As this series explores the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer line by line, we consider what each petition means and how to apply it to our own lives. A powerful tool for shaping how we think about God, ourselves, and the world, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray and leads us into a deeply meaningful way of talking to and hearing from the Lord.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
The focus of the Lord’s Prayer clearly shifts from God to our own basic needs with this petition—and not simply to “my needs,” but to “our needs.” The plural pronoun is significant. In fact, for many, it’s hard to imagine saying, “Give me this day my daily bread.”
In this petition, we’re asking God to supply the basics of what’s necessary for us to survive and find satisfaction and meaning. Since basic necessities go beyond literal, actual bread, this petition affirms our reliance on God to meet our most basic needs from one day to the next. Like the Hebrews who would have starved had God not sent the gift of manna daily (Exodus 16), we, too, would die without the daily, mundane, essential gifts that sustain these fragile, dependent lives that are precious to God.
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther understood “our daily bread” to mean “everything required to satisfy our bodily needs.” Luther listed obvious needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and health, but he also added “a pious spouse and good children, good and faithful rulers, good government, seasonable weather, true friends, faithful neighbors,” and more.
With an expansive list like that as part of the package of needs to sustain a healthy life, the very personal “give me this day my daily bread” may not sound entirely selfish after all. Most of Luther’s list of needs are purposeful, desirable—and beyond our control to acquire for ourselves. But desiring those things for oneself does not dismiss the more communal, corporate, and global dimensions that Jesus taught and writers of the Bible reinforced.
Who is the “us” we are praying for?
Jesus has compassion on hungry people, and hunger itself is contrary to the kingdom of God that Jesus was ushering in. As God’s people, we are to be concerned for those in need (1 John 3:17-18) and not content simply to wish them well and hope those needs somehow get met (James 2:15-16); to do so casts doubt on the authenticity of our faith. When the disciples urged Jesus to send away the crowds so they could fend for their own food (Mark 6:34-42), Jesus said what the disciples were not eager to hear: “You get them something to eat!” (emphasis added).
In wealthy nations like Canada and the United States, food security, clean water, shelter, and clothing may be less of a concern than in many parts of the world, but that doesn’t dismiss the fact that significant numbers of people in North America struggle to get by.
This part of the Lord’s Prayer is relevant for neighbors near and far, which includes but is not limited to followers of Jesus. Still, sisters and brothers in Christ throughout the world pray this petition, relying on God to meet basic needs, because essentials like safety, food, and water are not certain.
For Western Christians who are more likely to die from too much bread than too little, and who are prone to fill our emptiness with gnawing consumption, there are avenues for sharing our resources and influence as a way to participate in the work of God’s kingdom. We can use our abundance to serve God by providing “daily bread” for others. That’s an important aspect of praying this petition with heartfelt intention—and to do so not only for ourselves, but for our neighbors, wherever they live.
Read the rest of the Lord’s Prayer series
- Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer
- First petition: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”
- Second petition: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”
- Third petition: “Give us this day our daily bread”
- Fourth petition: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”
- Fifth petition: “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil”
- Sixth petition: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.”
Stephanie Soderstrom is coordinator for Short-term Mission for the Reformed Church in America. You can connect with her by email at email@example.com.
Terry A. DeYoung has served as coordinator for disability concerns for the Reformed Church in America since 2009. His wife, Cindi Veldheer DeYoung, is a hospital chaplain who lives with significant hearing loss. They live in Holland, Michigan, with their lively Brittany Spaniel, Dexter. Among other things, they enjoy traveling, boating, baseball, craft beer, and all things Chicago. Contact Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org.