This is an excerpt from my book Purpose of Prayer.
Here is the first of three petitions that describe our own personal needs. The first three petitions are for God’s desires. The next three are for our needs. And we must always remember to pray for His requirements first; then He will show us what our real needs are, and He will lead us to pray for those things. Moreover, when we concentrate on His priorities first, He gives us a true and right perspective on things; hence, He shows us what our priorities should be, and He puts us in a better mind to pray for ourselves and for our friends.
This first of these personal petitions is for our daily bread, and is normally thought of as a petition for all our daily, physical needs—for our food and shelter, etc. For the most part, I think this is right, but I wonder if, to some extent, “daily bread” also means our daily mental and spiritual needs. Most of the commentaries I have read believe that daily bread means physical needs. But there are a few very good and godly authors who believe that daily bread also means our mental and spiritual needs. I’m not real sure on this myself. I don’t think there is anything wrong with going either way. Some see “daily bread” as physical because the other two petitions appear to be mental and spiritual—the petition for forgiveness seems to be more for mental and emotional needs, and the petition for guidance seems to be more for spiritual needs. Thus they reason that it is how God designed it, that each one—bread, forgiveness, and guidance—fits under these different categories; hence, they conclude that bread always means only physical needs. Overall, I can see this, but I think we need to be careful about putting these in such tight compartments.
From my reading and study I have come up with the following five ways to look at this petition and to the meaning of “daily bread.”
1. It is a petition for the things necessary for our daily existence. I think this is the most common interpretation of “daily bread,” and seems to imply only physical needs. However, some would argue that our existence also has much to do with our mental and spiritual needs.
2. It is a petition for everything we need for each day. Hence, by this petition we are encouraged not to worry about anything; that is, not to grieve over past failure, or to be anxious over future things. But we are to take each day at a time, to pray and trust God each day for the things we need for that day (Read Phil. 4:6, 7 and Matt. 6:25-34).
3. It is a petition that would include praying for work everyday, because God will provide for us through our work. John MacArthur, from his book, Jesus’ Pattern of Prayer, reminds us that man, after the fall, was commanded to earn his bread by the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:19). Therefore, work is how God has designed that He will provide for us. Hence, if we don’t work we shouldn’t expect that we will be provided for. I suppose this is why Paul says to the Thessalonians “…if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).
As for how to pray for work, Nelson’s Bible Dictionary points out the fact that in Jesus’ time workers were hired on a daily basis; therefore, it is very probable that Jesus had in mind here that we should pray for daily work. That is, we should pray for work every day just for that day.
4. It is a petition for our natural being and is for the aim of improving our spiritual being. Matthew Henry, in his commentary, said, “…Our natural being is necessary to our spiritual well-being in this world.” Some would disagree with this statement, but I think it is true. When I pay attention to my body to keep it healthy and in good shape I will feel better and stronger. And when I feel better I am able to get more in touch with God. I’m not saying that I need to eat a lot to make myself “feel good”, and to build my muscles up to look like superman. I think that is overdoing it and will only hinder our spiritual being. But if we are moderate in our eating and exercise, and watch to see that we get plenty of sleep, etc., then we will be more alert and have more endurance to work on our spiritual life—to read and study the Bible, to pray, and to witness.
5. It is a petition for our daily needs, whether they are physical, mental, or spiritual. G. Campbell Morgan said, “There is nothing omitted from that prayer. Our daily sustenance—physical, mental, spiritual—it is all there in “daily bread.”
I like this view. Though I am not sure if this is what Jesus had in mind, this view really rings home to me, because I know I need to depend on Him every day for everything in my life, whether it is physical, mental, or spiritual.