Sermon 02-01-15: “Basic Training, Part 4: Give Us This Day”

February 11, 2015

Basic Training Series

Today’s sermon focuses on the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is the part of the Lord’s Prayer with which we’re most comfortable: asking God to give us things. But notice where in the prayer the petition falls: after we’ve spent time worshiping and adoring our Father and committing ourselves to his will. Also, notice the petition for bread is small, humble. How easy is it for us to take for granted that everything—large and small—comes to us as a gift from God?

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:9-15

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Last week’s Super Bowl news had to do with “Inflate-gate.” This week’s news was all about Seattle Seahawks’ star running back Marshawn Lynch. Last Tuesday, during the Seahawks’ “media day,” all the team’s players were contractually obligated to appear before the media and answer questions about the game. Lynch showed up for media day, but it turns out he’s apparently media shy. He was only there because the NFL would fine him something like $100,000 if he didn’t show up. He showed up all right! But that’s about all he did. To every reporter’s question, he gave the exact same answer: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” “So how do you feel going up against that tough Patriots defense?” “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” “So what’s it like appearing in your second consecutive Super Bowl?” “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

"I'm just here so I won't get fined."

“I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

No matter the question, he gave the same response. Twenty-nine times he said those same words. At some point, you’d think the reporters would take a hint: he’s not going to give them what they’re asking for!

The good news is that our heavenly Father is not like Marshawn Lynch. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” he’s giving us permission to ask our Father to give us what we want and need. Not only that, we ought to expect a positive response to our asking!

“Father, give us…”

Years ago, before I went into ministry, one of the pastors at my church prayed a lot, and she boldly asked God to give her things. You’d be talking to her, and she’d stop you in mid-sentence and say, “Let’s pray about this right now!” Grab your hands and pray. She was bold about asking God for things, including, for example, asking him for a parking space near the entrance of the hospital when she had a pastoral visit to make.

What do you make of that? Show of hands: Do you think it’s O.K. to ask God for a prime parking spot?

If you’re bothered by it, you’re not alone. It bothered the senior pastor at the church. He thought praying for parking spaces was too insignificant a thing to pray for, too small, too trivial… Now I love this pastor very much, and I personally never ask God for good parking spaces either, but I actually I disagree with him. I don’t believe that anything is too small a thing to take to God our Father. After all, praying for daily bread is a small thing, too.

No, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Father, give us…” Which means we approach God’s throne of grace with confidence[1] and ask. In fact, Jesus makes some extraordinary promises about asking God for what we want: “Ask, and it will be given to you… For everyone who asks receives.”[2] “And I will do whatever you ask in my name…”[3] And Jesus teaches us that persistence in asking pays off. Jesus’ brother, James, in his letter, writes, “You do not have because you do not ask.”[4]

These are powerful words and promises. But I don’t need to tell any of you who’ve been Christians for a while that God doesn’t always give us what we ask for. That can cause us pain. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Every deathbed is the monument to a petition not granted.” Most of us know the pain of unanswered prayer. So now is the time for me to tell you that there is such a thing as a right way of asking.

To see this for yourself, look at where this petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” shows up in the Lord’s Prayer. Notice we don’t ask God to give us things, or do things for us—the “self”-centered part of the prayer—until we first give our attention to God and what he wants: “your name be hallowed,” “your kingdom come,” “your will be done on earth as in heaven.”

We just recently got a brand new washing machine.[5] It’s fancy. It’s a top-loading model, but the drum of the washer doesn’t include that agitator in the center of it. It’s a big empty space. I don’t know how it works. But at the beginning of the wash cycle, it has this feature in which it spins a little back and forth in order to evenly distribute the weight of the clothes in the machine. This is a major innovation. Because when our old washing machine got to the spin cycle, if the clothes were not evenly distributed around the center, what would happen? It would sound like someone was beating the machine with a hammer. Bang bang bang bang bang. And it would sort of, like, start walking away from the wall. And you’d hear that banging sound, and you’d have to go upstairs, and redistribute the weight, and start it again. If the machine was not properly centered, it wouldn’t function properly.

We’re not so different from that old washing machine—in the sense that, if we’re not centered properly, we won’t function properly. The first part of the prayer, the God-centered part, centers us. It reminds us who God is, his character, his attributes—for example, that God is a loving father who wants what’s best for his children; that he’s “in heaven,” which means he’s powerful, omnipotent; that he has the power to solve the problems we’re facing; that nothing should matter more to us than his glory, not our own glory; that nothing should matter more to us than doing what he wants rather than what we want. Centering ourselves like this has a way of changing what we ask for—of aligning our will with his. When we do that, we find that our prayers will be answered more and more.

Maybe you’ve seen this current Geico commercial in which a man finds a genie in a lamp. He rubs the lamp and the genie pops out. The man is so excited, he can’t believe his luck. He tells the genie, “I want a million bucks!” So the genie goes, “Poof!” with his hands, and when the smoke clears, the man’s house and yard and street are overrun with… bucks as in, deer. Because the genie took the man very literally.

The point is, when we pray for our Father to give us something—like the guy in the commercial—we don’t always know what we’re asking for. We don’t always ask for what’s good for us. We don’t always ask in the right way. And that’s why God doesn’t give us what we ask for.

Twenty years ago, when I was 25, I was a young man with a great job, working in sales for AT&T. Even back in the early ’90s, this was still a time when going to work for a prestigious company like that meant that you would spend your whole career there. Retire with a gold watch. And here I was, the youngest person hired for “national accounts”—man, I thought I was going places. And I wanted to go places—I wanted to move up. I wanted to be important and powerful. I prayed for it. And it never came—despite my faith, despite my fervent prayers—and my wife, Lisa, can tell you that I was miserable for a couple of years. Why didn’t God give me what I wanted?

Because what I wanted 20 years ago was stupid, and I was an idiot. I mean, I see that now. You couldn’t have convinced me of it back then!

But think about it… if he had answered my original prayer and given me the kind of career success I asked for, I would never have found the energy, the motivation to go back to school… and eventually get on the path that led me here.

I think of the apostle Paul—a perfect example of God not giving us what we ask for in prayer—but instead giving us something better. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes Satan giving him a “thorn in his flesh,” which tormented him. No one is sure what the “thorn” was. The church at Corinth probably knew about it, so Paul didn’t have to explain it. It was probably some physical ailment—perhaps one that disfigured him in some way, maybe something that had to do with his eyes, his vision. But he says that he prayed three times for God to remove this thorn. In so many words, Paul said, “I know I could be more powerful, more effective in ministry if you’d only take this terrible thing away from me.” And the Lord said, in so many words, “You don’t know what you’re asking. This thorn, as painful as it may be, actually enables you to be more effective in ministry, more powerful than you would otherwise be—for my power is made perfect in weakness. So I’m giving you what you want, even though it wasn’t what you asked for.”

I still like the thing that pastor Tim Keller says all the time: God always gives you what you would have asked for if you know everything he knows.

Next, what does it mean that we are told to ask for our daily bread? First, let’s notice a remarkable fact: I was born on February 18, 1970. So please note that my birthday is coming soon! Respond accordingly. But that means that I have been alive now for 16,418 days. For each of those 16,418 days, I have always had the bread that I needed. In fact, while I was living through each of those 16,418 days, I never once worried that I wouldn’t have bread for that day.

No, I’ve never worried about daily bread. Not even weekly bread. Monthly bread, yes. Yearly bread, certainly. And I’m guessing most of you could say the same. But there’s an insight here. We worry a lot about the future, and very little about the day that we’re currently living through. So, if we want to drastically reduce the amount of worrying that we do, let’s focus on what we need for today—and leave the future to God. While it’s true that past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, God’s track record for the past 16,418 days suggests to me that when I arrive in that future day I will find, like all the days that went before, that God is once again giving me what I need.

But I take daily bread for granted because I have so much of it. Most people in the world can’t afford to take it for granted. And we can learn something from them.

As you could probably tell from that video from Kenya, our Kenyan brothers and sisters tend to sing to and praise and adore and worship God more than we do—with more exuberance, with more enthusiasm, with more conviction, with more faithfulness. And you can see it in their prayer life, too. I had a profound experience of prayer with them while I was there. During Sunday worship and every morning at the beginning of the class, while they were singing praise songs, they would transition to prayer time… But they didn’t pray silently; a pastor didn’t lead them in corporate prayer. No, when they prayed, each person in the group of dozens or hundreds would shout out their praise and gratitude and supplications to God—individually, out loud, all at once. It wasn’t speaking in tongues. Some were speaking in their native Swahili. Some were speaking in English. It was this beautiful cacophony of voices, and I had never heard anything like it before. Some of these pastors were literally weeping as they prayed. Some were shouting to God.

At first it made me uncomfortable. It made me feel self-conscious. It made me feel spiritually dry—like, What’s my problem? When it comes to my own prayers, why don’t I share these pastors’ enthusiasm? Why am I so buttoned-up all the time? Why do I have to play it so cool when I worship? Good heavens, I didn’t even feel comfortable lifting my hands when I worshiped!

What’s that about? Why can’t I be more like them when I worship, and when I pray?

I lay awake at night thinking about it while I was there, and here’s what I figured out: I didn’t really believe that God gave me my daily bread. I mean, not really. My attitude at the time was, “God, don’t worry about my daily bread. That’s a small thing. A mundane, trivial matter. An earthly thing, a material thing. I’ll take care of that! I’ve got money. I’ve got a job. I’ve got my health. My family’s all good. I’ve got that part of my life under control! I’ll let you take care of the big stuff—you know, if I need you to work a miracle or something. Something that I can’t handle myself. Otherwise, you just take care of the spiritual part of my life. I’ll handle the rest.”

There are a lot of problems with this attitude, but the worst of all is the fact that most of life consists of small things that we can handle. Mundane, trivial things. Earthly things, material things. Non-spiritual stuff. Like our daily bread. You know? Yet I had sort of built a hedge around that part of my life with a sign saying, “Stay out. This part of my life is not for you, God.” And the sad thing is, that was most of my life. So no wonder I didn’t pray very much—or worship with much enthusiasm. I thought I was doing everything. I thought I had to do everything. I thought my success or failure was all up to me. Far from being thankful to God, God should be thankful for me!

No wonder I couldn’t lift my hands in worship alongside my Kenyan brothers and sisters… My hands were heavy and full from carrying the weight of the world.

And it was as if the Lord Jesus were saying, “Let it go. Surrender. I’ve got you. Let me take this heavy burden from your hands. Let me take over from here on out. You can trust me, Brent. You can depend on me.”

When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and mean it, we understand that there’s no part of our life that doesn’t belong to God, no thing we possess or own or enjoy that doesn’t come down to us as a gift from our Father. We owe everything to him. He’s made us what we are. And our future is in his hands. And so we trust, we pray, we ask, “Father, give us…”

I’ve talked a little about unanswered prayer. There is one prayer that I guarantee that our Father will answer every single time… Our Father, give us this day your beloved Son Jesus, the bread of life. He’s what we need more than anything because what happens on that day when we can no longer eat physical bread. We need sustenance that lasts for eternity…

[1] Hebrews 4:16

[2] Matthew 7:7-8

[3] John 14:13

[4] James 4:2

[5] This illustration was suggested by Tim Keller in a sermon on this text, but it also describes my recent experience!

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