Chapter Two: Prayer for Obedience and Submission

If we do, we assume the attitude of hypocrites. It is certainly true that in this life we are still ever so sinful. We have but a small beginning of the new obedience. Nevertheless, this petition presupposes that we hate our own sin and our own carnal nature, and that we strive to put off the old man and put on the new. Only in that spiritual attitude can we pray this particular petition: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Moreover, this petition presupposes also a longing to receive the grace of God. Without that grace we can do nothing, and we know it. And therefore, this petition presupposes a longing in our hearts for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that He may work within us to will and to do of God’s good pleasure. 

And finally, this prayer expresses the longing for final perfection. Principally this petition looks forward to the consummation of all things, to the perfect life in the new Jerusalem, in the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness shall dwell. For the prayer that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven certainly looks forward to the state in which the workers of iniquity Shall be n more, and all without exception shall do the will of God. You understand, of course, that also in that new creation each one will have his own station and calling. We are not just going to sit down lazily on the banks of the river of life, singing our songs and playing our harps. On the contrary, the perfect life will be full of activity and work: Only then there will be no more toil, no more slaving for a living or for filthy lucre. All our work will then be service of God, fully and consciously. For that final perfection the believer longs. Here he finds that even his best works are defiled with sin, that often he is inclined to rebel against the Lord because of the way he must travel, or the place he must occupy. Besides, here he comes in daily contact with the world, that cares not for the will of God, that is full of unrighteousness and rebellion, and in which it is ever so difficult to do the will of his Father. And then, looking upward to heaven, where even now the will of the most high is the delight of all, he longs for the time when all life in all the new creation will be like that in heaven. And prostrating himself before the throne of grace, he prays: “Our Father, Which art in heaven, give unto me, give unto all Thy people, Thy Spirit and grace to know and to do Thy will. And hasten the day when the workers of iniquity shall be no more, and all shall be in perfect harmony with Thy will, which is only good. Thy will be done. Amen.” 


Q. 125. Which is the fourth petition? 

A. “Give us this day our daily bread;” that is, be pleased to provide us with all things necessary for the body, that we may thereby acknowledge thee to be the only fountain of all good, and that neither our care nor industry, nor even thy gifts, can profit us without thy blessing; and therefore that we may withdraw our trust from all creatures, and place it alone in thee.

Chapter One: Our Daily Bread

The fourth petition, the petition for our daily bread, stands first in order in the series of petitions which we are to send to the throne of grace for our own personal needs. The first three petitions,—”Hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, —all have reference to God, to His name, His kingdom, His will. And these stand first in order. It certainly is the primary and deepest need of the Christian, living, from the principle of his regenerated heart, that God’s name may be glorified, that His kingdom may prosper and come with power in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that His will be done on earth as well as in heaven. These realities, therefore, are first in order because they are of primary significance. But the three petitions that follow in this model of prayer are strictly concerned with our own personal needs. And at the head of this second part of the Lord’s Prayer stands the petition for daily bread. 

We must not cater to the erroneous conception of the contents of this fourth petition of some over-spiritual, Christians, according to whom we have in this prayer a request not for material bread, but rather for spiritual nourishment, for the bread that came down from heaven and that feeds our souls to everlasting life. From the lofty heights of their would-be spirituality these people judge that it would be below the high level of this model of prayer to insert a request for mere bread, for earthly necessities. Besides, they argue that if this were the meaning of this fourth petition, it would seem to stand in flat contradiction to all that the Lord teaches us elsewhere concerning our attitude to earthly things. Does He not teach us plainly in the sermon on the mount that if we set our hearts on things earthly, we attempt to serve God and mammon? And does He not admonish us in that same sermon that we shall take no thought for them whatsoever: “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” Matt. 6:25-32. How then, they say, could it be possible that the same Lord would insert a prayer for these very things in the series of petitions which He teaches us to pray? 

