This is part of a series on the Lord’s prayer, culture and spiritual warfare in which we look at the subversive prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples and how that prayer engages in the war of ideas with the philosophies that pervade our age.
Part 5 – Consumerism and ‘Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread’
Wikipedia defines consumerism as “a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.” We want more and the desire to possess these things can become the central focus of our lives. This is a theme that Tolkien explores in various ways, from the treasure-hoarding dragons to the ring of power that seems to possess its aspiring owners as much as anybody can possess it.
Richard M Ryan points out that, “many of us, consciously or unconsciously have learned to evaluate our own well-being and accomplishment not by looking inward at our spirit or integrity, but by looking outward at what we have and what we can buy.” Consumerism has become a competition where we never have enough and always want more than the next person. Curated lives shown on social media and the #bestlifenow trend have only served to further consumerism’s grip.
This need to consume is fed by the advertising industry, where billions are spent every day to reinforce in us a sense that we need more. We are bombarded as we read our newspapers, listen to the radio, observe billboards as we drive and posters on public transport, browse the internet, scroll social media and watch television. On average, we are subjected to 1600 adverts per day, all carrying the same message: ‘If you want to be X kind of person then you need to have THIS product.’.
Our souls are gripped by the need for goods and service in ever-increasing amounts, and it is into this context that Jesus teaches his disciples a prayer of daily reliance on the provision of God. Give us this day our daily Bread.
God as Provider
One of the names of God that is revealed in Scripture is ‘Jehovah-Jireh’, meaning God will provide (literally ‘God will see to it’). In contrast to the consumeristic clamour for more, there is liberty in the realisation that God will provide for his people what we need. We see this exemplified in Old Testament stories such as God giving the Israelites manna from heaven and the widow of Zarephath an unending jar of oil through Elijah. We see it taught explicitly in the words of Jesus in the New Testament, “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?” (Matthew 6:25-26). God does not promise to provide for everything that we might want, but he is a good Father who provides for the needs of his children.
This truth has significant implications in several areas:
(1) – For Our Future. Consumerism tends to mean we either sell our future by racking up debt in order to have more in the present, or attempting to buy our future by hoarding up bigger and bigger barns like the rich fool of Luke 12. Understanding that God provides means we can trust him for what is to come, and at the same time act with moderation in our present consumption, our giving and our future preparations, applying the lessons of both Proverbs 6:6-8 and Luke 12:16-21.
(2) – For Our Lives. Understanding the God is our provider frees us to live by faith and step into the things that he has called us to without being held back by the need for finance and possessions. This is not licence for irresponsibility or presumption (Paul teaches in 2 Thessalonians that if anyone is not willing to work then he will not eat), but it is does mean where we have genuinely heard the voice of God leading us in a particular direction then we can trust God to answer our prayer each day for our daily bread.
(3) – For Our Prayer. With God as the provider, it drives us to prayer each day for what we need. It can be so easy to look to material stuff for what only God can provide, but this is devastating for our spiritual lives. It is idolatry. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
It is okay to come to God and ask for the things that we need. Jesus in the Lord’s prayer affirms it. At times I have been reluctant to bring my own needs before God because I have been wary of turning prayer into a ‘shopping list’, but there is a place to pray for our own need in amongst all the other things that Jesus teaches in this great prayer.
Jesus taught us a subversive prayer. We pray it in a world that always wants more, more, more and is never satisfied. We pray it in defiance, knowing that the sum of a person’s possessions does not define their worth, and we pray it in reliance, knowing that it is from God that every good gift is given and all our needs are met.
Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.
Your kingdom come; Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread