Remember the parable Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax-collector. (Lk. 18.9-14). The Pharisee prayed with himself - "about himself", the NIV puts it. His prayer began with the name of God, but was mainly a recitation about himself! He wasn't really acknowledging God, or reaching out to him in any real sense. Having spent his time justifying himself, he didn't go home right with God.
The God to whom we pray isn't a remote God but our caring Father. Spend time to know him as we come to him with our human needs as Jesus teaches us in the next three petitions. We are to come as people who "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" - in all of our life and not just in our praying. It is with that attitude that we bring those practical needs that he knows we need as well (Matthew 6.32,33). It is the prayer of children coming to their heavenly Father - "Give us today our daily bread" (6.11).
Some have thought that, since our Father knows our needs before we ask him, we shouldn't have to pray about them at all. Others have suggested that this prayer is irrelevant, since we have to work whether we pray or not!
However, we are to ask in faith and receive with thankfulness. As one writer has put it this way, "To pray for our 'daily bread' from our heavenly Father means that we acknowledge that it is upon him that we depend to supply these necessities, that we exercise faith in him to do so, and that we recognise that although these come to us in the providence of God through the labour of our hands and brains yet finally they come to us through the blessing and favour of God."
We need to note that the request here is for "bread" - representing necessities, not luxuries. And it is "daily" bread - we are not seeking a stockpile for possible future needs, but a sufficient supply for each day's needs as they come.
Actually the Greek word translated "daily" is best explained by the experience of the Israelites during the Exodus (Exodus 16). They were full of complaints about the food supply. So the Lord sent them quails in the evening, and in the morning the ground was covered with something thin and flaky. They didn't know what it was and gave it the name "what-is-it" (in their language "manna"). Each day they gathered enough for that day. If they tried to keep it for tomorrow, it was "full of maggots and began to smell" (v. 20), except for the sixth day when there was a double supply which kept fresh for the day of rest (v. 24).
For years they experienced this daily lesson - God was supplying them with sufficient food for each day's needs. And it was a lesson they would need to remember when they reached the more regular diet of the promised land.
But, someone suggests, this prayer might have meant something when the standard of living was much lower and the bread-line a lot closer than it is for us. Isn't it a bit ridiculous to pray like this in the context of the modern affluent society and the welfare state?
Actually, these very factors make this petition particularly important for us today. We have become obsessed with acquiring more and more material possessions. Nowadays we can do it all without reference to God - or can we? Surely it is our pride and sense of self-sufficiency that raises objections to this prayer! Our attitude is much closer than we realise to the Pharisee in Jesus' parable! To those with cars and TVs and the benefits of space-age technology, it seems both humiliating and superfluous to have to ask for bread.
And yet - it is our Father's world! We need to humble ourselves before him, acknowledging our dependence on him. This should also cause us to consider carefully how we use this world's resources and the methods we use to improve our lot. Have we, by our attitude to these things, ceased to be true children of our heavenly Father?
But, the questioner comes from another angle, can we as Christians truly pray for our daily bread when more than half the world is starving?
To this I reply that we both can and must. As long as we view our time, talents and the possessions that may result from these two as OURS for OUR use and the benefit of OUR OWN life (all glory to US!), we will tend to help others only where it suits our interests.
Sometimes when children set the table, the food may not be evenly distributed around the table. That can also happen in the course of a meal anyway. What do we do if the largest share seems to be near us? We pass it on to others. We don't assume, "Goody! I'm so lucky! All this is for me!" As we recognise that what we have is our Father's provision, we will gladly and thankfully share with others more needy than ourselves. It is God's gifts we are privileged to share.
We need to recover this proper sense of our dependence on God, a deep awareness that what is ours is a gift from God that we might share. The fact that it has come to us through the sweat of our brow doesn't make it more "ours" or any less God's gift to us.
So let's think carefully as we pray. Do we need God? How does God fulfil our needs? How does he mean us to live? What should be our attitude to the needs of others? If we have a supply in excess of our needs and others are in short supply, what is the Giver of all good things calling us to do about it?
As we are transformed in our attitudes and actions, there will be a new and deep significance in our prayer, "Give us today our daily bread."