Others have an idea that this prayer for daily bread appears to be so earthly in its contents that all men without distinction may take it on their lips. It would seem to require no special spirituality to send this request to the throne of our Father in heaven. Here is a prayer that touches a deeply felt need of every man and woman on earth. And surely, even the natural man is able to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” 

Both these views are utterly mistaken. As far as the first-mentioned conception of the fourth petition is concerned, it is certainly true that the Lord teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, in the passage which we quoted above, that we shall take no thought for the morrow, that we shall not be anxious about the needs of our body. But this admonition certainly does not stand in contrast to the prayer for daily bread. In fact, as we shall see, it is quite in harmony with that admonition of the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. Besides, the simple words of the petition, its exact position in the series of prayers we are taught to pray in this second part of the Lord’s Prayer, as well as the reminder that we are still on the earth and not yet in heaven,—all this ought to be sufficient to convince anyone that we do indeed have a request for daily, earthly, material bread in this fourth petition. And in opposition to the latter view, namely, that any natural man, apart from the grace of God, can take this petition on his lips, we wish to emphasize that even though we deal here with a prayer for very tangible and material bread, the petition is nevertheless very deeply spiritual. This is not a common petition, which any man can pray. The natural, unregenerated man certainly is not able to make it his own. All the manifestations of greed and covetousness, the strife after the things of this world and always more of them, the constant and bitter fight between the “haves” and the “have nets,” the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life that manifestly characterize the life of the natural man,—all these constitute a striking contrast to the simple request in this fourth petition for daily bread. But even for the believer it is not always easy to utter this petition in spirit and in truth, without reservation. We do not usually live on the high spiritual level that is required to take this petition on our lips and to mean it. And the end also of this present meditation on the Lord’s Prayer will have to be an acknowledgement on our part that we still have much to learn, and that we will have to assume an attitude of constant watchfulness in prayer to be able to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is also the conception of the Heidelberg Catechism. According to it, the emphasis in this fourth petition is not so much on mere bread, which especially in our country we normally have in great abundance, but on the acknowledgement that God is the giver of all good things: “. . . that we may thereby acknowledge thee to be the only fountain of all good, and that neither our care nor industry, nor even thy gifts, can profit us without thy blessing; and therefore that we may withdraw our trust from all creatures, and place it alone in thee.”

As has been said, in the second series of petitions that occur in the Lord’s Prayer the prayer for bread has a leading place, on the basis of the principle that the natural is first, even though it is not the most important, while the spiritual is second in order. In order of time we need bread, even before we need the forgiveness of sins and the deliverance from evil. And as soon as we need bread no more, we shall have no more need of forgiveness and deliverance. But although it occupies the first place in the second section, we must not overlook the fact that, together with the whole of the second part of the Lord’s Prayer, it is strictly subordinate to the first part, in which we are instructed to ask for the glory of God’s name, the coming of His kingdom, the submission to and obedience of His will. The significance of this is clear. It means, to be sure, that in the fourth petition we pray not simply for bread, in order that we may eat and drink, still less in order that we may use the bread for the satisfaction of our sinful desires, but in order that we may be able to hallow the name of God, to seek His kingdom, and to obey His will: “Give. us bread, our Father in heaven, that we may serve and glorify Thee, and represent Thy cause in the midst of the world.” Such is the meaning of the fourth petition in the order in which it occurs in the Lord’s Prayer. 

But this order teaches us something else. The statement is often made, quite without reservation, that in this petition we have the promise that God’s people in this world will never lack bread, will never suffer hunger, that every day their food and drink will certainly be provided. And, in the sense that the Lord will surely always care for His people, and that He will provide them with the necessary means to live as His people in the world, this may be said to be true. But we should not forget that all this is strictly subservient to the purpose of God’s glory, to the coming of His kingdom, and to the realization of His will. Scripture teaches us everywhere that we must expect suffering for righteousness’ sake in the world. And this suffering may very well include that the portion of our daily bread becomes very small, that we really suffer hunger and want, starvation and death. The apostle Paul relates how for the kingdom of God’s sake he was “in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” II Cor. 11:27. And the epistle to the Hebrews mentions those that “wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.”Heb. 11:37. And does not the Bible forewarn us that the time shall come when we shall not be able to buy or sell unless we receive the mark of the beast? Rev. 13:7. It is important, therefore, that we pray for our daily bread in strict subordination to the glory of God’s name, the coming of His kingdom, and the realization of His will, which is always good. 

Turning now our attention to the contents of this petition, we are at once impressed by the fact that it places the petitioner on the level of a very simple life as far as earthly things are concerned. It teaches us to ask for bread, no more. We understand, of course, that there is a figure of speech in this term, a figure that is denoted by the strange word “synecdoche,” and which means that part is expressed to denote the whole, or the particular to denote the general. So bread in this petition certainly represents more than mere bread. Our needs include far more than this. We need clothing and shelter and all the necessities required by our earthly life. In our modern world we need money to buy bread and all the rest of our necessities. And in order to earn the money we need a job or a position in the world. In fact, we need a thousand and one things for our daily life. Nevertheless, it is very evident that the term “our daily bread” definitely excludes whatever is above and beyond the things that are strictly necessary for our physical and earthly subsistence. One cannot very well so stretch the term “bread” in this petition that it includes riches and luxuries. Especially in modern life tie have a thousand and one things for our enjoyment: delicacies to render our earthly life comfortable, abundance of food, rich and comfortable homes, beautiful clothing, instruments of music, beautiful and comfortable churches and schools, telephones, radios, television, and many other things. These are certainly not included in the fourth petition. This is not saying that we may not have them if we are sure that our heavenly Father gave them to us, and that we may not enjoy them if we can do so with thanksgiving and, to the glory of our God. But it certainly does teach us that we may not set our heart on these things, that we may not seek them, covet them, and that therefore we may not ask our heavenly Father for them. Positively speaking, it teaches us that we shall seek and ask for only those things that are strictly necessary for our earthly subsistence. In the fourth petition we do not pray for riches and for an abundance of earthly goods. We do not pray for sugar and coffee and cake and pie, for beautiful clothes and silk stockings, for comfortable homes and radios and pianos and automobiles. The fourth petition, with its request for bread, puts us on a very simple level of living: “Give us bread.” 

The same idea is emphasized still further by the word that is translated by “daily.” Give us this day our dailybread. The Greek word that is translated by “our daily” presents a little difficulty, and there is considerable doubt as to the exact meaning of the term. The trouble is that in the New Testament it occurs nowhere else. Only it may be said confidently that it does not mean “daily.” Some suggest that the word means “that which is present”; and the meaning of the prayer then would be: “Give us this day bread for the present.” But this idea is really already expressed in the words “this day.” Give us this day our bread means: give us bread for the present. Others see in the composition of the original word the meaning “coming” or “future.” The Lord then would teach us to pray: “Give us this day the bread that is coming, bread for the future, bread for the morrow.” But this would appear to be in direct conflict with the teachings of our Lord when He emphasizes that we shall not be anxious for the morrow, and that sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. To me it seems that the word may properly be rendered by “bread that is coming to us.” The prayer then means: “Give us this day the bread that is coming to us, that is, the bread that is our proper portion for this particular day. Give us our own proper, limited portion of our daily necessities.” This proper portion varies. It is not always the same. Nor is it the same for all. The needs of a large family, with small children, differ from those of an old couple. They are different on a severely frosty day in January than on a pleasant, warm day in June. They are not the same when we are sick as when we are in good health. Our proper portion varies according to our circumstances and position in life. And the prayer asks that our Father in heaven in His wisdom may give us that particular portion which is proper for us.

And do not overlook the further limitation of this proper portion of bodily necessities expressed in the words, “this day.” This is to be taken most literally, and most seriously. It does not mean that we may ask for a well-stocked food cellar or a full coal bin, that may carry us through the winter, or a reasonably large bank account, on which we may fall back. It does not imply that we ask our Father in heaven to give us so much that we may feel secure for a year, or a month, or a week, or even for another day. It means exactly what it says: “Give us what we need for this day.” In other words, the prayer teaches us to assume the attitude of faith, which the Lord exhorts His people to assume with respect to earthly things: “Take no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The morrow is not ours, for we are but children of the moment. To ask for today is sufficient.