Let me ask you a question. Why do you think we need to pray for our physical needs such as food, house and clothing? Isn’t it unspiritual to pray for temporal things? Are we not supposed to only pray for our sanctification, the advancement of the gospel, the flourishing and thriving of the church and etc.? And besides, isn’t it true that God do provide our physical needs even if we don’t pray for them? Try to remember, was there any instance in your life where you were not able to eat 3 meals in one day because you forgot to ask God for food?
On the other hand, isn’t it a fact that there are millions of people around the world who don’t believe in God, much less pray to Him for their physical needs, and yet, these people’s needs are being met every day?
If the physical needs of both Christians and unbelievers are being met even without them praying for it, then why should we still pray for our daily bread? Isn’t it just a waste of time or a futile exercise?
Lastly, is it okay for us Christians to pray for riches? Are we allowed to pray for wealth and prosperity? We will answer all of these things in our sermon today as the Heidelberg Catechism explains to us what is the meaning of the fourth petition which is “give us this day our daily Bread.”
The Heidelberg Catechism explains to us that the meaning of the fourth petition is that God take care of all our physical needs. After that, the catechism gave us several reason for praying this way namely: 1) that we come to know that God is the only source of everything good; 2) that we come to realize that neither our work and worry nor God’s gifts can do us anything good without His blessing; and 3) so that we are able to give up our trust in creatures and put our trust in God alone.
Take Care of All our Physical Needs
So how did the Heidelberg Catechism come up with the explanation that when Jesus thought his disciples to ask for their daily bread, he meant that they should ask God to take care of all their physical needs. Well, in this particular petition, Jesus used the term bread as a synecdoche.
A synecdoche is a literary device wherein we use a part of something in order to refer to the whole. For example, when a person says “I would like to ask for your daughter’s hand”, obviously we understand that the man is not literally asking for the specific part of the body of the girl, but what he meant is he would like to take the whole person to be married to him and be his wife. Or when we say, “I would like to borrow your wheels”, that does not mean to say that the person wants to borrow the tires, but instead he is pertaining to the whole car.
So when Jesus thought his disciples to ask for daily bread, he is not teaching them to ask for their daily supply of literal bread. He is not even pertaining to food alone, but he uses bread as a synecdoche to pertain to the whole, meaning all the physical needs of a person.
This is why when God cursed Adam in Genesis 3:19 and said “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”, God does not mean that from that time on, Adam would have to work hard before he can eat literal bread. What God meant here is that because Adam disobeyed God, one of his curses is he would have to work hard first before he can avail himself and his family of all their physical needs.
God is the Only Source of Everything Good
We have to ask God to take care of all our physical needs because this is the reasonable thing to do since he is the source of all good things. In Acts 14:17, it was said, “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” and then jumping to verse 25, “nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
So here we can see that God is not only the provider of our physical needs such us rain, the fruitful seasons, and the food that satisfies our heart with gladness. But God is also the giver of our life and breath and everything that we have.
In James 1:17 we can also read, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”. So every good thing that we have came from God like our family, our friends, our jobs, our talents and gifts, even our faith and spiritual gifts and etc.
However, it is one thing to be aware that God is the source of all good things, and it is another thing to be reminded of it constantly. As sinful human beings, we have this tendency to attribute to God all the bad things that are happening to us while ignoring the fact that he is the source of all the good things that we receive.
Because we know that God is absolutely sovereign, and that nothing will happen to us unless it is decreed or permitted by God, we blame him for every trouble or problem that comes our way. We often ask Him the question “Why me? Why of all the people in world, these things should happen to me?”
But when we receive good things from God, especially when we didn’t ask for them in prayer, we don’t think like this. When blessings come our way, instead of attributing them to God, we always think that we deserved it. We think that we receive good gifts because we worked hard for it and because of this, we are worthy to receive it.
While it is true that we are provided our physical needs even without asking for them, it still does not erase the fact that God is the source of all good things that we receive. And in order not to forget this very important fact, we should make it a practice to petition to God all of our physical needs, so that when receive the things that we prayed for, we will be reminded that they came from God.
So, the purpose for asking God to take care of our physical needs is not only to receive them from God. Actually, God already knows your needs even before you even ask of them. But another reason why we ask God is so that we will be reminded that God is the one giving you these things, and hence making us thankful to God about it.
