"Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew vi. verse 11)
"After this manner therefore pray ye" is the phrase by which the Lord introduced the words of His prayer. " Lord, teach us to pray " the disciples requested not realising that all the truth the Lord uttered indicated the way of perfect prayer. For to live in the order of Divine Truth is perfect prayer, for it is the sole way in which whatsoever is asked, is asked in the Lord's name. "After this manner, therefore, pray ye ", said the Lord, and then He gave us seven petitions. But how different is the manner of His prayer from that of our " much speaking "! The first three petitions carry us, as it were, through the three heavens of the spiritual world, and each one beckons us to remain in the heaven of which it speaks - just as if the angels there besought us to stay and enjoy the blessings peculiar to their state and use. For the heaven where the Lord's name is most especially hallowed is the celestial or highest, wherein love to the Lord sanctifies the worship, the life and the service of angelhood, and makes of that heaven the most closely-knit community in the universe.
"Thy Kingdom come" petitions the blessings of the second or spiritual heaven - for the Kingship is that of Divine Truth, and it summons us to a loyalty to Divine authority and a discipline that betokens a heart not yet at peace with God.
"Thy Will be done" echoes the life and service and obedience-in-act that characterise the lowest heaven. Not that all three, love, truth and obedience, are not in each of the three heavens they are, indeed, for in all three lies perfect manhood; but in that trinity of prayer, each heaven, according to its most characteristic quality, beckons us to enter. And he who in sincerity of heart offers up these petitions commits himself thereby to a life which will lead to heaven. There is no prayer offered unless in our life we strive after the blessing that is petitioned. That may be why some petitions are not answered; it is possible they may not have been prayed.
And so, praying that the blessings of each of the heavens might be ours, or praying that will, understanding and life, may be made heavenly, we come to the one sole petition by which we appear to ask something for ourselves. " Give us this day our daily bread ". We may understand this to mean food for the body, food for the natural mind, and food for the spiritual mind food, that is to say, for our whole complex manhood. This is, of course, the meaning of this, the middle petition. But how shall all three be gained except we give heed to the Lord's words " Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you "? The prayer must mean for us, above all other things, a petition for the things of the spirit - for the bread of heaven - for only so can all our needs be supplied. Now the bread of heaven is He who came down from heaven. It is the presence of the life of the Lord Himself that is here asked for. To ask for less, is to ask for self. It is only as we dare ask for the Lord's life the Lord's will - the Lord's goodness - it is only as we dare to ask to live from His own selfless life, and thus to lose our own life - it is only as we dare this that " all these (other) things shall be added " unto us. Does it not suggest that only as our life puts on the character we plead for in the first three petitions can we be fitted to receive this bread of heaven? For the life that will answer for us the first three petitions is that alone 76 which will make us receptive of the bread of heaven. It is the regenerate heart alone which provides an entry for the Lord, the " bread which came down from heaven ".
"Bread" in the Word signifies, first of all, the Lord. For the Lord, by His glorified Human, brings down to man the very substance of manhood. The Lord is called in the Writings, " the celestial" Itself; that which constitutes the celestial, that which celestial angels receive from Him and by which they are celestial. This term, " celestial ", refers of course to the love man has. Love is man's very life. That teaching, so far as it is coherent and rational, is a new truth given to mankind at the Lord's second advent. Before then, and often enough now, man was thought to be essentially understanding, because his rationality seemed to distinguish him from all other living things. But "love is the life of man". And man lives from the Lord. His "Bread" is his reception of the Lord. The Word refers to the whole life of man's will, everything celestial, everything that pertains to love and charity, innocence and mercy. In the sacrificial offerings of ancient Israel, this fact that the will or love must be in worship if it is to be acceptable was represented by the shewbread placed ever in the Holy Place before the veil. That bread was unleavened, because leaven changed the representation to what is impure within the heart. The shewbread stood there as the permanent symbol of the Church's reciprocation of the Divine Love a reciprocation by means of love already received from the Lord, but returned to Him, or used "for others" even as His Love is essentially "for others". The importance of this reciprocation of God's Love by man should be clear. Where there is no reciprocation, there is no true reception. For what we receive, if the Lord's Love is received, is something that strives to go out to others, to give itself to others, to be the instrument of blessing to others. And if our love for others is genuine, it is love to the Lord.
This that we ask for when we pray "give us this day our daily bread" imposes the primary duty and task of life upon us. Do you remember how Adam, expelled from the garden of Eden, was condemned henceforth to eat bread by the sweat of his face? But how many of us, when we pray, "give us this day our daily bread" realise that we are asking for what will mean "sweat" and toil and tears to receive? We are asking for celestial love, for the love which angels have, for a heart that is innocent of all selfishness but that beats in pure love for others! We are asking for that against which every natural desire, all self-interest, all that is native to our being will rise up and attack with remorseless vigour. " By the sweat of our face " alone can we receive this bread of heaven. Its reception is exclusively by way of arduous and persistent spiritual trial, the whole warfare of temptation combat. We ask that we might be given the strength and the will and the courage to endure the battles of a Joshua and a David and patiently to sustain the work of reformation and regeneration of life!
"After this manner therefore pray ye"never, you see, for self for the sake of self, but always for self that we may be sources of blessing to others. All perfect prayer must involve this task of regeneration of life; for therein alone lies our real and abiding welfare and therein alone lies that which the Lord would vouchsafe. In all true prayer we stand on the border-line of this finite universe, communing with the Infinite. And all true prayer, therefore, deals with infinite and eternal things, the things of our most real nature, the only things that abide. The "our Father" itself sets our eyes towards the spiritual east in whose light the universal heavens eternally stand. Where those words are uttered in sincerity, we align ourselves with the societies of the heavens, acknowledge our spiritual kinship with all of the Church, and leave behind us the things of time and space, the anxieties and trivialities and interests of the world, to remember the real and enduring things of our nature and life. These, our truest selfhood, which is the selfhood of the Lord within us, are fed and sustained and counselled by Him alone, for they are essentially the things of His creation within us, the things of which He alone is Father. Can we wonder that the Lord, while on earth, taught us how to pray? In the words, "give us this day our daily bread", He set on the lips of humanity the prayer that they might receive Him who was and is the bread of heaven. He asked mankind to ask for Him, and that is what His Love eternally yearns for, the will on man's part to receive Him who alone can bring blessing to man.
The religious life is a schooling in prayer, and we learn but slowly. Only the perfect life can utter the perfect prayer. But the manner of that prayer is revealed to us; first, in a cameo, in the words of the Lord's prayer, and second, in the whole body of Divine doctrine that teaches the life that leads to heaven. To set out upon that life and way is to begin to pray, and to persist in that life and way is to learn how nothing really matters but the things of heaven, the things to which "all other things are added". For to pray sincerely brings perfect trust and confidence in Him alone who has created us and seeks eternally to lead us to His eternal kingdom. We ask for Him to enter and to sup with us, to break bread for us, and to give us strength to shun all that would eternally destroy us, when, from the heart, we ask, "give us this day our daily bread".