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Part 5

"Give Us"

One of the urban legends coming out of Seattle, Washington tells about a helicopter that's flying above the city when an electrical malfunction suddenly disables the aircraft's navigation and communications equipment. Because of the clouds and haze, the pilot can't determine the helicopter's position and course.

Seeing a tall building, he flies toward it, circles, and then hovers in front of one of the building's big office windows. He draws a handwritten sign, and holds it in the helicopter's window. The pilot's sign reads, "WHERE AM I?" in large letters.

People in the tall building quickly respond. They draw a large sign, and hold it in their window. Their sign in huge letters reads, "YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER."

The pilot smiles, waves, looks at his map, determines the course to SEATAC airport and finally lands safely. The copilot is absolutely amazed! "How in the world did their sign help you determine our position?" He asks.

The pilot says, "Oh, I knew that they had to be in the Microsoft building because they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer."

Have you ever been given that kind of help from some one, technically correct but completely useless? For example, you go to a friend for advice and all you get is platitudes, cliches: "Hang in there! You can do it! God bless you!" Technically correct but completely useless . . . because it's not what you need at the moment.

Or you go to a friend for emotional support and encouragement and all you get is cold advice: "Hey, if you'd just do this or stop doing that it wouldn't be so bad for you!" Technically correct but completely useless . . . because it's not what you need at the moment.

Or you're talking about something and in the midst of processing and reflecting, you make a well-intentioned but rather obvious statement, and the person's response is, "Dah! Do you think so?" In other words, "What'd'ya think, stupid! Isn't it obvious? How dumb can you get!" Technically correct but completely useless . . . because it's not what you need.

This approach doesn't feel very good, does it? It certainly isn't helpful, is it? That's why Jesus, when He gave His model prayer for us, a prayer that so powerfully describes the reality of God and everything God's interested in, doesn't simply leave us in the realm of the ethereal, theological and philosophical. He doesn't just describe God in heavenly terms. He doesn't simply demand that we bow down to God's glory and majesty because that's all God wants for us. He isn't interested in technically correct but completely useless responses. He completes the prayer by describing what God wants for those who live in His Kingdom.

Open your Bibles to Matthew 6:11 We've come today to the fourth of our six passions for real prayer. "Give us this day our daily bread."

There are two very simple, ordinary, mundane words here: "bread" and "daily." The word for "bread" is used throughout the New Testament to describe the most basic necessities for survival and physical existence, food being a part of that.

So Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer and theologian, defined "bread" as "everything necessary for the preservation of this life."

In this verse, then, Jesus is urging us to talk to God about all of the ordinary, mundane, necessary things of our lives. "Give us this day our daily bread."

And notice Jesus uses the word "daily" in connection with our needs. Scholars have translated this word "the coming day." It reflects the precarious lifestyle of many first-century workers who were paid one day at a time. And consequently, missing a few days of work from illness or anything else could spell tragedy for them. They literally lived from day to day, from hand to mouth.

So Jesus is telling us to pray, "Give us today our bread for the coming day." In other words, it's a simple, fundamental request: "God, please supply us with the things we need for the coming day. Take care of us today."

One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African-American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down, and she desperately needed a ride. "Give us today our bread for the coming day." She had prayed this prayer often.

Soaking wet and utterly desperate, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her - something unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry! She wrote down his address, thanked him and drove away.

Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant color console TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached:

"Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.

Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole"

"Give us today our bread for the coming day! God, take care of us today!" Isn't it amazing how God does provide for us every day?

So what's the picture of God that emerges from this personal petition? What's Jesus telling us about the Heavenly Father? What values of God's Kingdom does this reveal? Three come to mind.

Number one, God cares about our daily needs, the mundane, ordinary necessities of life. That's why Jesus spent so much time healing people's diseases and satisfying their physical needs - He was trying to show them the real Father.

Remember the day, recorded in Matthew 14, when Jesus has been healing people and preaching to them all day long? The shadows have lengthened, the sun is setting, when the disciples come to Him.

"No one lives around here, Master, and it's already late. The people are tired and hungry. Maybe You should cut Your sermon short and let the people go home so they can eat."

Jesus could've looked at His watch and said, "Wow! You guys are right. Man, I didn't realize the time! Let's let them go."

Instead, He says to the disciples (verse 16), "They don't need to go away. You give them something to eat."

Well, apparently the disciples have already studied the food situation. No stores close by. No food in the crowd except five loaves of bread and two fish. And there's no way that can feed over 5,000 people! "So better send the folk home, Lord!"

But Jesus doesn't. The trip's long. The hour's late. The stomachs are growling. The kids are crying. "Give us this day our daily bread."

So Jesus takes the five bread loaves and two fish and, after giving thanks to God for this food, divides them between the people. Verse 20: "All the people ate and were satisfied. Then the followers filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of food."

Amazing, isn't it! Jesus doesn't have to feed these thousands of people. He's already healed many of them and preached a good sermon. But he feeds them.

Number one, God cares about our daily needs. Every meal you and I enjoy is a miracle of His grace. We ought to acknowledge that every time we sit down to eat. Everything we possess and enjoy in life is a gift of His grace. We ought to acknowledge that daily. That's why this prayer is so vital to our vision of life! It reminds us of what God's really like.

