Lord, Teach Us to Pray (3)

            For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been taking a look at the Lord’s Prayer.  Since this is a prayer that is quoted by people both young and old, I thought it would be interesting to find out how children pray the Lord’s Prayer.  I heard about one child who actually thought God’s name was Howard because he prayed, “Father, Howard be your name.”

            There’s another child who thought there was a line in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Give us this day our jelly bread.”  And another child who prayed, “Give us this steak and daily bread, and forgive us our mattresses.”  My favorite, though, is the child who prayed, “Forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”  And that’s actually not a bad version.

            But let’s take a look at the words that Jesus used.  We’ve been studying the Lord’s Prayer as it’s recorded in the gospel of Luke.  We saw that this prayer came as a response to the disciples of Jesus when they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1).  And, while we tend to be more familiar with the version of this prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus said here in Luke’s account, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4)

            We’ve seen over the past couple of weeks that Jesus taught us to pray that God’s name be kept holy.  “Father, hallowed be your name.”  “Uphold the holiness of your name.”  And we do that by living in a way that brings honor and glory to God. 

            And last week, we saw that Jesus told us to pray, “Your kingdom come.”  That kingdom is God’s reign, and so, we pray that God will reign in our hearts, and we pray that God’s reign will come into the lives of people we know and love, and we pray that God’s reign will come into the lives of everyone on the face of this earth – “Your kingdom come!”

            I think it’s significant that the first request in this prayer comes only after we have begun by praising God and by acknowledging the priority of the kingdom of God and his rule in our lives.  And I would suggest that it is not until we have done those two things that we are ready to ask God for anything.

            And the thing that Jesus said that we should ask for is this:

1.         “Give us each day our daily bread.”

            For people who don’t have enough to eat, praying for bread is critical. They are forced to depend daily on God to meet their most basic needs. They cry out in desperation to their Father, asking for his will to be done, by giving them something to eat.  But I will confess this morning that I am not one of those desperate people!  If you go into our kitchen, you will see that our shelves are full, and so is our refrigerator.  But Jesus still wants people like me to pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.”

            In our culture, where most people don’t lack any of the necessities of life, it’s very easy for us to become proud, and to think that we don’t really need God to provide for our needs.  In fact, we may begin to take credit for our level of wealth and success.  We probably wouldn’t say it out loud, but we begin to think, “I’ve got this. I got where I am by being responsible and making good decisions, and I have built up enough of a reserve to take care of myself and my family.”

            Bill Hybels in his book “Too Busy Not to Pray” begins with these words:   

            Deuteronomy 8 challenges our self-sufficient culture with these words: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).  When we pray those words, “Give us each day our daily bread”, it is a prayer that recognizes our dependency on God.  It is a prayer that shows that we believe that God, our Father, is our provider. 

            Now, there are some scholars who have tried to spiritualize the bread in this verse, by saying that Jesus was referring to that fact he is the Bread of Life, or that this is the bread of the word of God.   The most popular devotional guide in this country is entitled “Our Daily Bread,” and it’s true that the word of God does feed us spiritually.  But I think it’s clear that when Jesus told his disciples to pray for bread, he meant the kind of bread they could eat.

            We need to remember that, in Jesus’ day, you didn’t just go run down to Food Lion and buy a loaf of bread.  Mothers would grind the grain to make the flour themselves, by hand.  That grain was very likely grown by the father.  Mother would also go out and collect water from the nearest clean water source.  She would mix the dough herself, and flatten it with her own palms.  Bread was baked in community ovens, on a rotation.  Enough for just a few days at a time.

            If times were tough, the bread the mother baked for the week might be the only food there was on the table.  And more often than not, it was lean times for many of Jesus’ neighbors.  And so, I suspect that for Jesus’ disciples, praying, “Give us the bread we need for today” meant something very different than it does for First World Christians today.

            In Jesus’ world, bread meant survival.  So, Jesus teaches us to pray that our Father will give us the bread we need for today.  We come in humility, depending on God to meet our needs.  When we pray those words, we are acknowledging that our very lives — right down to the next meal we will eat — depend on our heavenly Father.  Our food is a gift from God.  And there’s no way we could ever pay that gift back.  Nor does God expect us to.

            When I hear those words “daily bread”, I think about the Israelites in the wilderness.  After they escaped from Egypt and they passed through the Red Sea, there was a great deal of joy and excitement.  But it didn’t take long before they realized that they had a big problem — How in the world were they going to feed those hundreds of thousands of people every day?  How would their livestock be fed and watered in the wilderness? They were traveling to Mt. Sinai through a desert!  And so, they began to grumble.  And they lost hope.

