I hope you’ve been following along daily as we explore Jesus’ teachings on the simple life from the book of Matthew. I think we’re what, 10 days in now? In today's passage, Jesus teaches his listeners how to pray:
"Pray like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…’” (6:9-11)
I'd say you've probably heard this before. Most of you, I'm willing to bet, could finish the rest. Traditionally, this passage has been referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. But I like how Catholics put it, they call it saying your Our Fathers. Here's how I have it memorized:
"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. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom and glory and power forever and ever. Amen.”
You have to understand my background, I'm a pastor's son. I grew up going to Bible camps, competing in Bible drills (that's where you pit your knowledge of Scripture against another third grader's), and memorizing whole chapters of the Bible to recite on command.
Like many kids, I grew up saying the Lord's Prayer over and over without ever truly reflecting on the meaning of those words. That is, until one day, it was all I could think to say. I was sort of at the end of my rope—this was about eight years ago—and the words…
I don't want to really get into it, but some nights things were so dark that this little prayer I learned to recite as a kid was the only thing I knew how to say. It's like when you're truly speechless and your mind defaults to an old song or limerick because no mind can ever just stay silent.
So in the absence of words I said these words over and over. I said them in the car when a wave of panic rolled over me. I said them to myself at night as I was trying to sleep. "Our Father who art in heaven…" I found it meditative. Before long I was adapting the prayer, paraphrasing it to make it my own.
"Father in heaven. You are good. Do whatever you want on earth—I can't stop you. Only, give me what I need to make it through these 24 hours…"
See, it was that line, “Give us this day our daily bread” that always struck me the most. That line still strikes me today. It's stunning, simple, humbling, and beautiful. But there's a debate about what Jesus is actually saying there—a debate that's been going on since the third century or so.
The Greek word translated into 'daily' is a word that doesn't appear anywhere else in all of the Bible, epiousios. It's a combination of "epi-" meaning super, and "-ousios" meaning essence, substance, being. It's the feminine present tense of the verb, "to be." The Catholics say this means, "Give us this day our super-substantial bread." They use it to justify their idea of the Eucharist.
Others say, no, it's not 'super-substantial,' it's super-essential, or necessary for existence. As in, "Give us this day only what is necessary." Jon Foreman has a song called Your Love Is Strong and in it he paraphrases this part of the Lord's Prayer, "Give me the food I need to live through the day." I like that.
God, give me exactly what I need to make it through this day. Give me only what I need to survive. Get me through these 24 hours. Sustain me today. That thought stuck with me so many days as I tried so desperately to pray away my pain.
I think we think sometimes that we can’t ask things of God. I often feel like, why would he listen to a lowly worm like me? Surely he’s got other things on his mind. But Jesus is telling us that we can feel free to bring our petitions and make our requests known to God. God doesn't mind if we ask for daily bread. Later on in Matthew 7 Jesus asks:
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? …If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”
I don’t have a kid but I know that if I asked anything of my dad he would give it to me in a heartbeat. He’s done so much for me all my life. And my dad loves to do things for me even in my adulthood. God is described as a good Father who wants to hear from us, his children, and wants to give us everything we need for the day. "Give me today only what I need to survive.”
There’s a message to the minimalist here too: As Jesus tells us to pray first for our daily bread, he's not only telling us that we’re free to make our requests known to God, he’s also prompting us to truly assess what we need for the day. Do I need that cup of coffee? Do I need that glass of wine? Leo Babauta wrote an awesome essay about life’s requirements. I’d encourage you to read it.
Leo also points out this old Hindu proverb, “All you need are two chapattis a day.” All you need are two pieces of bread. When we pray asking God to give us what we need for the day—our daily bread—it might be a good time to reflect on our true needs. Because "Give us this day our daily Venti Double Soy 2-Pump Caramel Macchiato" doesn't have the same ring to it.