Monday, February 26, 2018

How to Pray Jesus' Way # 3 - Our Daily Bread

When I was in high school and college, I worked at a grocery store. I worked as a bagger, cashier, and in the produce department. But my favorite was when I worked in the bakery. I gained so much weight when I worked in the bakery! When new products came in, we were supposed to sample them. When they didn’t sell, we were able get huge discounts for cakes, cookies, and pies bring them home. And the donuts—oh, my—the donuts! When it was my job to ice and fill the donuts, I put extra on and in them, because I knew I’d be carrying some home. In fact, I hoped that some of them wouldn’t sell, so I could bring some home.

“Give me this day my daily donuts!”

Unfortunately, many of us approach prayer this way. It’s a method of getting what we want from God, as if God were behind the bakery counter and we were placing our order. “I’d like a birthday cake with Happy Birthday to Me written on it in green icing.” But prayer doesn’t work like that. So Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a way of relating to God in humility and love.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. This teaches us to honor and worship God for who God is, not for what we can get out of prayer. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In this, we learn to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33[i]).” By praying this, we remind us that it’s all about God, and not about our desires. Which brings us to the next phrase, Give us this day our daily bread. It’s such a short sentence, but it holds so much for those who want to relate to God. And much of it, I learned from working at the bakery.

GIVE US…OUR. The first thing I learned was it’s not good to be whiney and demanding. At the bakery where I worked, we had a policy of giving small sample cookies to any child who asked, or whose parents asked on their behalf. Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the commercial purpose for this. Samples encourage purchases. Plus they keep loud children from squalling in the store. But the down side is that it encouraged toddlers to march right up to the counter and say to the adult working there, “Gimme my cookie!” It became about “me” and what’s “mine” by right—I deserve to have a cookie! No matter that they’d tried those same sample cookies a hundred times, those selfish customers would rather get for me, what is free, rather than simply buying the bag that was for sharing. So the next thing I learned is that it’s not good to be selfish. When you pray, remember that there’s a difference between “gimme” and “give us.” When you pray, “Give us…our,” you’re praying for the whole bag, not just a cookie for yourself. And you’re not doing it selfishly. You’re asking for a blessing to share.

THIS DAY…DAILY. Now, there are two ways to look at this. The first is to misunderstand and think that Jesus was modeling the selfish “gimme” and adding “NOW” to it. Jesus isn’t teaching us to be like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who stubbornly and selfishly declared “I want it now!” But if not that, what does Jesus mean? By emphasizing the present tense, Jesus is telling us to live in the moment. In Matthew 6, verses 25, and 34, Jesus says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

The longer version of the Serenity Prayer teaches us about “Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time.”[ii] Living in the moment means we don’t get disappointed if we don’t have as much today as we did yesterday. It also means we don’t get scared that we won’t have enough tomorrow, or so excited about tomorrow’s abundance that we lack gratitude for today. “This day…daily” means we’re storing up our treasures in heaven rather than hoarding more than we need here on earth. It promotes a sense of having enough, which creates inner peace and contentment. Besides, you don’t have to work in a bakery to know that the freshest bread is baked the same day. God’s best for you means trusting God for today, each day.

BREAD. Nothing is simpler than bread, in this culture. In Jesus’ culture, it was the same way. In eastern Asia, Jesus might have said, “Give us this day our daily rice,” and it would have meant the same thing. Or in Ireland, “daily potatoes” would make sense. The point is that you’re asking for God to give you what you need, rather than what you want. You’re not praying for daily donuts, but for sustenance. If you want donuts, that’s okay—but you’ve got to work for them. And by asking God for something simple, you’re not trying to control the details. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Give us this day our daily cinnamon-raisin swirl bread with icing on top. Oh, and be sure to bake it at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.” Daily bread. That’s all. God already knows you’re hungry, anyway—God can handle the details and give you what’s best.

So that’s it—what I learned about prayer from working in a bakery. “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s okay to pray for yourself—to ask God to provide what you need each day, for the common good. So go ahead, and trust God for the bread. And maybe every now and then, when it isn’t too bad for you, he’ll throw in a donut as well.

[i] All scripture quotations are taken from the NIV.

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