            But then, God said to Moses, “I’m going to send you food from heaven like rain.”  It was called “manna”.  And manna was not only about survival; it was about God’s provision for their needs.  And then, God said to Moses, “Each day…” (Exodus 16:4, GW).   Do you notice that’s the exact same wording that Jesus used in the Lord Prayer.  “Each day, the people should go out and gather only what they need for that day.”

            And every morning (except for the Sabbath), the Israelites went out in the morning and they gathered the manna that God had provided for them.  But God’s instructions were clear.  They were told to only gather enough food for one day, not any more.   

            When I go to the store, I sometimes buy enough bread for a couple of weeks, and put it in the freezer.  But when God gave manna to the Israelites in the wilderness, he told them to gather only enough for one day.  And if any of them tried to gather up extra, if they tried to hoard up more than they needed because they didn’t have enough faith in God to trust that he would take care of them the next day.  If they did that, all of the manna that was kept overnight would get all wormy, and stink.   God was trying to teach them that their food security did not depend on how much manna they stored up in the cabinet, but on how much they could trust the promise of God that he would take care of them.

            The Lord gave the Israelites “daily bread” for 40 years, until the day they entered the Promised Land.  And Jesus said that we need to pray for the same thing: “Give us each day our daily bread.”

            Notice he doesn’t say, “Give us our bread for the next month,” or “Give us a guarantee that when we get old, we’ll be taken care of.”  That doesn’t mean we don’t plan for the future, but it does mean that we don’t worry about the future. As Jesus will say at the end of Matthew 6, we don’t need to worry because we believe that we have a heavenly Father who will take care of us.

            But going back to the Israelites, there was something else interesting about that manna.  God worked it out so that everyone had enough“Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.  Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.” (Exodus 16:18).  In other words, everyone ended up with exactly enough of what they needed.  When we pray for our daily bread, we are asking God for no more and no less than enough.

            And here’s where we really begin to learn something about prayer.  God’s name is kept holy when people have enough— when no one has too much at the expense of someone else having too little. In the kingdom of God, no one goes hungry. Everyone has enough.

            Solomon actually made a request like this of God in the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 30, Solomon said to God,

“Give me neither poverty nor riches;
   Feed me with the food that is needful for me,

lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (
Proverbs 30:8-9)

            Solomon says, “God, I just want enough.  Not too much, but not too little.  Just enough.”  And I would suggest that God’s name is kept holy, and his kingdom is advanced, when people have enough.    Every petition of this prayer goes back to a longing for God’s kingdom, a place where everyone has what they need.  To pray these words should transform us and renew our minds.  It should help us to see things more and more from God’s perspective.

            I said earlier that our daily bread is a gift from God that we can never repay, and that’s true. God doesn’t expect us to even begin to try to pay it back.  But he does expect us to pay it forward.

            And the way we do that is contained in the words of this prayer.  Remember, this isn’t a personal prayer.  Jesus didn’t tell us to pray, “Give me each day my daily bread.”  He said to pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.”  When you pray this, you’re not just asking God to take care of you.  You’re asking for God to feed us.  You, your family, your neighbor, and everybody else.

            But the answer to this prayer will not come down like manna like it did for the Israelites.  Rather, I think the answer lies in the story of one of Jesus’ miracles: the feeding of the multitude. All four gospels tell a story about how Jesus fed 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of sardines. 

            His disciples came to him and said, “We’ve got 5,000 hungry people here. We need to just send them away so they can go to the village and get something to eat.”  But do you remember what Jesus said to them?  He said (and I quote), “You give them something to eat.” (Luke 9:13). All the disciples had was just some fish and bread they’d gotten from a boy’s lunchbox.  Jesus told them to give that food to everyone around them. And everyone ate until they had enough!

            I believe that when we pray like Jesus taught us to pray, we learn that God our Father always gives us enough to share, so that everyone has enough.  Which means that we all have a part to play in making sure that weget the bread we need for today.  Because “we” means all of us.

            The next line in the Lord’s Prayer is:

2.         “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4)

            In Matthew’s account of this prayer, this section is usually translated as, “Forgive us our trespasses”, or “Forgive us our debts”.  When we think of trespasses, we usually think of sins like lying, stealing, swearing, or cheating.  These actions involve crossing a line, breaking a commandment.  But sins are not just the wrong things that we do, but the right things that we often fail to do. 

            When we think of “debts” (“forgive us our debts”), it suggests that we owe God something.   We owe him our obedience, our best efforts, and our acts of gratitude in worship and service.  When we look at what our lives could be, and then we compare that with what we do with our lives, we come up short.   The idea of those two phrases is captured in the phrase, “Forgive us our sins.” 