And Number two, this petition reminds us that because God cares about our daily needs, we can live one day at a time. This part of the prayer helps us to focus simply on the present. We can leave the worries of tomorrow and the regrets of yesterday alone because God supplies our needs one day at a time.

Remember the amazing Old Testament story of the manna for the Israelites as they wander in the desert heading for the Promised Land? Very likely Jesus is thinking about this story as He gives this part of the prayer. It's told in Exodus 16.

The children of Israel are starving in the wilderness. They start pining to be back in Egypt, even though they were slaves there. They're afraid they're going to die in the desert after all. So they're in terror of the future and in longing for the past.

What does God do? He says (verse 4), "I will cause bread to fall like rain from the sky for all of you." See, God is caring about their daily needs, the present. Now here's point number two.

"There's only one condition," God says to Israel. "You must go out and gather what you need for only that day. If you try to gather too much, and to store it up, it will rot. You are to be satisfied with enough for that day."

What's God trying to teach the Israelites? To live in trust one day at a time. To not be obsessed with the future or consumed with the past. That's why He didn't want the Israelites to store up. So they could learn how to trust and depend upon God each new day. Helping them live with faith in the present.

Does this mean we shouldn't plan for the future? Of course not. But notice the emphasis now Jesus gives after the prayer as He closes the chapter. Matthew 6:34 - "So don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will have its own worries. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Jesus' focus is on worry, worry that comes from obsessing about future problems and needs. The antidote, reminds Jesus in our prayer, is petitioning a God who cares about our present needs and so learning how to depend upon Him each single day. Living in trust.

And finally, number three, this petition reminds us to not only receive our daily bread as grace but to share it. Notice Jesus does not tell us to pray, "Give me my bread for the coming day." No, Jesus has us pray, "Give us our bread." You see, He wants us to acknowledge and accept our solidarity with the human family. He's teaching us to never be selfish in our prayers, to always remember the needs of others as we pray. We must join in praying and working to provide life's necessities for others, too.

Did you know that somewhere between 24- and 40,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes? And 3/4 of those deaths are children under the age of five. Think of it - death from simply a lack of the most basic necessity of life!

I logged on to a web site Thursday called "thehungersite.com." It has a map of the world. As you watch it, various countries around the world will suddenly turn black for an instant. That means that someone in that country has just died from hunger. It was the most uncanny and sobering experience I've had in a long time. Every 3.6 seconds a person dies.

The site provides opportunity to make a difference by clicking on a button. With every click, sponsors for the site donate food to the World Hunger Project of the United Nations. Obviously world hunger won't be resolved with a simple click of the mouse. But here's an attempt to make at least a little difference with a part of our world family that really needs help.

Log on to one of your Internet search engines and type in the words "world hunger." You'll see scores of sites that suggest practical ways for you and me to become more aware of this basic world need.

The point is, every time we pray, says Jesus, we are to pray "Give us our bread for the coming day." Jesus is calling us to accept personal responsibility for sharing what God gives us with those who need, too. We are one human family. God is our Father. And we are to pray and work for the benefit of others. It's not just my bread it's our bread! I'm not to just receive, I'm also to share. "Give us our daily bread."

Number one, this petition reveals a God who cares about our daily needs. Number two, this petition calls us to live in trust one day at a time. And number three, this prayer compels us to share what we receive. So what do you think? Are you willing to really pray this prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread?" Are you thankful you can pray to a God who doesn't simply give you technically correct but completely useless help?

Jim Petty remembers as a teenager standing in line with his dad for the circus that had come to town. There was only one family between them and the ticket counter. He was getting really excited.

But his attention was soon drawn to the family ahead of them. Eight children, all probably 12 and under; not much money; clothes clean but cheap; well-behaved with their parents; all excited to see the circus, something obviously never done before.

The ticket lady asked the father how many tickets he wanted. He proudly responded, "Please let me buy eight children's tickets and two adult tickets so I can take my family to the circus!"

The ticket lady quoted the price. The man's wife let go of his hand, her head dropped, and the man's lips began to quiver. He leaned a little closer to the window and whispered, "Excuse me, how much did you say?"

The lady quoted the price again. It was obvious the father didn't have enough money. Pain was written all over his face. How in the world was he going to tell his eight children that he didn't have enough money to take them to the circus?

Jim suddenly saw his dad put his hand into his pocket, pull out two $20 bills, and drop them onto the ground. Jim was shocked because his family was anything but wealthy. But he watched as his dad bent over, picked up the bills, tapped the man on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, sir, did these fall out of your pocket?"

The hurting father looked at the bills, locked eyes with Jim's dad for a brief moment and sensed what was happening in his desperate and embarrassing situation. Grabbing both hands and squeezing tightly onto the two $20 bills, the father, lips quivering, tears streaming down his cheeks, replied, "Thank you, thank you, sir! This really means a lot to me and my family!"

So the family of ten went to the circus. And Jim and his dad went home. But all the way home their hearts felt full.

Isn't this the kind of thing the Heavenly Father would do - to not simply be technically correct yet completely useless but to really help, to really give, to really care, to go beyond . . . so that even 12 basketfuls of bread and fish are left over, so that bread rains down from heaven for all? This, says Jesus, is our God to whom we pray. And this, says Jesus, is what His children will do, too.

Are you ready to pray, "Give us our bread for the coming day? We trust You, God. And we'll serve You forever. Amen."

Greg Nelson, CVC Senior Pastor
February 5, 2000