Good gifts

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).

Two kinds of gifts come to us from God. Some meet our needs in this world—we call these gifts our daily bread. Other gifts we need for eternal life. Jesus promises that God the Father will give us both kinds of gifts. He is good, far better than we are; he will not trick us by giving us the wrong thing. Since Jesus tells us to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, we can expect those gifts to be God’s highest priority as he hears and answers our prayers. Since he has already given us these gifts, we have no reason to think that God will forget to give us the things we need for our daily lives in this world.

Jesus pointedly says that we are evil, but God is good. We need this reminder because, being evil, we tend to think the worst of God. We think it is possible for God to forget us or to play tricks on us. Jesus reminds us that God is our Father. Jesus himself paid the price for our adoption, making God our Father. If God loves us as a Father, he surely will never forget us or play tricks on us.

Hidden in this promise of Jesus is another fatherly fact about God. When we pray, we can count on this fact to be true. If a child is hungry but asks for a stone to eat, the child’s father will still give bread to the child. If a child needs a fish but asks for a serpent, the father will still give the fish. This substitution is no trick. Fatherly love gives what is best to children even when the children do not know how to ask for things that are good.

When we pray to God about the things we need in this world—what to eat, what to drink, what to wear—God already knows what we need. He knows even before we ask. He will give us good things, even in spite of our requests. God wants us to talk with him about everything that matters to us. His fatherly relationship with us includes his interest in hearing what we have to say. When we pray, we remember that God is the source of everything good in our lives. We speak to him as children speak to a Father they love and trust. We know that if our Father makes any substitutions, choosing not to give us what we seek, his changes will be for the better.

When we pray about God’s kingdom and his righteousness, we are fully confident that our prayers will be answered. God will substitute nothing for his kingdom and his righteousness. Jesus takes our guilt upon himself and pays the penalty we deserve. We receive his righteousness and the rewards he earned. We receive a place in God’s kingdom. We pray with confidence about the forgiveness of our sins and about our lives as his people. Our Father loves us; he is not going to withhold from us any of the blessings he wants us to have. J.

The Gentiles

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:31-32).

Jesus begins with birds, moves on to flowers, and ends with the Gentiles. Birds are part of creation; they are neither good nor bad; they simply are. Flowers also are part of creation, but Jesus assigns them to the fire. Now he speaks of Gentiles—the outsiders, the unbelievers, the ones who are not part of his kingdom. Our Father sends sun and rain to all people, whether they believe in him or not. A person’s wealth and comfort today is no measure of that person’s faith, salvation, or eternal home in heaven. God sends daily bread whether we ask for it or not. We pray for daily bread, but not to earn it. God would not forget to send our daily bread if we forgot to remind him. He does not withhold our daily bread until we pray the proper words. Our prayers remind ourselves of the source of every good blessing we enjoy.

If God intends to send us good things whether we pray or forget to pray, why should we pray? We talk to God because we have a relationship with God. He is our Father; we are his children. The Gentiles have no such relationship with the true God. They may pray to false gods; they may trust spells and incantations to bring them good things; or they might believe that they earn everything they receive because of their good deeds. We trust God, not ourselves. We discuss with God everything that matters to us.

Jesus already said that we are not to pray like the Gentiles. Our prayers have no magic ability to give us what we want. Jesus adds that we should not worry as the Gentiles worry. When we pray to God about our needs, we mention those needs with confidence. We already know that God loves us. We know that he understands us. Since God can do anything he wants, we can assume that he will meet our needs. Experience shows us the same truth that Jesus proclaims: we receive what we need from the hand of God whether we worry about it or not. The things of this world are in God’s hands as surely as our eternal safety is in his hands.

Food and drink and clothing come from God. Our behavior in this world belongs also in God’s hands. Giving to the poor and praying and fasting are not reasons for us to worry. We are expected to give and to pray and to fast, but these actions are not worthy of our anxiety. The Gentiles—those trying to earn God’s blessings and his rescue from evil—worry about these things. We know that these things are gifts. We continue living according to our relationship with God, not worrying about whether the things we do are good enough for God. God has accepted us, not according to our good deeds, but because of what Jesus did for us. For that reason, we do not have to be anxious. J.

Do not be anxious

“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?” (Matthew 6:25-27).

The words sound like a commandment: “Thou shalt not be anxious,” or, “Thou shalt not worry.” We know that when we worry, we are not trusting God. When our eyes are on God, we will not worry, because we know that God keeps all his promises.

Yet when we say to one another, “Don’t worry,” we want our words to be heard as a promise, not as a command. We threaten no punishment against the person who worries. Instead, we assure others that they have no reason to worry, that everything is under control, that everything will turn out fine.

Jesus offers the same promise. To assure us that his promise is true, Jesus tells us to look at the birds. They do not worry, and yet God takes care of them. Jesus is not telling us to “be like a bird”: he simply wants us to be confident that God takes care of us. Birds lack the intelligence to plan and to worry. We have enough intelligence to plan, and with that intelligence comes the capability to worry. We also have the capability to trust. We see that God kept his promises in the past. Unlike the birds, we know that God provides us with everything we have. Therefore, we are able to trust that God will continue doing what he has done. We are able to trust that God is going to do what he promised to do.

Worry is counter-productive. It wastes time and energy. Worry never makes us taller or causes us to live longer lives. In fact, worry harms our lives. It has the potential to shorten lives. For that reason, some people treat worry as a sin; they take the words “do not be anxious” as another commandment from the Lord.

