Give us this day our daily bread. [Matthew 6:11 (RSV)]

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. [Matthew 6:31-32 (RSV]

If “daily bread” refers to our necessities and nothing more, then what are the necessities of life? The most obvious answer is food enough to maintain us, water enough to sustain us, along with clothing and shelter enough to protect us. Chances are you are among the fortunate who have all that’s needed to support life (plus a great deal more.) I know I am. Should we then cease asking the Lord for our daily bread? Martin Luther would say, “No.”

When Luther explained the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer in his Small Catechism, he said “daily bread” comprised “Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, and upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”

For Luther, the words “daily bread” encompassed far more than whatever was necessary to sustain life. He expanded it to mean whatever is necessary for a good life. In the mostly agrarian society of his time, it’s easy to see why farm, fields, livestock, and good weather were a necessity to Luther’s congregations. Nevertheless, they’re still necessary in our increasingly urban society—without those, our grocery stores would be empty. When we continue to think in broader terms, Luther’s list makes as much sense today as it did in 1529. While we probably don’t have servants as members of our household, we may have employees or co-workers in business and we all depend upon other people’s employees when we dine out, bank, shop, visit the doctor, or take medicine. We may not have (or want) a spouse and children, but today’s children are tomorrow’s employers, judges, mechanics, police, and office holders and we need strong and upright family units to raise them to be good ones. Indeed, our daily bread includes far more than food, water, clothing, and shelter enough for survival. We all need families, friends, and neighbors along with good government, peace, health, decency, and honor and yet I’d never thought of these necessities as daily bread until I read Luther’s words.

Let us never forget that along with both our physical requirements and the less observable needs of life like friendship, there is yet another kind of bread for which we ask. When we ask for our daily bread, we also ask for the true bread of life—Jesus Christ—the bread that satisfies our spiritual hunger. He is, indeed, a necessity for life both in this world and the next.

Rather than asking God for my daily bread, Jesus’ beautiful model prayer asks God to give us our daily bread. Regardless of how much we may have, as long as long as there are people in our world who lack the true necessities of life, we must pray for their provision—their daily bread and the bread of life.

Our Father in heaven, give us this day our daily bread!

“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 6:33-35 (RSV)]

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Give us this day our daily bread… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [Matthew 6:11,26 (RSV)]

A pastor friend told me about returning from a service project with some of his SK8 church youth including Brian, a young man new to the faith. When they stopped for lunch at a taco stand, a street person asked Brian for money. Trying to do what Jesus would want done, the new Christian offered to buy the hard-up man a burrito. It was when Brian ordered two bean burritos that his dining guest loudly complained, “I ain’t eatin’ no $%2#!* bean burrito—I want a steak one!” Brian had little money to spare but, since the man was getting vociferous, he ordered the steak burrito for his guest and a bean one for himself. Apparently, the vagrant wasn’t familiar with the proverbs about beggars not being choosers, half a loaf being better than none, and not looking a gift horse in the mouth!

When I came across a cartoon done by Mark Lynch about Jesus feeding the multitude, I remembered my pastor friend’s story. In Lynch’s cartoon, Jesus is standing in front of a large group. Behind Him are piles of loaves and fish. With the caption “IF IT HAD BEEN TODAY,” the various speech balloons show members of the crowd asking if the fish contains mercury and if there’s a vegan option. Others want to know if the bread is gluten-free, baked locally, or has nuts. Another one complains, “I’m lactose intolerant.” While it is just a comic, I think Lynch isn’t far off. Human nature being what it is, the day Jesus fed a multitude of hungry people, I suspect there were some who grumbled about the lack of things like honey, olives, grapes or figs. Perhaps others asked, “Is this the best He can do?”

Shortly after teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus reassured us that, since God cares for the birds, He surely will care for us. His miracle of feeding the multitude shows us that God cares for His people. God, however, isn’t like Burger King and never promised us, “Have it your way!” He certainly never told us (as the hamburger chain now does), “You Rule.”

God is concerned about meeting our necessities but, like the homeless man and the comic’s multitude, our vision of a necessity often differs from His. Our daily bread probably isn’t brioche, a gluten-free all-natural blueberry muffin, a $10 loaf of artisanal sourdough from the farmer’s market, or even that $3.79 orange scone from Panera. It definitely isn’t the Gold Leaf Bread from Algatocin, Spain, that’s made with 250 mg of gold dust! It may not even be a whole loaf and it probably won’t include extras like Nutella, honey, fruit preserves, pate or avocado spread. Daily bread is what’s necessary and nothing more—anything else is like frosting on a cake or peanut butter on toast!