            In this prayer that Jesus has told us to pray, after we have asked God our Father for provision, we ask him for pardon.  And I have to admit to you that when I first began preparing this lesson, I left out a crucial word.  When I first began preparing this slide, I left out the word “and”.  And I just wrote, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”

            But I came to realize that the word “and” is important because it links our request for daily bread, with our request for daily forgiveness.  And if we will connect those two things, then whenever we think about our need for food, we will also think about our need for forgiveness.  But, sadly, many of us are very conscious of our need for daily bread, but we don’t think much at all about our need for daily forgiveness.

            I think there’s a reason why we need to pray that God will forgive us as we forgive others right after we pray for our daily bread.  Praying for these two things teaches us that everything is grace — our bread is a gift from a generous God, and so is forgiveness.  When we pray, we confess our debts to God.  Those debts are as real as the food we eat.   So, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”

            When we pray that, we are telling God that we intend to be a forgiving people.  We are telling God that, as a group of people that he forgives, we will in turn extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.  Sometimes, we excuse our lack of forgiveness on the grounds that the one who has wronged us doesn’t deserve our forgiveness.  But the truth is, no one ever wronged you as much as you have wronged God, and he is willing to forgive.

            In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story about a king who’s settling accounts. During the audit, it’s discovered that one of his servants owes him an astronomical amount of money. The debt the servant owes comes to more than 160,000 years’ wages! The servant is brought before his king, unable to repay.  So, the king orders that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 

            The story continues in verse 26: “So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

            “But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’

            “So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

            “When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  (Matthew 18:26-34).

            Jesus concludes his story, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35).

            The point of this story isn’t that God can forgive everything except us being unforgiving.  The point is that the only way that makes sense for people God has forgiven to live, is to forgive one another. The point is that when we choose not to forgive, we’re burning the very bridge that we all need to cross. The point of the story is that, in the end, we get what we choose.

            Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7).  But it goes the other way, too.  In James’ letter, he says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” (James 2:13).  Like I said, we get what we choose.

            When John Wesley served as a missionary to the American colonies, he had a difficult time with General James Oglethorpe. The general was known for his pride and harshness.  On one occasion, Oglethorpe declared, “I never forgive.”  To which Wesley replied, “Then, sir, I hope you never sin.”

            William Barclay paraphrases this petition in the Lord’s Prayer to read, “Forgive us our sins in proportion as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”  Everett Fullam’s paraphrase makes it even more striking, “Father, forgive my sins only to the extent I am willing to forgive those who have sinned against me.”

            What that means is that when we refuse to forgive those who have done us wrong, this part of the Lord’s prayer becomes a curse. As Kent Hughes says in his study on the Lord’s Prayer. “What we are really praying may actually sound something like this; ‘I beseech you, Lord, deal with me as I deal with my neighbor. He has been ungrateful to me (though not a one hundredth as ungrateful as I have been with you), yet I cannot overlook his ingratitude. Deal with me, Lord, as I do him.”

            Mercy and forgiveness doesn’t mean that we overlook the harm that others do to us, or to those we love, or to God’s good creation. The way of mercy and forgiveness isn’t simply a way to avoid conflict.  Sin and its consequences must be confessed and acknowledged.

            But how we deal with sin, and those who sin against us, is crucial. The story Jesus tells warns us that if we don’t understand first that we ourselves are sinners who need to be forgiven by God, and who have been forgiven, then we will never deal with the sin of others the way that God wants us to.

Why do we forgive?

  • Not because it comes naturally, because it doesn’t.
  • Not because people deserve it, because if they did, we wouldn’t need to forgive them!
  • Not because we understand why they did what they did, because sometimes we never will.
  • It’s not even so we will feel better, even though we will.  I heard about a man whose brother-in-law had slugged him, and broken his jaw. The jaw hurt for a year, until he finally forgave the man who hit him.  After that, the pain was gone.  We might feel better after we forgive, but we don’t do it for that reason.

            But God has given us another reason.  In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us what that is:  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)   We forgive because God has forgiven us. We forgive because we “get it”: God’s kingdom is a kingdom of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness, and, as a part of God’s kingdom, we want to live that kind of life.

            God’s way of forgiveness is found in the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ.  God did not ignore our sins.  As our judge, God found us guilty of our sins against him.  But, through the crucifixion of Jesus, God took our sins and laid them on Jesus.  Jesus took the penalty for the sins that we have committed, and took that penalty on himself.  Then, through his resurrection, Jesus showed us that it is God’s intention to redeem us, to restore us, and transform us.

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