Our faith—and our physical lives as well—will be far healthier when we treat these words of Jesus as a promise. Do not worry about food and drink, about daily bread, because God will provide them. Do not worry about the forgiveness of sins, because Jesus has already paid in full to remove all our sins. Do not worry about what you will do for God, because God will guide you by his Word. Do not worry about all the big decisions (or all the little decisions) of life, because you are in God’s hands. Even when you make a mistake, God forgives you and cleanses you and gives you the ability to continue serving him from that point onward. So, do not worry. J.

When you give

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Although giving to the needy necessarily involves another person, the act of giving still is largely between ourselves and God. In Jesus’ day, giving to the needy did not involve charitable organizations, income tax deductions, and other technicalities. Today the government allocates money to help the needy. As a result, some people lobby the government for more help or for different kinds of help. Hundreds of other organizations also help the needy; they are funded by contributions, which they seek to raise in a variety of ways. Not all the needy get the help they need from the government and from charities. Some beg on the roadsides for money, and others travel from church to church asking for money. Some are truly poor and needy. Others have chosen poverty and begging as a way of life. Many are under the control of addictions or other mental disorders. All the same, in the United States today, more ways of helping the needy exist than ever before in any time or any place.

Because there are so many ways to offer help to the needy—and because we all receive frequent reminders of the help that is needed—we easily forget that the help we give to others is a secret part of our relationship with God. The Lord has given most of us more than we need so we have the privilege of sharing what we have with others. We begin by helping the members of our family and those nearest to us. We continue by seeing what we can do to assist the needy person who crosses our paths. Merely handing out money does not meet the needs of all the needy. Instead, we can provide food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, clothing for those who lack clothing, and time to visit those who are sick or in prison or lonely. We have different opportunities to serve our Lord by helping the least of our neighbors. When we choose to give to charities, we take time to think—maybe even do some research—to make sure that our money, our time, and our resources are accomplishing the greatest good possible.

If we try to keep for ourselves everything the Lord has provided us, we sin against God and against our neighbors. When we waste our resources—even when we carelessly give to liars and con artists—we sin against God and against our neighbors who have real needs. (Yes, Jesus did say, “Give to everyone who asks.” At the same time, Jesus wants us to be wise stewards of the property he has entrusted to us. He wants each of us to do the most good possible with what we have.) Jesus stresses that, when we give to the needy to call attention to ourselves, we sin. Being self-centered about the help we give to others taints our giving, keeping it from being recognized by God as a good work.

We sin every day. We need God’s forgiveness every day. God forgives us every day. He sends us forgiveness as surely as he sends us daily bread, more than we need, so we can share what we have with others. Jesus sets an example for us to follow. When he healed the sick, he told them not to talk about it. He told them to keep the healing secret. Even today, as Jesus meets our needs for daily bread and daily forgiveness, he does it in a way that other people do not notice. Often, his gifts even escape our attention!

Because our sins are forgiven each day, we are free to be like Jesus. We are free to use what we have to help others. After all, God gave us more than we need so that our help given to others is part of our relationship with God. As we help, we are free to help quietly, so the matter remains secret between ourselves and God. J.

Give us this day our daily bread

Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘…Give us this day our daily bread….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”

Salvageable adds: Daily bread brings to mind the manna that God sent to his people in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Six days a week (but never on the Sabbath) miraculous bread appeared around their camp. It met their daily needs but could not be saved for the future.

So we pray for bread, but not for desserts. We pray for daily bread, confident that if God will supply our needs today, we can ask tomorrow for what we need—we take one day at a time. We pray for our daily bread, remembering that we have fellow Christians around the world, some of whose needs are more desperate than our own.

As Luther reminds us, daily bread encompasses every need that we have in this life—things we pray about often, and things we neglect to mention in our prayers most days. And, as Luther reminds us, God supplies all these things whether we bother to ask for them or not. Even evil people receive daily bread, for God has provided enough food in the world to meet the needs of everyone living. It is not distributed evenly; God expects those who have more than enough to share with those who have less than enough. When we pray for our daily bread, we might also consider how our prayer is being answered as God gives us enough for ourselves and enough to share with others, who may or may not be praying the same prayer.

God can do whatever he pleases, but God chooses to work through creation and through the people he has placed into creation. We pray for daily bread, and we thank God for the food we eat. Yet God has provided us with bread through the labor of farmers and millers and bakers. He has given each of us abilities so we can work to earn money and spend that money at the store on bread and other things we need. The farmer prays for daily bread but continues to plant and harvest. In the same spirit, we pray for the good things we want and need—for ourselves and for our neighbors—but we also cooperate with God by doing what we are able to do for our own benefit and for the good of others. And when we can do nothing else, we continue to pray, and even in that way we cooperate with God as he accomplishes his will in this world.

The word “daily” applies to all four of the concluding petitions of this prayer. We sin daily, so we seek forgiveness daily. We need not continue to repent for yesterday’s sins—we repented yesterday and they were forgiven yesterday. We do not seek forgiveness for tomorrow’s sins—that would mock God’s grace, for us to plan future sins. We pray only about today’s sins. And we forgive others daily, neither remembering yesterday’s sins nor dreading tomorrow’s sins against us. We ask God to lead us and deliver us every day, trusting that he hears our prayers today and answers them today. Trusting God, we live one day at a time, confident that we are safe in the Lord’s hands today. J.