Neither our work and worry nor God’s gifts can do us anything good without His blessing
Another reason why we have to ask God to take care of our physical needs is so that we will become aware that neither our work and worry nor God’s gifts can do us anything good without His blessing.
When we don’t trust God in prayer to provide for our physical needs, the alternative thing that we do is to worry. I think, worrying in and of itself is not a bad thing. The capacity to worry is hard wired in every human being for survival just like any other negative emotions. For example, fear. We are given the capacity to fear so that we will be prevented from putting ourselves in dangerous and risky situations. And then we also have the capacity to feel anger or rage because we need that to push us to defend or protect ourselves and our families whenever someone is about to hurt us.
Same thing goes with worrying. We worry when we become aware of certain needs that we don’t have yet. This feeling of worrying pushes us to do something in order to obtain our physical needs and survive in this life. When a person does not worry at all, it’s either he does not realize that he has needs that has to be met or he is aware about it but he just does not care. Either way, it is not good for that person’s well-being.
Even though worrying is natural and is actually useful for our survival, the fallenness of our nature corrupted this faculty and turned it to our disadvantage. Now we don’t only worry in order to be alerted to work for our needs. Right now, we worry too much to the point that we lose our peace and we become too fixated on our physical needs. Worst, we don’t only worry about our needs but also about things that we don’t really need like luxuries, status and what other people will think about us if we don’t have this or that.
That is why Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-27, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” In other words, our worrying, as the Heidelberg Catechism said, cannot do us any good.
And even though our worrying does not only paralyze us but actually leads us to work in order to obtain our physical needs, the fruit of our labors will actually do us no good unless they are blessed by God. There are people who are really hard working and we can see that their hard work is paying off in terms of success in career, money, possessions and fame. And they receive theses abundant fruits of their labor even though they don’t pray to God. But the question is, are they really blessed by these fruits.
Too much work and success come with price. We have heard before that the purpose of pray is not just to get something from God but to conform our will to His will. And when you don’t pray for your work, the result is you don’t know when to stop. When we are too blinded by our needs or our success, we work ourselves to exhaustion to the point of sacrificing other more important things like our families, our health and our relationship with God.
Even God’s gifts to us, if we don’t pray for them, will not benefit us if they are without God’s blessings. We can only be assured that God will bless the gifts that He is giving us if we prayed for them.
Let us take for example those who would like to establish their own business. If they are serious enough, anyone can establish his own business whether he prays for it or not. God on the other hand can grant the desire of the heart of the person who seeks to establish his business and prays for it, as well as the person who seeks to have a business without praying for it. For both persons, the business unto them is a gift of God. However, even though the business is a gift to both, it does not necessarily mean that the business will have a good effect on both of them.
For the person who prayed, God blesses the business that he received so that it will not only benefit him in terms of material things but also spiritually. God can use the business that he gave to the person as a means to further sanctify him by teaching how to be responsible, how to have integrity and how to trust God more. On the other hand, the business may benefit the non-praying person materially but the gift of God will do him no good spiritually. And the worse thing that could happen is that the business may cause him to be more arrogant, covetous and neglectful towards his family.
So, without God’s blessing, which we can receive only if we pray to Him for the things we need, even the gifts of God, although benefitting us materially, can do us no good spiritually.
Help us Give up our Trust in Creatures and Put our Trust in you Alone.
Another reason why we should pray for God to take care of all our physical needs is so that we will be able to give up our trust in mere creatures and put our trust in God alone.
As Christians we are very fond of saying the words “God will provide.” And these words become easier for us to say when we have high paying stable jobs, when our business are booming or when we have a steady stream of good paying clients. But what if we lost our jobs? What if our business flops or our clients suddenly disappear? Can we still say with faith and confidence that God will provide? If the answer is no, then it only shows that our trust is not really in God but in creatures.
During the great economic depression in the 1930’s, with the collapse of the US stock market, thousands of people lost their jobs, their business and their savings. And with the rise in the number of the unemployed, poor and the bankrupt, also is the rise in the cases of suicide in the United States. From before the beginning of the great depression in 1928 up to its end in 1932, the number of suicide cases in USA increased by 22.8%.
The reason why a lot of people committed suicide during the great depression is because a lot of them are putting their trust in the company they work for, in the business that they manage and in their savings in the bank. So, when these things were taken away from them, they lose hope and decided to just end their lives. Our hope lies in the same place where we put our trust. If we will put our trust in creatures that are finite, imperfect and inconsistent like our employers, our government and even the banking system, our hope will be found in a very shaky place.
Only God deserves our full trust because He alone is perfect. God alone is infinitely wise, infinitely good and infinitely powerful. He alone is eternal and unlike His creatures, God is immutable. His nature and attributes do not change. So, if you trust Him today, you don’t have to worry if you can still trust Him tomorrow or the next day or after 10 years. You can trust God absolutely and continuously because His perfections never change. He is the same perfect God yesterday, today and forever.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 beautifully describes to us the difference between a man who trusts God and a man who trusts in mere men:
5 Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
But the next question is how do we teach ourselves to trust God alone instead of trusting creatures like men. The answer to that my friend is through prayer. When we constantly pray to God for our physical needs, we are reminded and we acknowledge that God is the source of all good things. By doing this, we fix our trust in God. Without the exercise of prayer, the default disposition of our heart is to trust in the visible source of our daily provisions. Only prayer can bring back the wandering trusts of our hearts to whom it should belong.
So, when we easily get anxious and lose our peace because the stability or existence of the source of our physical needs are threatened, that is a sign my friends that our trust is placed in them. When that happens, quickly examine yourself. How is your prayer life? Are you still asking God to take care of your physical needs? Are you even praying at all? As you can see, our trust in God as closely connected to our prayer life. The more you pray to God, the more you trust Him to provide for your needs. And the more you trust God, the more you pray to Him.
Is it Proper for Christians to Pray for Riches?
Now that we know the meaning of the fourth petition, we can now ask the next question “is it proper for Christians to pray for riches?” When I was still a part of my previous denomination, I am always attending the early morning service called “Dawn Watch.” The Dawn Watch is conducted everyday starting at 4 o’clock in the morning and usually ends at 6:00 or 6:30 A.M. the Dawn Watch is just like any other charismatic/evangelical worship service where there is singing, preaching of the word and prayer.
At the end of the program, the attendees are asked to group themselves and form a circle. All of them will pray for the seven mountains of prayer which includes the government, media, arts and entertainment, business, education, religion and family.
One time, in the middle of the said activity, since most of us are praying simultaneously at the top of our lungs, I overheard a teenage girl pray to God with weeping and trembling the words “God, please make us the wealthiest Christians of our generation”.
At that time, I was not yet a reformed Christian, but I know and I feel that there’s something wrong with that prayer.
Before we answer this question, why don’t we define first the word rich or wealthy. If rich or wealthy pertains to those who enjoy a sufficient amount of the things necessary for the support of life, and are contented therewith, then we can say that it is proper to ask for wealth or riches from God.
But if riches or wealth is defined as abundance and plenty over and above what is necessary then it is not proper for us to pray for such things.
Time and time again, the Scripture warned us about the dangers riches as we have defined above. In 1 Timothy 6:9, the Apostle Paul warned that those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
In Matthew 13:22, Jesus warned us that the deceitfulness of the riches of the world is dangerous to our spiritual well-being. He said, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” And on the other hand, 1 Timothy 6:6 tells us that godliness with contentment is of great gain.
Solomon also prayed to God to give him neither poverty or riches, meaning just give him what is necessary. In Proverbs 30:8-9 he said, “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
But what if God blessed us with more than what we need? Should we refuse those blessings and count them as evil? Absolutely not. What we have to do instead is to use these excesses properly or reserve them for purposes that are good and necessary. An example of this can be found in the life of Joseph. Upon knowing about the impending famine, he gathered provisions from all through out Egypt to the point that their warehouses can no longer hold the vast amount of food supply. But then, this abundance was not used to indulge themselves in luxury, but to save the people from death due to the famine.
If God willed to bless us more than what we need, its okay to receive those blessings, as long as we remember these three things: first, that we should not put our trust in our riches but in God alone, second, that we avoid any luxury or every abuse of the gifts of God, and lastly, that we should regard ourselves as stewards of God’s give and someday we will give an account of how we used and managed His gifts.
ZCRC Imus, let us come to God and ask Him to take care of all our physical needs because He alone is the source of all goods things. Apart from God’s blessing, our worries and toils, and even the gifts of God will do us no good. So let us put our trust and in God alone and not on creatures and continue to ask Him to give us this day our daily bread.