By Scott Keith –
When the disciples of Christ Jesus asked him how to pray, he gave a somewhat uncharacteristically forthright answer. He uttered the words for them to repeat in what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. From that time forward, the Lord’s Prayer has been a staple of catechetical instruction when one Christian attempts to teach another Christian the “basics” of the Christian faith. Accordingly, Martin Luther included this surprisingly simple prayer in his Small Catechism, along with a few questions and answers for the young to memorize, contemplate, and hopefully, one day, make an organic part of who they are in their Christian faith. Thus, Luther begins his section on the Lord’s Prayer by giving an exhortation to the “Head of the House,” and simply listing the text of the prayer.
“As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
I’ve often wondered about the various petitions (asks) in this prayer and how we expect some of them to be fulfilled. Some are obvious, of course. His name is certainly holy, and his kingdom will come with or without our influence. His will is going to be done, even if at times I don’t like it. And then we hit the fourth petition (ask), and I become interested. In this petition, we literally ask God to give us food. (As Luther will explain, other things are implied here besides food.)
This is how Luther explains it:
Give us this day our daily bread.
What does this mean?
God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
What intrigues me about this petition is the idea that when we somewhat mindlessly droll out this prayer on Sunday mornings, we repeat this line as if we believe that we are like the Israelites. We will meander out of our tents each morning, and God will provide mana for us to harvest from our freshly manicured lawns. Along with you, I rarely take the time to realize that if I look around the church, I may see some of the people God uses to answer this prayer.
What I am discussing here is the idea of vocation and the reality that God very often uses normal people doing ordinary work to answer our prayers. This is as true in the case of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer as it is when we pray for a miracle of healing. Our God is a nitty-gritty God who gets his hands dirty by using down-to-earth people to do His work for Him.
Using the Fourth Petition as an example, let me explain. 1517 the Legacy Project, the organization I work for, is based in Orange County, California. Around three million people live in Orange County. Each person eats approximately two pounds of food per day. That means that around six million pounds of food per day need to be moved into Orange County for God to say yes to the people of that county when they pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” When we consider just how many truck drivers that takes, we need to consider the following. One tractor-trailer truck holds about 40,000 pounds. That means that 150 tractor-trailer trucks, along with their drivers, are needed to move in the six million pounds of food daily. That is a line of trucks 1.5 miles long moving into Orange County every day so that God can answer yes to our request that He feed us.
This, of course, doesn’t take into account the people who grow, harvest, package, refrigerate, load, unload, prepare, serve, and clean up that food. When God answers our prayer in the Fourth Petition, He performs an amazing feat of logistics the interconnected web of which only He likely can see all the parts.
Long story short, when He answers these kinds of prayers (asks), we, the people doing the day-to-day work and going about our vocations as we normally would, are the answer. If you are a Christian, your normal work is more than normal. Your work is the means by which God answers prayer. You are a mask of God. He has called you into your various vocations so that, being free before Him on account of Christ, you can now freely serve your neighbor through the seemingly mundane motions of your everyday life.
Therefore, Dr. Luther often said things like: “The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living.”
Thus, when our Lord taught us to pray, He was not only teaching us to rely on Him to provide––which He was—but he was also teaching us that it is our freely given service through which He provides as we provide for one another. This spirit is also present when Christ says in the well-known phrase from Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” We are masks of God serving Him often without even knowing it as we simply move through the common motions of our day-to-day lives.
Lord, teach us to pray and as you do. You never cease to astonish us with Your goodness, amen.