure enough, not long after, God answered her cry and gave her a son, Samuel.

Which leads us to our story today –

Hannah’s gift of Samuel to God 

21The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow.

There are two things here that point to Elkanah devotion. 1) He went up each year to worship at Shiloh at the tent of meeting, which seems to be a voluntary pilgrimage beyond what is required. And 2) he paid his vow. As we saw last week vows are voluntary commitments or acts of devotion to God, beyond what is required. They often had a deal quality to them – God if you do this, then I will do this.

We don’t know what this vow was about, but perhaps it was a prayer for good crops and then an extra sacrifice to God because of good crops. Deuteronomy 23:21 says of vows – “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.”

The notation in our story of him paying his vow shows us that he was a person of integrity, who kept his commitments to God.

22But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.”

 Immediately it is clarified that Hannah and Samuel did not go up to worship. She had vowed to give Samuel to serve God under a Nazarite vow for his whole life. (v. 22 – some versions include a phrase from other ancient manuscripts which says, “I will offer him as a Nazarite for all time.”)

And so there is the question of her delay. Now that she has the child; now that she is a new mom, will she have second thoughts? Lest anyone think that she would not come through on her commitment, the reasoning is explained. Samuel was probably around three months old at this time, and he would need to be weaned first. In her thinking, once the child was given, he could not come back and forth to their household and weaning was required for this kind of permanent separation.

23Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him.

 Elkanah agrees that this is fine. He has already accepted her vow to give up their son, which he could have canceled according to Numbers 30:6-8, but didn’t.

It’s unclear what Elkanah means when he says, “may the Lord establish his word.” One possibility is that God may have told them that their child would be a great prophet, and so the sense is that he is praying that God will speak through him and that Samuel’s prophetic words will be established by God, or come to pass.

This matches what is said later in 1 Samuel 3:19-20 – “the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground . . . Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” (his words/established). And this also seems to refer to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 that speaks of God sending another prophet like Moses, whose words will come true.

In the ancient world children were weaned after 3 years or even longer.  (2 Maccabees 7:27). This is different than what we are used to, but this is the time frame we are working with.

24And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. 25Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.

So when Samuel was a toddler, she took him to give him to the Lord. And as they brought him they gave a very generous offering, according to Numbers 15:8-10 and what is required for fulfilling a vow.

  • They gave a 3 year old bull, instead of a 1 year old, which was more valuable. (If the alternative reading of 3 bulls is used, the same point is made)
  • They gave an ephah of flower, about a bushel, instead of 3/10 of an ephah
  • They gave a full skin of wine, instead of a half hin of wine (which was just over half a gallon). So they gave perhaps a gallon or two.

26And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”

After three or more years she has now come back to Eli and she reminds him of who she is. (“As you live” is a testimonial oath. He couldn’t see well (1 Samuel 3:2), so perhaps a testimonial oath was needed to confirm her identity). And she tells him that her prayer was indeed answered.

She even quotes Eli’s word to her from their previous encounter in 1:17, the Lord “has granted me my petition that I made to him.” Here next to her is her son Samuel.

Just as she named him Samuel because of a wordplay with the word for ask, this continues here. The word for “ask” can also mean lend. And so just as he came to her by asking God, so now she gives him to God as a loan forever.

Now let’s stop for a moment and think about Hannah’s gift to God:

  • This was a first born son and in that day this was the most valuable child
  • This was her only child
  •  And she didn’t know if she could have others, this one was the product of a miracle
  •  And he was given while still a small child, which must have been terribly difficult

This was an extraordinary gift and act of devotion to God!

And then our story ends –

 1:28And he (most likely Elkanah) worshiped the Lord there . . ..And then after Hannah’s praise to God, which we will come back to . . . in 2:11a it says, Then Elkanah (and presumably also Hannah) went home to Ramah.

Lessons for us

1. We should keep our commitments to God also . . . Just as Elkanah kept his vow, and especially just as Hannah kept her vow, so we are to keep our commitments that we make to God.

Whether we are talking about baptismal vows, marital vows or the kind of vows we see in this story, where we ask God to help us and if he does we commit to do something for God. Once again, Deuteronomy 23:21 says, “If you make a vow/commitment to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.” If you tell God you will do something, then you need to do it.

2. We should give generously even sacrificially to God as well . . . This shows up in the offering they brought to the tabernacle of God, which went well beyond what was required. And this certainly shows up in giving Samuel to be the Lord’s forever.

How does your giving compare to theirs?

  • Is it thoughtless and haphazard, so that we just give whatever, usually a little bit here or there. Maybe whatever might be in your wallet or purse when you show up to church? Maybe the smallest bill you have?
  • Or is it straight by the rules? You are supposed to give this much so you give that much.
  • Or is it abundant and generous, beyond what is required as an expression of love and devotion to God?

Let me end by noting that you can’t out-give God. If we look ahead in the story in 1 Samuel 2:21 we see that God gave Hannah five other children after this. Now, we don’t always get back the same thing we give, but you will never be more generous than God is. And he blesses those who give generously and sacrificially to him. Are you generous with God?