“We are beggars; this is true,” was written on a scrap of paper found in Martin Luther’s pocket when he died. How easily we forget that. In truth, we are not that different from the panhandler at the taco stand or Lynch’s multitude gathered on a hillside—more often than not we are unappreciative of the gifts we’re given. Perhaps, after asking God for our daily bread, we might want to add another prayer: “Help me recognize my needs and appreciate your provision.” With thanksgiving, let us reach out and gladly accept God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, Holy Spirit, and daily provision on His terms, not ours. Let us remember that beggars can’t be choosers.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (RSV)]

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But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)]

great blue heronAs we continued our brief study on prayer, one person shared that his prayer frequently is for patience. Agreeing, I admitted often praying, “Lord, please give me patience…and give it to me now!” While patience is a fruit of the Spirit, I have a problem getting it to grow in the garden of my life.

Without a doubt, we live in a fast-paced world and perhaps we’ve grown more impatient because of that. For example, a good download speed is 100 Mbps which allows for the receipt of 12.5 MB per second. A byte is the equivalent of one typed character so that’s like 12.5 million letters in one second (or four complete King James Bibles)! Nevertheless, we complain when we see that download circle spin for even a few seconds!

We no longer need to visit the library or bookstore for a book, the encyclopedia for an answer, or Blockbuster for a movie. Our apps mean we skip the checkout lines and our DVRs allow us to skip the commercials! Grocery shopping takes only a few minutes thanks to Instacart and DoorDash allows us to skip the groceries altogether! We pay bills, do our banking, plan travel, and shop with a few clicks of a mouse and what we order today appears on our doorstep tomorrow! We literally live in a world of instant pots, grams, chargers, coffee, rice, carts, and gratification. Patience may be a virtue but it seems as rare as handwritten letters and phone booths. Its rarity, however, doesn’t mean it’s unnecessary!

I thought about patience this morning while walking in a nearby park. We were mesmerized while watching a beautiful Great Blue Heron ((Ardea herodias) hunt for breakfast. With a height of four feet and a wingspan of nearly seven feet, the Great Blue is an impressive bird. When foraging, it stands still for long periods of time with only his head moving while patiently scanning the water for prey. When a heron wades through the water, it seems to glide. Its long legs move so deliberately and gracefully there’s not even a ripple in the water. At the Great Blue stalks its food in the wetlands, this statuesque bird is a model of focus, diligence, and purpose. Watching a heron hunt is like seeing something in ultra-slow-motion. But, when its next meal comes swimming past, the heron moves with lightning speed, uncoils its long neck, and plunges its sizable beak and head into the water. On occasion it comes up empty-beaked but, more often than not, its patience pays off and the bird emerges with a fish, frog, snake or other unlucky critter. While I’ve gotten plenty of photos of a heron hunting and several of one enjoying its catch, I’ve never gotten one of the bird actually getting its meal. You see, the heron’s patience exceeds my own. No matter how long I stalk the bird for the perfect shot, I give up before it does! Were I a heron, I surely would go hungry!

Watching the heron today was a beautiful reminder to slow down and exercise patience as we move through life. It’s easy to lose faith when things don’t move along at the pace we want them to go but life isn’t meant to be measured at megabits per second. Unlike Siri, God isn’t at our beck and call with answers to every question. Moreover, unlike UPS, He doesn’t give us a tracking link to check on a prayer’s progress and know its delivery date. God works in His time and way and what seems like a delay on His part is just our unrealistic expectations concerning God’s perfect plan.

God speaks to us through his creation and nature (like God) takes its own sweet time to accomplish its purpose. Indeed, “For everything there is a season.” It takes time for seeds to germinate, seedlings to flower, and flowers to bear fruit. It takes time for nests to be built, eggs to hatch, and eaglets to fly. It takes time for bees to pollinate, seasons to change, caterpillars to become butterflies, saplings to become tall oaks, tadpoles to become frogs, and for the heron to stalk its meal! May God’s beautiful world remind us to slow down and savor the moments and people with whom we are blessed.

Lord, please give us patience—for other people’s sentences to be completed, for projects to be finished, for questions to be answered, and for problems to be solved. Give us patience to let our children mature, for friendships to grow, and for skills to develop. May we have patience for tempers to cool and relationships to mend, patience with our own shortcomings and those of others, patience for healing to occur, and patience for prayers to be answered. Teach us how to wait!

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. [Colossians 3:12 (NLT)]

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Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today! [Psalm 95:6-7 (NLT)]

limpkinLooking like a cross between a heron and an ibis, the limpkin (Aramus guarauna) is common along Florida’s fresh water canals, wetlands, and swamps. While they’re lovely to look at, they’re not lovely to hear. Often referred to as the wailing or crying bird, limpkins have a loud piercing “banshee” scream that usually is heard at night, dawn, and dusk. During courtship, a male limpkin makes repetitive long, loud, rattling calls while a female replies with slightly lower (but still disturbing) screams.

