For Luther, prayer happened in the crucible of affliction by those who have been given a promise. The crucible we find ourselves in while we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is the most common and universal of human experience: worry. Whether rich or poor, young or old, male or female, worry for the things of this world plagues us all. It makes no difference how much or how little success we have, how well-behaved or misbehaved our children are, how lawful or lawless our government officials are, we all worry. This is one of the reasons why many are so averse to change, because change precipitates uncertainty and worry for daily bread.
Into this very situation--into the chaos, worry, and uncertainty of our lives--God chooses to speak. He doesn’t write us off with a simple, “Don’t worry” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” That only makes us worried about being worried and scared of being scared! Rather, he speaks to us tenderly, as a dear Father to his dear child, and delivers a promise out of his own fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy. This promise is one that is very near to us. We confess it in the first article of the Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean?” And here comes the promise: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life” (emphasis added).
This petition brings us to realize that nothing is too ordinary to be prayed for or to give thanks for.
We pray the fourth petition because God has promised to be our Father. As our Father, he has also promised to be our “breadbasket.” Without God, we lack every physical and spiritual good, which makes us all the more earnest about rubbing God’s promise in his ear! We ask this, not because we are good people, but because of God’s own goodness. As Luther says, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people” which leaves no room for any boasting on our part. The piety of our prayers do not merit God’s goodness, neither does our good behavior. We rely on the Father’s daily and rich mercies, which we neither merit or deserve.
Thus this petition also leads us to recognize what Luther calls the “masks of God.”
God’s promise to us isn’t a hollow or weak promise, but one that actually delivers what it says. By the power of God’s word, he daily gives us all that he promises, usually through the most unappreciated and ordinary ways. Thus this petition also leads us to recognize what Luther calls the “masks of God.” These masks are the ordinary means in this world behind which God hides to give us every good thing. In recognizing the masks, we give thanks for all God’s work in our lives. Inspired by God’s goodness we give thanks for all that we have, regardless of degree or magnitude, because it is God our Father himself who gives them for our benefit.
This petition also brings us to realize that nothing is too ordinary to be prayed for or to give thanks for. In fact, Luther’s explanation of this petition is entirely ordinary! Nothing spiritual or grand is attributed to “daily bread”, not even the Lord’s Supper! Only the bare necessities of life.
In his Large Catechism, Luther concludes that this petition is always prayed from the crucible of affliction, particularly affliction from our greatest foe: Satan. He is tirelessly working to undermine the work of God, to stop his name from being hallowed, his kingdom coming, and his will being done. In a similar manner, Luther says the Devil cannot stand to see one of God’s saints eat a morsel of food in peace. He is not satisfied with attacking us spiritually but also afflicts the body. He corrupts good government, destroys crops, causes all manner of natural disasters, and seeks to undermine the household. Because of this, the fourth petition also takes on a polemical tone. It is prayed against our enemy, the Devil, that his every scheme and plan would be foiled and God’s goodness would rain down upon us. On account of Christ, you can be sure and certain it will.
“Gracious Father, You certainly open Your hand to give daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even all evil people. We pray that you would lead us to realize this and so receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, recognizing that in Your bountiful goodness, You daily and richly supply everything that has to do with the support and needs of our bodies; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”