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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:With the fourth petition we pray for all our bodily needs
Text:LD 50 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2012
Added:2012-12-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 3:1-3
Psalm 62:1-3
Hymn 63:1,5
Hymn 2
Hymn 3:5

Scripture reading:  Deuteronomy 8
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 50
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we enjoy a meal together.  The portions are small, but the nutrition we receive is disproportionately large.  It is physical wine and bread, but the nourishment Christ gives us is spiritual.  This little meal we call the Lord’s Supper reminds us that our good God takes care of us in a holistic way.  Human beings are made up of material and immaterial aspects and God graciously takes care of both of those for us, both in this life and in the life to come. 

Consequently, our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray not only for the needs of our soul, but also for the needs of our bodies.  That’s what the fourth petition is about.  Christ teaches us to pray for God to provide for all our bodily needs.  The material part of us, our flesh and blood, requires certain things not only to stay alive, but also to thrive.  Food is one of the most important things our bodies need – which is why Jesus chose to speak of bread in this petition.  Bread stands here for everything we need.  That includes things like clothing and shelter, adequate health care, and more. 

The key thing to realize here is the word “need.”  We always have to carefully distinguish between our needs and our wants.  There are many things we might think we need that people in other parts of the world are living quite well without.  Sometimes our wants can rationalize themselves into needs.  But here Jesus teaches us to reflect on what we really need for our bodies and then approach God in heaven with the request for our needs.  This fourth petition can be considered with a view to the Triune God.  That’s the way we’ll approach it this afternoon. 

We’ll consider how to pray along the lines of the fourth petition with a view to: 

1.      The Father’s provision

2.      The Son’s intercession

3.      The Spirit’s sanctification

Typically we look at the doctrine of providence in connection with the person and work of God the Father.  In the word “providence” you can see the word “provide,” and we understand from Scripture that it is especially God the Father who provides us with all things.  He can do that because he rules over all things.  This is the teaching of Scripture in places like Matthew 6:25-26.  There our Lord Jesus says that our heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air.  Why would you doubt his ability and willingness to take care of you? 

Since Scripture speaks of our Father in heaven as the one who provides for our bodily needs, it makes sense that we pray to him as such.  Our Lord Jesus teaches us to call on him and continue to ask him every day for what we need for our material existence.  The Father wants to hear the voices of his children recognizing his power and depending on him.

This is the teaching we can take away from Deuteronomy 8 as well.  The book of Deuteronomy is like a sermon.  Almost the whole book is a sermon that Moses gave right before he died and right before Israel entered into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.  It’s a retrospective look at what God did for Israel, what God promised Israel, what God commanded Israel, and yes, even what God threatened Israel should they disobey.  Some biblical scholars see the entire book as a sermon or a sort of commentary on God’s covenant with Israel and that seems to be a good way of looking at it.

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses was reminding the people about God’s provision for them in the wilderness.  When the people felt hunger when God humbled them, he heard their cries and he provided them with manna.  He did that to teach them a spiritual lesson:  we must learn to depend on God and his Word.  Deuteronomy 8:3, “…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”  God provided for them.  He gave what they needed for their bodies and at the same time directed them to what they needed for their souls.

Now they were coming into the Promised Land.  Moses reminded them of how good this land was.  It had streams of water, pools, rich fields, orchards, and vineyards.  The people were going to be well-provided for by their Father in heaven.  They would be richly blessed, just as we are today here in Canada.

Let’s now look at how they were to respond to these rich blessings and the Father’s provision.  First of all, see verse 10 of Deuteronomy 8.  Moses says you will eat and be satisfied.  You’ll have that nice full feeling in your tummy.  What then?  “Praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”  Other translations have “bless the LORD your God.”  The meaning is clear:  adore him and thank him for what he has given you.  Thus, in our prayers, we not only pray for God to provide daily bread, but when he does provide, we give him thanks. 

Brothers and sisters, we have the good practice of praying with our meals.  This is a good and biblical practice.  It’s not just a tradition that we’ve received from our grandparents.  This is something taught us in Scripture.  It’s taught here in Deuteronomy 8, but also in the New Testament in 1 Timothy 4:3-5.  Paul says that God created food to be received with thanksgiving.  He provides us with our daily bread and as he does so, we are to thank him.  Interestingly, verse 5 adds the Word of God into the picture too.  It says that we should not reject any foods that are consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.  Doesn’t that seem to suggest that the practice of reading the Bible and praying with our meals is something that goes back a long ways?  At any rate, we can say for certain that God wants us to give thanks when we receive our daily bread.  Our Father wants to hear his children acknowledging his provision. 