It’s mating season and, as the limpkins establish their territory and seek their mates around our lakes, the male limpkins are wailing away. On this morning’s walk, I encountered three of these screamers high in trees near the water. Although they continually called out, they never seemed to pause long enough from their wailing to hear an answer. While the three males continued their haunting screams, I encountered a female limpkin quietly walking along the shoreline. I wondered if she simply was waiting for the men to quiet down long enough so she could return their call.

My family is doing a seven-day prayer study which began with the statement, “Prayer is conversation with God.” As we shared our prayer habits via email, one person wrote that some days he simply asks God, “What’s your will for me today?” He added, “The hard part of any conversation is being willing to listen and be receptive to what is being said.” As I thought of his words, I realized our similarity to the screeching limpkins—how we often call out to God without pausing to listen for His response. We ask what to do or where to go but don’t listen for His answer (perhaps because we’re not that anxious to obey).

While there is no rigid format either to prayer or conversation, there are guidelines to a good conversation which also apply to prayer. Conversation and prayer are about building a relationship and both require a balance between talking and listening. It’s neither prayer nor conversation when we come only to talk. Moreover, there’s a big difference between actively listening and simply waiting until we can speak again. We must listen with the intention of understanding and, when we ask questions, we’re supposed to wait for the answers! My mother often reminded me that God gave us two ears and only one mouth because we were to listen twice as much as we spoke.

Just as there’s no need to impress others with big words scattered throughout the conversation, we don’t need a special vocabulary to speak with God. He knows what we mean and, when we can’t find the right words, the Spirit fills in for us. In the same way, just as unnecessary details and long explanations can bog down a conversation, they can bog down our prayers. Since God is all-knowing, He already knows the details! A good conversation is one where we are honest and God expects nothing less than complete honesty in prayer, as well.

We may be guarded in conversation but there are no secrets with God. While we should be prudent about revealing personal information in conversation, we can be totally vulnerable and open in prayer. Scripture shows people expressing the whole range of emotions in their prayers—everything from anger, outrage, disappointment, confusion, sadness, and fear to joy, confidence, awe, delight, acceptance, and gratitude.

No president, royalty, pope, prime minister, or Nobel Prize winner has ever welcomed me into a conversation. People like Bill Gates, Greta Thunberg, Max Lucado, Volodymyr Zelensky, Taylor Swift, Tom Hanks, Simone Biles and Joyce Meyer haven’t asked me to give them a call. While I may not be on speaking terms with the rich, powerful, or famous, I am with God—the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe! He invites all of us to call any time and He’s never too busy to take our call. As for those well-known and influential people, if we ever did speak with one of them, we probably would listen carefully to what they had to say. Can we do any less when we converse with God?

To have God speak to the heart is a majestic experience, an experience that people may miss if they monopolize the conversation and never pause to hear God’s responses. [Charles Stanley]

I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! [Psalm 116:1-2 (NLT)]

Be still, and know that I am God! [Psalm 46:10 (NLT)]

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ASSISTED LIFTING (Rephidim – Part 2)

When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” [Exodus 18:14 (NLT)]

Back when I did weight training, I’d often find myself struggling with my last few reps. When I thought I couldn’t get the dumbbell up another inch and was about to give up, my trainer often gave me a little help so I could finish the rep. Disappointed that I couldn’t do it on my own, he’d remind me, “There’s nothing wrong with a little assisted lifting!”

Earlier this week, when writing about Israel’s victory against the army of Amalek at Rephidim, I didn’t tell the whole story. While Joshua and his men fought in the valley, Moses, Aaron, and Hur observed from a hilltop. Standing tall, Moses raised his arms and extended his staff for all to see. That staff was Israel’s banner and, as long as Moses kept the staff raised high in the air, the Israelites advanced. But, as the day wore on, the eighty-year-old began to tire. His arms grew heavy and, most likely, his back began aching and his legs started cramping. Whenever Moses’ fatigued arms started to fall, the Amalekites began to succeed. As the battle ebbed and flowed, its outcome seemed to depend as much on Moses and that raised staff as it did on the men’s skill with swords. Aaron and Hur, however, found a rock on which Moses could sit. Then the two men stood beside Moses and did some “assisted lifting” of their own by holding up his arms until Israel claimed victory at sunset.

