Prayer and the Great Commission: Praying for Provision (Luke 11:1–4)

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The highlight of the annual calendar at Brackenhurst Baptist Church is our annual missions conference, known by our members as the World Outreach Celebration (WOC). The theme for WOC 2017 is “The Greatness of the Great Commission.” A pastor from Zambia, Choolwe Mwetwa, will be delivering five messages on different aspects of the greatness of the Great Commission. It promises to be a glorious time.

The Great Commission is indeed a great and glorious commission. It is so great that it demands our live—our all—including our fervent prayers. Jesus commanded His disciples, “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38). We are to pray that God will send forth labourers; and we are to pray for the practical sustenance of these labourers.

Does it offend us that most of the world is in rebellion against God? Does it bother us that half of the world does not have even a portion of the Scripture in their mother tongue? I am sure that to some degree, it does. And we see this in many ways at BBC.

Corporate prayer meetings are seeing encouraging growth at our church, and prayer for the unreached is often deliberately included at these meetings. There are many in the church who are keen to disciple others. There is an obvious love and respect for missionaries, and an interest in the work that those missionaries are doing. The missions giving of the church shows just how sacrificial church members are willing to be for the cause of the Great Commission.

And yet, for many Christians, missions and the Great Commission are not driving forces. We see this is many ways—including a lack of involvement in making disciples, weak body life, and less than enthusiastic stewardship. I have read that the average professing Christian in evangelical churches spend more money each year on pet food than on missions. I have also read that the average evangelical Christian pays more each month on credit card interest charges than they give to missions. But the words of Jesus still ring true: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Prayer and Our Purpose

The Christian lives comprehensively for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our passion is for His name be hallowed.

To fail to live in such a way that God is clearly set apart from the gods/idols of our age is to fail in life (see Numbers 20:12; 27:12–14). That is why the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer (actually the first three petitions) are so important for us to grasp. These petitions serve to define the Christian’s purpose: to live for the glory of the Father.

It is a privilege for the Christian to live life to God’s glory (see Ephesians 5:1–2; etc.). This privileged purpose is to drive us to our knees. And such praying will, in turn, put us back on our feet to walk through this world with a view to making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. But our feet need fuel as we go about this task. That will be the subject of this study: God’s provision for His purpose.

As we consider the next petition in the Lord’s Prayer, we will see how our prayers for material substance are not wrong. In fact, it can be very “spiritual” to pray for material things—as long as we are guided by the introductory petitions.

In short, we need bread if we will pass the Bread. We need bread for our lives if we will distribute the Bread of Life to other lives. We need to pray for bread. We need to pray for money.

There is a real sense in which our triune God commands us to pass the Bread to a starving world. And it is also true that God’s elect, throughout the nations, are starving for this Bread. But to distribute this Bread requires that we pay for it. And to pay for it, we need to pray for it.

The Prayer for Provision

The prayer for provision is stated very simply: “Give us day by day our daily bread” (Luke 11:4).

As we know, the Lord’s Prayer is designed as a template for our prayers. Thus, its layout is significant. The Lord gave a specific order in which to pray, and this order is greatly instructive. Jesus was clearly showing us that we have no business praying for our own needs until we consider God’s desires first and foremost. Once we grasp God’s priority, our requests take on a whole different motivation. No longer are we primarily concerned only for our own desires to be met; we are now passionately concerned that God be glorified as His kingdom spreads throughout the earth and as His will is done in earth (by His Word being obeyed on earth) as it is in heaven. This will affect what we pray for. It will affect how we pray about, among other things, money.

This is a fascinating truth for me. Jesus has spoken to His disciples concerning the priority of prayer. He has reminded them of the purpose of life and thus of prayer. He now proceeds to assure them that, if they are committed to God’s priority, God will provide them with that which is necessary to see this priority realised.

In other words, if we are committed to fulfilling the Great Commission, God will be committed to providing that which we need to faithfully obey His Commission. He tells us what we are to pray for and what we can expect when we so pray.

Three petitions should permeate our prayers: provision, pardon and power. We read: “Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil” (vv. 3–4).

Again, if our motivation is purely our own happiness, we will lose zeal for this kind of praying. We may say the same words, but they will be filled with unbiblical motivation. But if our passion is aligned with God’s passion, then our prayers will be purified as self is removed and God’s glory becomes the motivation behind our provision. Thus, in reality, it is not too much to say that this prayer is a Great Commission prayer. In this and the next study, we will examine each of the three petitions set forth and see how they relate to Christ’s Great Commission. We will begin in this particular study by considering the prayer for provision in v. 3.

