When we reach out empty hands, Fill them up with what’s needed, but Not too much, Not too heavy a daily ration Or we may topple and fall. You set the table in desert lands And on mountains, wherever we are. We need you! So when distress strips away Our access to food, we call! When your loved ones are on tough trails You run after us with mercy. You find us, And fill our cups to the brim Just like you said you would. We set our hope on your manna, Sufficient each day for our meals. And we pray For our siblings around the world Who are hungry for this day’s food. (Matt. 6:11; Ps 23:5,6; Deut 8:3,16)
Why do we need “bread” every day, as requested in the Lord’s Prayer?
When we were translating the Scriptures into Nyarafolo, we found the word “bread” difficult. In the Bible, it connotes the basic food, not just a side dish or snack. Out in the villages there is not even any of the kind of bread one can buy in town, long French loaves that came in with the colonists. The traditional basic food is a large oval ball of mashed inyam or corn meal—whatever is in season. Sauce is whatever is added. So we used the word for “main food.” Then it was understood: it is what one needs every day, whereas “bread” is a side that you need money to buy.
For those of us who are more well-off, when we recite the Lord’s Prayer, the first petition, “Give us this day our daily bread” is not an urgent plea. We have our three meals, and snacks, and can go out to eat as well. But for many in the world it expresses their desperation.
I have a friend back in Ferkessédougou who tries hard to get enough cash daily to get some food. She and her elderly mother are immigrants with no support from family, and her mother is immobilized with cardiac and other issues. This young woman carries loaves of French baguettes around town in a basket on her head, trying to sell them; they rent a small cement two-room house and have no land to garden. They do live day-to-day. And of course there are others who have resources even scarcer than that.
The four little kids sharing one bowl in the photo above depict a norm in West Africa and elsewhere. They usually get what is left over, often just the basic starch with very little of the vegetable sauce, and usually share it. That often leads to malnutrition., especially in areas where the basic carbohydrate lacks protein. Daily nutritional sustenance is a true need.
James Montgomery Boice points out that this petition should be understood as prayer for “our daily ration of life’s necessities.” It thus refers not only to the food on the table, but other physical necessities as well, such as shelter, sleep, needs like clothing and medicine, etc. It is an affirmation that our Father in the heavens actually cares about these things, since his Son told us to ask him to supply them. It is only right that we make it a habit to sincerely thank him daily for his provision, such as when we sit down to eat.
It is because we have a loving Father that our needs are supplied, and this is made clear in the next chapter of the Sermon on the Mount:
“7Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:7 NIV)
God wants his children to ask him for necessities and is pleased when they depend on him. He is not stingy, he is not distant and unconcerned, He is not telling us to ask for riches, for superfluous abundance. This petition is not a foundation for prosperity gospel teaching! Sometimes, because he is gracious, he surprises his children with overflowing cups (Ps. 23:5). But as we know, there are true followers of Jesus who are experiencing extreme hardship.
While I was on that “sabbatical” in the Upper Peninsula earlier this month, I read In the Presence of My Enemies, by Gracia Burnham. She and her husband Martin, missionaries, were kidnapped by terrorists in the Philippines and held for over a year in rough conditions. As they were being rescued Martin was shot and killed by a stray bullet. I had not wanted to read such a story of suffering, but felt that this time I should. I was impressed by their journey of faith as they were taken through multiple long journeys in the wilderness, often with no food for days—but the Lord got them through. He did supply food, eventually, in unexpected ways. His purpose was something they could not understand, but he used the traumas to increase their faith! And their kindness even to their enemies could not go unnoticed. It reminded me of the sufferings of the early apostles, and of many other messengers and believers in the centuries since then. And the testimonies of those apostles who accepted death instead of renouncing Jesus proved the depth of their faith in him. They were not just fabricating some new religion; they knew the truth. God’s purposes are beyond our own.
The summer just after we graduated from university, the Father was training us to trust him to provide for us. Glenn was beginning his medical technology internship, and his stipend did not even pay the rent (although we had found the lowest-rental facility available to us in the city). I could not find a job for weeks, even with my journalism degree, but kept looking. One day when all we had left was a partly used jar of peanut butter and some bread, a friend from church who had been my mentor in my teens, Nancy Nast, brought by a huge bowl of tuna-macaroni salad. She said she was sorry that she had not been available to help us move in, so had brought this food. We ate it for days! Then, when again we had nothing left in our kitchen, we were at church one Sunday evening and friends of my parents, Ken and Mary Burgess, asked if we would like to come over for hot chocolate. Yes!! While we were enjoying that, they said that they needed to empty their freezer of frozen beef, because they were going to buy another half-a-cow of meat the following week and needed the space. We went home with T-bone and sirloin steaks!
This was the Lord’s hand, using his Family to supply us with our daily necessities. In truth, we are always dependent on him, even when we are unaware.
It all comes down to trust in his goodness and reliance on him. This does not mean that we are not to work to support ourselves and our families, calling down “bread from heaven.” It does mean gratitude to our loving Father for encouraging us to ask him to supply our needs, while we do our best to live our lives according to his principles, as his children should.
Martin Lloyd Jones explains it this way: “The earthly father is grievously wounded by the son who is content to enjoy the gift the father has given him but who never seeks his company again until he has exhausted his supplies and needs some more. No, the father likes the child to come and speak to him.” Our Father in the heavens cares deeply for his children. “If only we could grasp this fact, that the almighty Lord of the universe is interested in every part and portion of us!”
Even our stomachs! But we are not to be gluttonous.
Another point to keep in mind is that when Jesus said to pray this way, “Give us today our daily bread,” he told us to use plural pronouns. This is not just about me and my food. I am to pray for my “neighbors,” those I love the way I love myself, if I am obeying Jesus. We are to pray collectively, for those in our communities as well as in our worldwide Family.
And he may use us to be his hands, to deliver the necessary food to someone.
May it be so!
 James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5-7. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1972), 191.
 Ibid., 190.
 Martin Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 345.
 Ibid., 344.
 Boice, 194.