You don’t need to imagine it. You’ve seen it in countless sitcoms and movies. It’s Thanksgiving Day, and the family is gathered around the table. Maybe things have gone hilariously wrong; maybe they haven’t. Nevertheless, the host stands at the head of the table and puts it all into perspective, giving thanks for what they have. These scenes warm our hearts and shift our view to what we should be thankful for, but these lenses on giving thanks are out of focus.
These scenes blur the act of thanksgiving because they focus on the wrong thing. Giving thanks is not an acknowledgment of whatever good fortune or luck has come our way. It’s also more than expressing gratitude for what we have. Thanksgiving also has direction. It recognizes the Giver of our gifts.
But when we give a blanketed thanks to an unidentified giver, our gaze returns to the gifts. When we focus on the gifts, we too easily forget there is a Giver. We start to think we deserve these gifts. Of course, once gifts are earned, they stop becoming gifts and turn into wages. And when that happens, we’re on a quick climb up the ladder to idolatry.
When we focus on the gifts, we too easily forget there is a Giver.
Luther points out the rungs on this ladder in his lectures on Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. “The first is ingratitude or the failure to be grateful…. It is the result of self-complacency: forgetting the giver, one delights in accepting gifts as if one had not received them.” Luther then details rungs two, three, and four—vanity, deluded blindness, and error toward God. Of the last, he writes, “and this is the worst because it leads to idolatry.”
The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” takes up our struggle on the bottom rung on the ladder to idolatry. In the Small Catechism, Luther explains what this petition means: “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.”
Similar to the first three petitions, Luther’s explanation points out that what we receive from our heavenly Father does not depend on our petition. God’s name is hallowed, his kingdom comes, his will is done, and he gives all daily bread, “without our prayers.” But unlike the first three petitions, the focus of the fourth shifts since God’s provision of all that we need for this body and life already comes among us.
In the fourth petition, we pray for more than temporal gifts like daily bread. We pray that we would realize that God, in his “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy,” gives us the gifts “without any merit or worthiness” in us, and so it is him we should thank and praise. And in turn, we also pray against the fear, love, and trust we can place in these gifts and ourselves to merit them. Only faith in Christ makes these prayers possible.
John Pless writes, “It is only through Christ that daily bread can be confessed as a gift.” Jesus shows us the divine goodness and mercy of the Father. Pless goes on to write, “It is by faith that disciples receive daily bread as a divine gift and thus answer the Giver in thanksgiving.” Only faith in Jesus Christ recognizes the true Giver of the gifts and gives him thanks.
We pray for the faith that lays hold of this in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. To pray that God’s name is hallowed among us is to pray for the continual proclamation of the gospel in truth and purity that we would hear the word about Christ crucified for sinners. To pray for God’s kingdom to come among us is to pray for the faith produced by the Holy Spirit that believes and trusts that Christ’s death for sinners is for us too. To pray for God’s will to be done among us is to pray that God would sustain and keep us in the one true faith disrupting every scheme of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.
To pray that God’s name is hallowed among us is to pray for the continual proclamation of the gospel in truth and purity that we would hear the word about Christ crucified for sinners.
To pray the fourth petition, that our heavenly Father would give us our daily bread, is to pray for the first fruit of this faith in Jesus Christ that believes that God, in his fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, has given himself to us in the gifts of his creation. That is, we pray God would open our lips that our mouths may daily give thanks to him, acknowledging him as the Giver of every good gift.