We are to petition our Father for daily provision: “Give us day by day our daily bread.” Provision is important to consider in light of God’s purpose being fulfilled. If God does not provide our daily bread, it will be impossible for us to carry out the Great Commission.

If I am to hallow God’s name on earth, I obviously need to be alive to do it, “for in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5). If I am to remain in the land of the living, I need daily provision, and in order to receive daily provision, I need to petition God for it.

Please Pass the Bread

But further, when it comes to the Great Commission, I need to be expending my “bread” in order to pass the Bread of Life to the world. And when I create a need in my life for daily bread through a commitment to God’s purpose, I can be sure that God will meet my need—that He will send me more of the bread that I need.

The Philippians serve as a wonderful example of this. They sent of their daily bread to provide Paul with his necessities. Paul promised: “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). As we sacrifice from our daily bread for the Great Commission, we can stand on God’s Word that He will resupply that which we are lacking due to such sacrifice.

God is no Mother Hubbard

“Old Mother Hubbard,” we are told, “went to the cupboard to give the poor dog a bone.” Sadly, “when she came there, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor dog had none.”

Several years ago, a preacher at our World Outreach Celebration emphasised the fact that we cannot out-give God. This is an important realisation for us. When we put God’s purposes first, we can know for sure that we will not starve!

Most who are reading this will probably not have to pray today for daily bread. In fact, most reading this can probably thank God today for filling their cupboards and giving them a selection of provision from which to choose. There is nothing wrong with that, but I do often wonder if we are not missing out on a blessing in our state of affairs. I think of men like George Müller, who often quite literally had empty cupboards and had to ask God to provide daily bread. What a blessing it must have been to see the faithfulness of God in such circumstances! I am not saying that those of us who have surplus cannot understand the faithfulness of God, but what a blessing it must be to see God literally providing needed bread each day!

Perhaps we should be creating a need for daily bread in our lives. Perhaps we should be so consumed with the Great Commission, and so consumed with providing for its fulfilment, that we give much more than we are. Then we will have to ask God for daily provision, for we will have spent all we have in getting His Word to the world. Our commitment to the Great Commission should perhaps force us to pray to God for our daily bread! Instead of giving God flimsy tips, we ought to give Him our full treasure.

Ambrose, Alms and Us

There was a man named Ambrose who lived in the latter part of the fourth century AD. He was a godly man, who had a great impact on Augustine. One day, Ambrose attended a church meeting. The bishop (pastor) of the church had died, and the church had gathered for the business of appointing a new pastor. Ambrose exhorted the church to prayer in this matter, and proceeded to lead the assembly to the throne of grace. As he stood in their midst, silence fell over the congregation. Before long, a voice was heard from the back of the gathering: “Let Ambrose be our bishop!” This lone voice was followed by another, and another, and another, until the entire church was eventually crying out for Ambrose to assume the pastorate of the church.

Ambrose declined, insisting that he was not equipped for the task. But the more he protested, the louder the congregation cried for him to lead them. Eventually, he agreed to pray about the matter. After much prayer, he accepted the pastorate of the church. But before assuming the position, he, a very wealthy man, sold everything that he owned—everything—and gave the proceeds to the church.

He explained this decision by saying that he did not want to be distracted from his calling. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:4, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” Ambrose did not want to be double-minded as an undershepherd. He knew the dangers of living independently of the Bread-giver.

Paul addressed Pastor Timothy about this matter in 1 Timothy 6, where he told him to “flee” materialism and to “fight the good fight of faith” by “lay[ing] hold on eternal life” (vv. 11–12). Again, the concern is one of distraction. Too much bread can make us fat!

That Horrible Word

I can hear the objections stirring: “Now, Doug, let’s be sensible! We agree that we must be willing to give for the sake of the Great Commission but we must be balanced. Let’s not go overboard! God does not expect us to give everything; He just expects us to be willing to do so! Let’s be balanced.

I like what J. I. Packer said of this desire for “balance.” He called “balance” a “horrible, self-conscious word.” It is sad when the believer is so preoccupied with living a “well-rounded” life. Where did we get that from? Christians are called to a life of sacrifice, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1–2). We need to give God our all, for it all comes from Him!

Some will insist that there is a fine line between faith and foolishness. Actually, the line is thick and clearly defined: faith stands on the Word of God whereas foolishness acts out of presumption. We need the kind of faith that sacrifices all because it realises God’s faithfulness and ability to resupply the needs that are created (see Acts 11:26–30; 2 Corinthians 8:1–5).

We must take up our cross and follow Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when Christ bids a man to follow Him, He bids him come and die! There is very little “balance” about that! I maintain that we are often not sacrificial enough in our living and giving because of two things that are inseparably connected: our purpose in life and our prayer life.

If we are truly committed to God’s overriding purpose, we will be driven to our knees so that we might know Him. As we grow closer to Him through prayer, we will rise from our knees and go to make Him known. And as we do so, casting our bread upon the waters, the Lord will faithfully and graciously resupply that which we sacrifice for His purpose (see Ecclesiastes 11:1; Proverbs 19:17).

Overstocked Cupboards?

Perhaps one reason we don’t find ourselves praying often for our daily bread is because our unbelief has led to such well-stocked cupboards that there is little need for us to pray. If we were to fall in line with God’s purpose, however, we would surely be willing to sacrifice and would find ourselves praying for daily provision: “Father, the cupboards are empty because we have refused to watch Your fields lay empty of workers—please give us our daily bread.” And what a joy it will be when He does so! When we meditate upon this truth it leads to great excitement at the prospect of seeing God working mightily in our life and in the life of the church. If we truly become passionate about God’s passion, we will give sacrificially and will thus be enabled to see God’s gracious providence in supplying our daily bread.

I can honestly say that Brackenhurst Baptist Church is healthy in her stewardship. I am so grateful for faithful church members who sacrifice for the ministries of this church, both here and elsewhere. But there is always room for improvement.

Honest Accounting

We need to ask ourselves, honestly, about the way that we spend our money; both as individual church members and corporately as a church.

Individually, how expensive a car do we really need? Have we been sucked into the image game? How fancy a house do we require? Have we been deluded by the world? How much do we really need for a good holiday? Do we really need to retire?  What should we be doing if we are retired?

Corporately, how fancy does the building need to be? How good must the coffee taste? How many fulltime staff members are needed? What about the needs of smaller and poorer and struggling ministries?

Let’s not play fiscal games with God. Let’s honour Him, hallowing His name by faithful and honest stewardship before Him.

How Can You Afford?

I have five children. I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me, “How can you afford to have so many children?” The truth is, I never sat down to figure out how many children I could afford. My wife and I never calculated whether we could afford five children. At the same time, we have never seen God fail to provide for our family. As we have been faithful in our stewardship, God has been faithful in His supply.

Whenever I counsel young couples seeking to marry, I always counsel them that the greatest “retirement annuity” in which they can invest is faithfulness to God in their tithes and offerings.

I know of a church that guarantees its members that if they are faithful in tithing and encounter an unmet need, the church will refund them the money that they have tithed. That may be a rather unique approach, but it certainly serves to get the point across: God is faithful in supplying for those who are faithful in their stewardship. I fear that we are sometimes too conservative when it comes to giving. We need to take God at His Word for only then will we experience God at work meeting our needs as we maintain our passionate devotion to His purpose.

God’s Promise and God’s Provision

God has promised to save some from every tribe, nation, kindred and tongue with the gospel. Thus, they must be reached with the gospel. Practically speaking, this requires funds. God is a great God, with a glorious purpose. If we line up with that purpose, then we will experience all the provision that we need for the task.

I am excited about the Great Commission vision of Brackenhurst Baptist Church. I am so thankful for what God is doing in and through us. I am thrilled at the prospect of what more can be done.

We need to keep before us the principle that to whom much is given, much will be required. We have been blessed with much, including much bread. We therefore are called upon to share it with others.

This will mean partnering with other churches and their missionaries; partnering with church plants (especially in the local townships); sending out more of our own missionaries; and perhaps investing in an internship program whereby we can train labourers for the field.

All of these will require each of us giving our daily bread. As we sacrifice for His cause, we will be driven to our knees in order to ask our Father to resupply that bread.

But further, we need to pray for much more bread to be delivered to us. We do not presently have all that we need for the things that I have suggested. So, let’s exercise both wise stewardship and fervent supplication. Wise stewardship will enable us to increase seating capacity, which will in turn increase our sending capacity. Fervent prayer for provision enables us to provide for the Great Commission.

What a joy to know that He has already assured us that He will answer that prayer if we are faithful to Him! What an opportunity to glorify His name! Just think how He will be honoured as His Word goes forth through our sacrifice and how He will be glorified as news goes forth of how the Lord resupplied our needs!