Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This is our first such series here at Servants of Grace through an extended biblical passage and is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.

Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread,

In this petition in Matthew 6:11, we confess that we depend on God. There is a scene in the old movie Shenandoah where Jimmy Stewart eats a meal with his children shortly after his wife has died. She had handled all the prayers, but now the children tell him he must pray before dinner. He is no Christian, and his words reflect it. He prays roughly like this: “Dear Lord, thank you for this meal. We plowed the ground, we planted the seed, we pulled the weeds, we harvested the wheat, we ground the flour, we baked the bread, but thank you, Lord, for this meal.”

A believer sees it differently. We pray for our daily bread, knowing that God created plants for our food. We know He put us in families, where we learned to work. He gave us the strength to plow, plant, and harvest. We do not view these as accidents, but as gifts from God. Therefore, we pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” and we thank Him whenever we eat.

Notice that Jesus tells us to ask for the bread we need for this day, every day. Today, in the affluent West, bread is optional food; we eat it if we need calories, and shun it if we do not. There is a snack to keep us busy before the entrée arrives at a restaurant. But in Jesus’ day, bread was the stuff of life, the one food people ate every day. The message is, “Pray each day for the food you need to live in the coming day.” Bread represents all food (Num. 21:5; Deut. 8:3, 9; Ps. 136:25; Isa. 33:16). It represents our basic daily needs. If we have food and covering, we should be content with that (1 Tim. 6:8). Just as God gave the Israelites manna every day, so He will feed us each day as we rely upon Him.

We miss the urgency of this prayer today. Americans live in a land of plenty. Indeed, we have so much food we worry more about obesity than hunger. We buy large quantities of food in well-stocked stores and stuff it into capacious refrigerators and freezers. We plan ahead, so that our food seems to come from our work and our kitchen. In Jesus’ day, it was more obvious to a laborer that he should pray daily for his daily bread. A common laborer lived on a payment for that day’s work. If he could find no work or if his employer withheld his wages, he might go hungry. Western culture has changed enough (monthly paychecks are an example) that we do not feel the urgency to pray for food daily. But our food still comes from God, and we honor Him when we acknowledge it.

Observe, too, that Jesus does not say, “Ask for everything you will ever need.” We should pray for what we need, one day at a time. At night, we pray for the morrow. In the morning, we pray for the dawning day. Jesus exhorts us to petition God for our daily needs, not our daily breeds. We pray for every need, not for every desire. In fact, Scripture tells us not to pray for wealth. Proverbs 30:7–9 says:

Two things I ask of you, O Lord;

do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;

give me neither poverty nor riches,

but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

and say, “Who is the Lord?”

Or I may become poor and steal,

and so dishonor the name of my God.

Paul adds in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

These passages show that to pray for wealth is to pray for temptation. But we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Proverbs says wealth tempts us to forget God. Paul says that the quest for wealth can entrap us. So let us not pray for riches.

This does not mean that it is evil to be prosperous. If someone invents a useful product, patenting laws may make him a rich man. If someone provides a uniquely excellent resource or service, he/she may prosper. But becoming wealthy through hard work is different from working hard to become wealthy. The goal of the first is service for others. The goal of the second is self-service. The first man will have to strive to resist temptation. The second man is asking for temptation.

It is a mistake to ask for too much. It is also a mistake to ask naively, with a hand perpetually stretched out, waiting passively for God’s next donation. The teaching about daily bread reminds us that sometimes we must ask and act. In this regard, prayer for food and prayer for wisdom are identical.

James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God” (James 1:5). Solomon prayed for wisdom: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kings 3:9). But Solomon also worked for his wisdom. He examined and described plant life and taught about all kinds of animals (1 Kings 4:33). That is, Solomon became wise because God gave him a gift and because he worked by watching how the world works (Prov. 7:7; 24:32). One proverb says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise” (Proverbs 13:20). Spend time with a wise parent and you will become a better parent. Spend time with a wise businessman and you will become a better businessman. Thus, we should pray for wisdom and work for wisdom.

Similarly, Scripture tells us to ask for food and to work for food. Paul says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Moses teaches us to pray: “Establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17). We pray and we labor.