What ought strong, healthy, competent men to say to God? The disciples around Jesus weren’t so sure. Hence their request: "Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus’ answer included more than instruction about Who the God was to whom one prayed. It also included more than instruction to pray that God’s name be hallowed, that His kingdom be made to come, that His will be done. Jesus told the twelve disciples standing around Him to pray also for daily bread.
Each of the twelve standing around Jesus were mature, healthy men, all quite able to look after himself. There was a Levi, also known as Matthew; he was a tax collector by trade, a hard-dealing business man well able to extract from another what the other owed in taxes. Even if we assume he was an honest man in his tax-collecting, we still need to perceive the man as shrewd and self-sufficient. Among the disciples were also a number of fishermen, rough, tough characters who didn’t mind the storms at sea, who didn’t mind either getting their hands dirty with fish scales and insides. Of Peter and Andrew we read that they had their own boat, and of James and John we read that they worked with their father Zebedee in the family business. There’s no doubt: these men were tradesmen, they knew the craft of fishing. In a word: they were men, self-sufficient, able to look after themselves, able to stand on their own two feet in the world.
These men asked Jesus to teach them to pray; they wanted some guidance in how to speak with God in heaven. Jesus (we may imagine) looked the twelve in the eye, and told them all –no matter how big and strong they felt– to ask for "daily bread". Said Jesus to the twelve: you want to know what to say to God in heaven? Speak with Him, said Jesus, about tomorrow morning’s breakfast. More: ask God to give you breakfast tomorrow morning.
We understand: this is a rather amazing instruction. The twelve want to know how to pray. Jesus’ answer seems to forget totally that these are mature men, each quite able to look after the self. Need they ask for daily bread?! It strikes us as humiliating. Surely, independent, self-sufficient men should be quite able, thank you, to look after themselves!
It is basic to prayer to know oneself dependent on the Lord God. Foundational to prayer, foundational to any relation with God, is the notion that God is God and we but creatures, the notion that we cannot live without His giving to us life and breath itself, cannot live without His giving to us food and drink, clothes and shelter, yes, all the things we need for body and soul. The person who wishes to be independent and self-sufficient will invariably have trouble praying because he has the wrong attitude toward God, and the wrong attitude concerning himself also. The disciples asked for guidance in praying. Jesus impressed upon them: to pray you need to know and acknowledge your dependence. You may be big men, strong men, healthy men, experts in your trade, but –says Jesus– you are and remain dependent on the Lord God for tomorrow’s breakfast. Says Jesus: unless God in heaven give you your daily ration, you will hunger tomorrow, you’ll have nothing to eat.
Revealed in Scripture
By so saying, Jesus very much built on God’s revelation to His people in the Old Testament. In Genesis 2 we read the following:
The people of Israel in the desert were taught the same lesson. Morning after morning breakfast was laying on the ground for the people; they needed but step outside their tents, gather into a bucket what they needed, cook it up and sit down to eat (Ex 16). For forty long years the Lord impressed upon the people their dependence on Him; each morning He showed His own that they were not self-reliant, were not to trust their own ingenuity in supplying daily bread for the family. So it was that the psalmist could confess this:
That You may give them their food in due season.
What You give them they gather in;
You open Your hand, they are filled with good" (Ps 104:27ff).
For His mercy endures forever" (Ps 136:25).
And You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Ps 145:15f).
Real Life Example
In fact, this dependence had been concretely driving home to the fishermen amongst the disciples by events they’d experienced a number of weeks before they requested Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11). Some of the disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing – how frustrating for tradesmen. But Jesus told them to cast the nets anyway…, and see: "they caught a great number of fish," so many that "their net was breaking" (Luke 5:6). Talk about dependent! So those tough fishermen standing before Jesus as He spoke about prayer should get on their knees and ask God for tomorrow’s breakfast. Though so strong and so able, they should not think in terms of being self-sufficient; though so strong and able they ought to know themselves to be but people, dependent, humble.
But a man
That is the attitude, my dear reader, that makes prayer possible. Without a sense of dependence on the Lord, you cannot pour out your heart before God and implore Him for His blessings in your circumstances. In order to pray, you need to acknowledge not that you’re a man, a somebody; to pray you need to acknowledge that you are but a man, a creature dependent on your Creator and Redeemer.
Here, then, the whole notion of our creatureness needs to be clearly in our focus and so does the whole notion of our sinfulness. The measure of being a man is not that one is independent; that’s arrogance, pride. The measure of being a man is that one acknowledges his place under the Creator, acknowledges also that this Creator –though rejected by us in Paradise– has again become our Father through Jesus Christ, and it is He and He alone who supplies for all our daily needs. Dependence! In the words of the Catechism:
Those big and strong tradesmen standing before Jesus are to pray for
daily bread. We understand that this instruction pertained not just to
the crust one may have for lunch. Implicit in Jesus’ instruction to the
disciples to pray for daily bread is also instruction to pray for
the cheese you put on the bread, and the drink you consume with the bread;
yes, it’s instruction to pray for food in general, to pray for drink and
clothes and shelter and sleep and daily work and strength to do the work,
etc. Here is instruction to ask God for "all our bodily needs".