Prayer and God's Provision
Of all of the many facets of prayer that we find taught in scripture, perhaps the most often misunderstood is that of petition. We are often instructed in scripture to bring our requests before God; sometimes, even incessantly (see the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18). Likewise, we are called to cast our cares and worries upon Jesus. To say that God has granted us an invitation to ask him for things is an understatement. Clearly he desires to hear from us about our concerns. So, why then does it seem that so many of our requests go ignored and unanswered?
To answer this question, people will often point to passages like James 4:2-3 which says, "You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." Is it really just that simple though? Do we not receive that which we desire from God simply because of our sinful motivations? That may be true in many cases, but what about those requests that do come from a selfless heart and still go unanswered...like perhaps prayers for healing for a sick loved one? Are we just not "faithing it" enough??? I don't believe that is it.
I think it is in Jesus' instruction in the Lord's Prayer that we can unlock some of the mystery and clear up many of the misunderstandings. After beginning his prayer with worship of who God is, Jesus turns his attention in verse 11 to our needs, where he instructs us to ask, "Give us this day our daily bread...." This simple phrase is packed with so much insight for our lives!
As Cody pointed out in his message, the idea of bread for Jesus' Jewish hearers was packed with meaning beyond simply being food. Furthermore, the idea of "daily bread" would have immediately reminded them of God's provision of the manna in the wilderness (see Exodus 16). In other words, Jesus as the masterful teacher is painting a picture for his audience of full reliance on God to provide for all of their needs. The key word there though is needs.
You see, while we are invited often to bring our requests before God, we are nowhere in scripture promised anything beyond that which we ultimately need. The question then becomes, how do we differentiate between a want and a need? Who ultimately decides what I need? For most of us, the answer is, we do! But scripture tells us it is God.
If you ask most reasonable people what they need, they will point to the essentials: food, clothing, shelter, companionship, etc. If you ask them what they want, the list will likely grow substantially from there. Here in America, things like financial security, good health, possessions, and creature comforts will top the list. This is why the prosperity gospel has been so appealing in mainstream America. It taps into what we ultimately truly want God to be in our lives...a genie who grants our wishes.
Our greatest problem is that we don't realize that our deepest longings are actually just vain attempts to find what we actually so desperately need...redemption and restoration with our Heavenly Father. Deep in our souls we realize that something is missing. We were never meant to live separated from God. We feel the deep emptiness that our sin has caused, and so we spend our lives trying to fill that void with all types of things, in the hope that one of them will ultimately leave us feeling fulfilled. But they never do.
I think the point of Jesus' instruction that we seek from God our daily bread is that we regularly look to him for the spiritual sustenance that we need. In Christ, our greatest need has been met. If all we ever get from God is the gospel of Christ, we have received all that we could ever need. Yet, in his goodness, God bestows even greater blessing upon us.
When it seems as if our prayers are going unanswered, it isn't because God is withholding good things from us, but rather he is giving us what is best for us (our daily bread). Of course the question that always follows a statement like that is, "How can things that seem bad actually be good...and not just good, but what you claim is best for us???" Admittedly, if anyone tells you they can give you a definitive answer to that question, you should run fast and far from them. The truth is, we don't always know how the things that God allows to come into our lives (the blessings and the trials), all work for our good and his glory. We just know that the Bible tells us that they do (Romans 8:28).
To really make sense of it all, we need to have an eternal perspective. We need to be able to see the big picture. Think of it this way. If you stood in front of a masterpiece of art with your nose pressed up against it, what would you see, a beautiful work of art or a blur of colors? In the same way, our limited perspective grants us limited understanding. We can't see the beautiful masterpiece that God has painted, we can only see the blur of colors right in front of our nose. The more we are able to gain that eternal perspective, to live our lives in light of eternity, the more we can rest in trusting God to provide for us the daily bread we so desperately need. Even more so, we begin to long for it over and above all else; so that our wants begin to align with our needs.
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Part 3 - Give us this day our daily bread
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. Why should we pray for daily bread if we already have it?
2. If God is sovereign and decrees all things why should I pray at all?
3. How can we trust in God's provisions for us?