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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One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. [Luke 18:1 (NLT)]

mourning doveIt is in the Talmud (a compilation of ancient Jewish teachings and history) that we find the legend of Honi ha-Ma’agel (the Circle Maker). After three years of drought in the land, the man prayed for rain. When none came, Honi drew a circle in the dirt and vowed not to leave it until God had pity on his people and sent rain. When God sent a light rain, the circle maker informed God that wasn’t the kind of rain for which he prayed and stated his desire for rain enough to fill the cisterns. When God answered with torrents of rain, Honi again complained that, “Not for such a rain I prayed.” After the circle maker informed God he wanted a “rain of goodwill, blessing, and graciousness,” God provided a rain that satisfied Honi. In fact, it rained so much that the people finally asked Honi to pray the rain away! While Honi’s behavior is a great example of chutzpah (audacity and impudence), I’m not sure it’s a good example of proper prayer.

Every week since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago, the pastor has opened her Saturday evening worship service with a prayer for peace in Ukraine (as well as in our hearts). Regardless of how long it takes, until there is a peaceful settlement or God instructs her to stop praying for Ukraine, she will continue starting every service this way. What she is not doing, however, is drawing a circle in the chancel area, placing a bed and porta-potti in it, arranging for Uber Eats and Grub Hub deliveries, and moving into that circle until God brings peace to the war-torn nation!

While I join in the pastor’s persistent prayers for peace, like her, I don’t draw a circle and refuse to leave it until God answers my prayers on my terms and time line. Rather than an example of perseverance in prayer, the demanding Honi seems a bit like a spoiled child who refuses to leave the store until his parents buy the toy he wants. In fact, the Talmud says the rabbis compared Honi to a son who “importunes” (pesters, annoys, plagues, or harasses) his father to do his will. They even considered excommunicating the circle maker for dishonoring God in such an impertinent way.

No matter how persistently we pray, drawing a circle and challenging God to produce results on demand seems dangerously close to testing the Lord. Requiring something of God to prove Himself is the very thing Satan tempted Jesus to do in the wilderness. By challenging Jesus to jump off the Temple, the enemy wanted to manipulate a situation that would oblige God to intervene. Satan wanted Jesus to prove the truth of God’s word by forcing God’s hand. Honi’s actions weren’t that much different.

Nevertheless, finding Honi’s story similar to Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow and dishonest judge, there are some who think we should follow the circle maker’s example. The widow in the parable tenaciously pestered the corrupt judge for justice against the man who harmed her. Worn down by her persistent pleas to right the wrong, the beleaguered judge eventually granted her request. Jesus, however, wasn’t comparing the unjust judge to God; He was contrasting them! The corrupt judge had no fear of God or concern for people. Since he was more likely to be persuaded by a bribe than compassion or a desire for justice, the widow’s only recourse was to relentlessly hound him until she received what she deserved. In contrast, rather than corrupt, cruel, or hardhearted, God is righteous, merciful, and loving. Jesus explained that God “will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night.”

Presenting ultimatums or harassing, beleaguering, and nagging the Lord is unnecessary because our just and compassionate God always hears and answers our prayers. While Jesus calls for persistence in prayers and perseverance in faith until His return, there is a fine line between boldly praying with perseverance and impertinently praying with cheek, impudence, stipulations, or a sense of entitlement.

The story of Honi is not Biblical and, if praying the way Honi did were important, we’d find such an example in Scripture. After all, Elijah didn’t have to make a circle before God answered his prayers for both drought and rain. The power of our prayers does not come from standing in a circle or making brazen demands—it comes from the God who hears our prayers and answers them according to His will and timing. In the meantime, until peace comes to Ukraine or God tells us to stop, please join the pastor and me as we persevere in our prayers for peace.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. [James 5:16b-18 (NLT)]

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PRAYERS – Chronicles (Part 2)

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)]

Easily missed in Chronicles’ nine chapters of genealogy is Jabez (whose name meant distress or sorrow). Described as more honorable than his brothers, Jabez prayed: “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” [4:9-10] The Chronicler tells us God granted Jabez’s request and the man whose name meant distress apparently had a trouble-free life!

Those two verses are the only mention of Jabez in the entire Bible yet his short prayer inspired a bestseller in 2000 and countless sermons since. Amazon describes the words of Jabez as “a timeless prayer that produces timely results!” and promises that readers of the book can “discover how they can release God’s miraculous power and experience the blessings God longs to give each of us.” Some people seem to think that the Chronicler tell us about Jabez because he had the right combination of words to guarantee blessings and a trouble-free life. We, however, do Jabez a disservice in assuming he was asking for material blessings like power, land, health, and wealth. He may have been asking God for spiritual blessings—that God to be with him in his words and actions. Rather than expand his land, perhaps this honorable man prayed to enlarge his area of spiritual influence. Rather than avoiding physical pain, he may have prayed to be free of the heartache of seeing others (perhaps his brothers) disobey God.

While we don’t know if Jabez’s prayer was one of self-interest or selflessness, we do wonder why the Chronicler included the words of this historically insignificant man in his genealogy. It is in remembering that Chronicles’ purpose was to remind the exiles of God’s faithfulness that we discover the reason for the prayer’s inclusion. It’s not the words Jabez prayed that were important; it’s that this honorable man actually prayed and that, hearing his prayer, God answered him!

Throughout his account of Judah, the Chronicler continually tells of prayers offered and God’s faithfulness in answering them. He reports that the warriors of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh cried out to God for help during battle. Because they trusted Him, God answered their prayer, fought for them, and gave them victory. The Chronicler recounts how God provided battle strategies and victory to David and how He responded to the prayers of other kings like Solomon, Rehoboam, Asa, and Abijah. He tells how Jehoshaphat’s prayer saved him from the Arameans. When Jehoshaphat asked God to save Judah from a trio of enemy armies, God promised they wouldn’t even have to fight because the battle was His! Indeed, as the people sang praises and thanks to God in anticipation of victory, their enemies fought among themselves and none survived. All Judah had to do was collect the plunder. The Chronicler tells us how the prayers of Hezekiah and Isaiah rescued the people of Jerusalem from Assyria. Saying that Hezekiah prospered because “he sought his God wholeheartedly,” he adds that, when the seriously ill king prayed for relief, God healed him. After humbling himself before the Lord, even the evil Manasseh is reported to have had his prayers answered!

The Chronicler told of the answered prayers of Jabez and the many others as a way of urging the post-exilic people of Judah to seek the Lord as previous generations had done. God’s answers to the prayers of their ancestors reassured this new generation that Jehovah was the covenant God of Israel who could be trusted to hear the prayers of His people!

The Chronicler didn’t include the prayer of Jabez because of a “name it and claim it” prosperity theology nor was it included because Jabez’s words released “God’s miraculous power.” The Chronicler included this prayer for the same reason he included all those others. He didn’t believe in the power of a prayer’s words but rather in the power of our God to know our needs, hear our prayers, and answer them, in His timing and way, with blessings and forgiveness!

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given, you children of his servant Israel, you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones. [1 Chronicles 16:8-13 (NLT)]

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