So little kids, listen up.  Your mom and dad teach you to pray when you eat.  It’s good that they do this, because the Bible teaches it.  It’s good that you fold your hands and close your eyes and say thank you to God for the food he gives you.  Don’t forget to do that, even if your mom and dad aren’t around.  God is your Father in heaven and he wants to hear you talking to him and saying ‘Thank-you.’  And, brothers and sisters, that’s something we all need to do, young and old alike.  Not only when we’re at home, but everywhere we go.  Remember to give thanks and bless the LORD your God for his gracious provision. 

What happens if we don’t do that?  Moses speaks to that in Deuteronomy 8 as well.  Look at verse 17.  He says that the danger is there that the people will start to take the credit for themselves.  I made all this happen.  I put all the food on my table.  I worked hard and I deserve a pat on the back.  This is all my doing.  When we stop praying with thanksgiving and praise to God, then we turn away from him and turn in on ourselves.  Then we forget about him and we don’t even bother to depend on him anymore.  After all, we don’t need him.  We’re doing quite well out of our own strength and resources.  Moses says, “Resist the temptation to think that way.  Praise your Father and thank him for his provision so that you will not forget him.  When you live in thankfulness, you will remember him and you’ll learn to depend on him daily.”  That’s what God wants us to do, brothers and sisters.  Our gratitude is meant to lead us into deeper dependence on our Father.  The Catechism puts it well:  we want to grow in acknowledging that God is the only fountain of all good.  Not me, but him. 

What happens if we get turned inward and follow the ways of the world here?  What happens if we begin to take credit for ourselves for our daily bread and stop depending on our Father?  Moses has something to say about that too.  He says that the covenant people will fall under the covenant curses and be destroyed.  Ingratitude is intolerable to the holy God.  Failing to depend on him and humbly asking for his daily provision for our bodily needs is a form of unbelief.  It needs to be repented of and forgiveness sought in the blood of Jesus once offered on the cross.  It can and will be forgiven through Christ.  But we must repent, turn away from this sin.  If we do not, if we choose to live in this sin, we too fall under the covenant wrath of God.  It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for people from places like Sodom and Gomorrah than it will be for those who are covenant people and refuse to repent. 

So, brothers and sisters, don’t let that be true of you.  Instead, heed the teaching of Jesus here about prayer.  Pray each day in gratitude to your Father in heaven.  Praise him and thank him for giving what you need for your body.  Then also approach him with what you need, ask him to continue providing.  He has the power to do so and he has the will to do it too.  As Jesus says in Matthew 7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”                                

Now the next point we want to consider has to do with the basis on which we can expect the Father to hear us and bless us with what we need for our bodies.  Should we expect God to receive our prayer because we are such good people?  Well, we all know that we are not such good people.  We come into this world as sinners and each day we continue to miss the mark of God’s good and holy law.  Obviously, the basis on which we expect God to hear us can’t be in us.  Instead, the Bible teaches us that we can only expect God’s blessing on the basis of Christ’s merits.  It’s in Christ alone that we have access to the throne of grace through prayer. 

Scripture teaches us to pray relying on the intercession of God the Son.  Think of what we find Jesus himself saying in John 16:23, “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”  What a wonderful promise!  That promise includes our daily bread.  God will provide our daily bread (and all the good things we need) when we approach him in the name of Christ.  What that means is not so much that we always verbally express our reliance, but that the reliance is there on Christ alone.  It means that we pray with faith in Christ as our only Saviour and the only way that we have God’s ear. 

Let’s think about this for a moment.  The Lord’s Prayer itself does not teach us to pray in the name of Jesus.  Isn’t that odd?  Yet we do that all the time.  There’s a good reason.  First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, Jesus didn’t give us the Lord’s Prayer as a set prayer to be followed slavishly each time we pray.  He gave it as a pattern or a teaching model.  You can use it as a set prayer, but no one can insist that we have to follow the exact wording of the Lord’s Prayer each time we pray.  That ties into the second thing and that’s the fact that the Bible, both Old and New Testament, gives us way more teaching about prayer than what we have in the Lord’s Prayer.  Even Jesus himself gives us more teaching.  We believe that we have to take into account the whole Bible as we seek to learn God’s will for our lives, also as we learn how to pray.  Therefore, even though the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t teach us to pray in the name of Jesus, this is certainly the teaching of the New Testament elsewhere.  Even then, we can commend the practice of explicitly indicating in our prayers our dependence on Christ’s intercession, but we cannot say that it is commanded or required by Scripture.  What is required is faith in Christ alone.  That faith will likely lead a believer often to explicitly express the basis for his or her prayer (and it’s good to do that), but to insist on saying it each time goes beyond what Scripture teaches.  What’s most important and crucial is the faith living in your heart, the faith in Christ.

