The “Temptation of Affluence” and the Lord’s Prayer

Give us this day our daily bread.

It’s been a long time since I’ve wondered where my next meal was coming from—about 40 years, actually, since living in an apartment or trailer with a mostly empty refrigerator or no heat. I don’t specifically remember reciting the Lord’s Prayer back then, but if I did, I’m sure I understood the phrase “give us this day our daily bread.” Even as a child, I would have seen the direct correlation between a prayer for daily sustenance and the fact that God somehow provided for my needs each day.

Of all the elements in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread” seems very straightforward: Please provide for my daily needs, such as food, to survive. It often gets overshadowed by other, seemingly more pertinent or lofty phrases such as “lead us not into temptation” or “forgive us our trespasses” or “Thy will be done.”

But God has a remarkable knack for continuing to teach us new truths even when we think we thoroughly understand something as familiar as the Lord’s Prayer.

My eyes were opened recently to an entirely new way of seeing this simple phrase through a book called New Morning Mercies, a daily devotional by Paul David Tripp that I highly recommend. In the devotion for May 8, Tripp doesn’t call us to view “give us this day our daily bread” as merely asking for daily sustenance. He asks us instead to first look at the story of the Israelites when they were about to enter the Promised Land. God gives them a warning about this “good land,” the plentiful, fresh water, abundant produce, and valuable natural materials, a land “in which you will lack nothing” and “you shall eat and be full.” The warning is to “take care lest you forget the Lord your God…” (Deuteronomy 8:2-11).

Take care lest you forget.

When are we most likely to forget the Lord our God? Think about that in terms of your own life. When bad things are happening, when we’re suffering, when we feel alone and lost, we cry out to God in despair, we ask for prayer from others, we might question what he’s doing in our lives, we may even be angry with him—but (in my experience, at least), we rarely forget him. Instead, we forget him when times are good, when we’re in the figurative land of milk and honey, when our needs are being met with abundance.

Several years ago, we were asked in a discipleship group at church to make a chart of our lives and determine what was going on when we felt closest to God and when we felt most distant. I realized that a time I had felt furthest from God was when things outwardly appeared to be going quite well in my life—specifically, when my earnings were on the upswing (freelancing is a financial roller coaster) and we had more disposable income than usual. Naturally, I thought this would bring me much happiness, and in some outward ways it did (long-needed home repairs, a family beach vacation), but it didn’t bring me peace and closeness with God. In fact, I don’t much remember God’s presence at all in my life during that year or so. I was self-sufficient. I was in control. I was winning.

But in reality, I was none of those things. I had forgotten the one who is actually in control, the one who supplies all my needs, the one who gives me, as Tripp reminds us, “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17).

The reason the children of Israel were warned about the abundant resources they were about to receive, Tripp says, was because of the temptation of affluence. He explains further: “What is that? It is the temptation we all face, when things are going well and supplies are many, to forget our utter dependence on the power, goodness, and faithfulness of God for everything in life. The prayer for daily bread reminds me that I am dependent on God for even the most mundane needs of my life. … No one can say, ‘Look how successfully I have been able to care for me without any outside assistance.’ No one!” (New Morning Mercies, May 8) This caution applies both to a people as a whole whose society is becoming more affluent (as in Deuteronomy 8) and to each of us as individuals.

When I recite the Lord’s Prayer now, I’m going to have a new perspective on “give us this day our daily bread.” Instead of flying past this humble phrase on my way to the weightier parts of the prayer, I’ll camp out there for a moment and ask God to keep me from the temptation of affluence, to remember that every good thing comes from his loving hand, and that every aspect of my life is a daily gift from him. I’ll be seeing the “daily bread” line as a warning against self-dependence and a reminder that every single good thing in my life is there only because God has given it to me.

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