Later, while still camped at Rephidim, Moses got another lesson in assisted lifting. From sunrise to sunset, he dealt with both the spiritual and interpersonal concerns of Israel. Scripture tells us there were 600,000 Israelite men. When we add women, children, and the “mixed multitude” that joined them in their escape from Egypt, more than two million people were traveling together. With those many people (described by Moses as “stiff-necked”), imagine the number of questions, concerns, grievances, and quarrels that came to his attention every day. When Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) visited the Israelite camp, he observed his son-in-law’s demanding routine. Seeing how overwhelmed Moses was by his enormous responsibilities while others did nothing, Jethro warned Moses that working that way was unsustainable. He sagely advised him to delegate some of his duties among Israel’s leaders.

Jethro suggested that Moses continue to act as the people’s representative before God and as God’s voice to the people. As an intermediary between God and Israel, Moses would intercede for Israel and pass along God’s words to them. But, when it came to mediating people’s everyday (often petty) disputes with one another, Jethro suggested that Moses chose qualified men and subdivide the work of judging among them. Only the most difficult cases would come to Moses. After getting divine approval, Moses heeded his father-in-law’s advice and got some much-needed assisted lifting!

God doesn’t expect us to bear every burden alone. Moses couldn’t do it all by himself and, even though we often think we can, neither can we. Although God will provide assistance, his provision often comes in the advice and help we receive from others. Whether we take that help, however, is entirely up to us. Fortunately, Moses didn’t think himself too strong to be helped with his staff, too wise to be counseled by his father-in-law, or too indispensable to delegate work to others!

Rather than a barbell or even a shepherd’s staff, the heavy weight we’re asked to lift consists of the responsibilities, complications, predicaments, and challenges of life. At some time or another, like Moses, we all will need some assisted lifting. May we never be too proud to accept it.

Thank you, Lord, for the many ways you provide us with the assisted lifting that gives us the strength and ability to succeed.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. [Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)]

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JEHOVAH-NISSI (Rephidim – Part 1)

But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power. [Psalm 60:4-5 (NLT)]

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. [Psalm 20:4-5 (NLT)]

The Amalekites were a warlike nomadic tribe who frequently raided settlements to carry off plundered goods. About six weeks into the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, these marauders made an unprovoked attack on the weary refugees while they camped at Rephidim. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead an army against their enemies the following morning. Joshua’s army, however, wasn’t made up of soldiers! Facing the veteran warriors of Amalek were men who less than two months earlier had been enslaved brick makers and field laborers! Worse, this unseasoned army was led by a general as inexperienced as were they. Nevertheless, Israel’s men set out to battle while Moses, his brother Aaron, and a man named Hur (who Jewish tradition believes was married to Miriam and brother-in-law to Moses) climbed to the top of a nearby hill to watch. As Israel fought their powerful foes, Moses extended his arms and held out his staff for all to see.

When going into battle, opposing armies would carry banners or standards that served as rallying points before battle, encouraged the warriors as they fought, and announced when the battle was won. Representing their tribe or leader, the banners usually depicted animals, birds, or pagan gods. Made of fabric, wood, or metal, they were fastened onto a long pole or staff so they could be seen from a distance. Marauders like the Amalekites probably had such a banner. The Israelites, however, weren’t an experienced army and had no flag or standard under which to rally.

Moses’ staff was the closest thing Israel had to a banner. Although it looked like an ordinary shepherd’s tool, to the Israelites it symbolized God’s intervention. Through God’s power, it had transformed into a snake, turned water into blood, produced hail, and infested Egypt with frogs, gnats, flies, and locusts. When Moses raised it over the Red Sea, the waters parted and, when Moses struck a rock with it, water gushed out. That staff, associated with God’s miracles, became Israel’s banner. As long it remained in sight, Israel’s novice army believed God was with them and victory was possible. That symbol of God’s faithfulness, presence, and power remained in the men’s sight on the hilltop until Israel was victorious over the army of Amalek.

After their victory, Moses built a memorial altar and called it Yahweh-Nissi (Jehovah-Nissi), which meant “The Lord is Our Banner.” By not calling it “The Staff is Our Banner” or “Our Banner Brought Us Victory,” it was clear that Moses knew it wasn’t the staff, Joshua’s battle strategy, or Israel’s military might that defeated the Amalekites. The name Yahweh-Nissi acknowledged that it was God’s presence and power that gave them their triumph. God, and God alone, was the author of their victory.

Indeed, the Lord is our banner. Unlike the Israelites, we’re not being attacked by an army of marauding warriors but, like them, the enemy attacks us every day with desire, discontent, despair, anger, and guilt. We face our battles under God’s banner—one of encouragement, courage, hope, love, faith, power, and might. If we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, victory is ours. Because of Yahweh-Nissi, we don’t have to fight our battles on our own strength – we have His!

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. [Isaiah 11:10 (NLT)]

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