So we can say that it is absolutely necessary to pray daily for our bodily needs trusting that God will hear us because Christ alone is our Saviour.  He alone has offered up the obedience that we could not.  He alone has paid for our sins with his suffering and death on the cross.  Jesus alone is our Mediator in heaven.  As Hebrews 7:25 puts it, he always lives to intercede for us.  As the perfectly obedient Son of God, our Jesus has the ear of our Father in heaven. 

Hebrews 4:16 tells us about the relevance of this great gospel truth for our prayers.  The author of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence.  We can have certainty that God will hear us and as we think about the fourth petition this afternoon, we can be sure that he will give us what we really need for our bodies each day.  We will “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  All because Christ is on our side. 

The fourth petition should also be considered in connection with the Holy Spirit.  Here it’s helpful to remember where we are in the Catechism and its structure.  All the Catechism students can (hopefully) tell you that the Catechism is set up in three parts:  guilt, grace, gratitude.  That third part, “gratitude,” deals with our sanctification.  This is where we find the Lord’s Prayer explained.  Prayer is the most important part of our thankfulness, and thankfulness is at the heart of sanctification.  We want to grow in holiness to express our love and gratitude to God for the salvation we have in Christ as a free gift.  Prayer is part of that.  Prayer is a means by which we grow as God’s children. 

When Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, the Catechism explains that this also means that we’re praying that we “withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it only in” God.  That too has everything to do with our sanctification.  Being weaned off of our dependence on creatures and placing more dependence on God is part of what it means to advance in holiness.

This work belongs to the Holy Spirit.  He is the one who lives in us and he is the one transforming us.  This process of renewal belongs to him.  When we pray too, he is the one using that prayer to change us into people who look like they should – who look like God’s children inside and out. 

This is a strange and beautiful thing about prayer, brothers and sisters.  We typically think of prayer like a telephone.  It’s a tool for communication.  I bet a good number of you have a phone on you right now.  These days you might not always use it for speaking, but you still use it for communication, whether by text or e-mail or whatever.  That’s the way we often think of prayer too – it’s the way we communicate with God.  It is that – the Bible teaches us that it is that.  But it is more than that.  This analogy isn’t perfect, but prayer can be compared to radiation or chemotherapy.  These are non-invasive medical therapies for killing cancer on the inside and making you healthy again.  Yes, I know they’re miserable and that’s one place where the analogy perhaps breaks down, but what I’m thinking is that prayer destroys the unhealthy in our being so that we can become healthy again.  Another difference is that, unlike cancer treatments, prayer doesn’t destroy any healthiness first along the way, but fosters it the whole way through.  The point is: prayer is a kind of non-invasive spiritual therapy, it works from the inside out.  It is designed not only for us to communicate, but also for us to become healthier spiritually.  It is part of our sanctification.  The Holy Spirit is the one in charge of administering this therapy.  He is the one applying this therapy to our lives.  In prayer, the Holy Spirit works for us and with us (in perfecting our prayers and interceding), but he also works in us.

The Holy Spirit also binds us together in the communion of saints.  It’s not for nothing that Jesus teaches us to pray “Give us today our daily bread.”  Part of our growth in holiness involves also seeing the needs of our brothers and sisters and praying for them too.  Sanctification means that we become less self-centered and we care about others around us.  The Holy Spirit is working in us, also with our prayers, so that we have a heart for our brothers and sisters, and also for those who are not Christians.  Jesus teaches us to pray this fourth petition, and as we follow his teaching, the Holy Spirit will indeed transform our lives from the inside out. 

Loved ones, there are those who think that our physical and material needs are irrelevant to God.  Then there are those who think that our bodily needs are strictly a matter for us – we just have to work hard and we’ll get what we need – forget about bringing it to God.  Less prayer, more action, they might reason.  But here in the fourth petition Jesus teaches us differently.  Our bodily needs matter to God.  Our bodily needs are to be a matter for our prayers.  So, brothers and sisters, let’s continue to bring them to the throne of grace.  Pray about your bodily needs depending on your Father’s provision because you trust in Christ and know that mysteriously, through this prayer, the Holy Spirit is also continuing his gracious work in you.  AMEN.                               




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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