Perfect Prayer, by Chauncey Giles

from Chauncey Giles Perfect Prayer. How Offered: How Answered  (Philadelphia: Lippincott 1903)

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Perfect Prayer.
How Offered: How Answered

by Chauncey Giles

IX. Daily Bread; What It Is: How to Pray for It

Give us this day our daily bread.”—Matthew vi. 11

In every prayer something is involved of far more value to us as spiritual beings than the special good we seek. All asking implies dependence upon others for the help we desire, and in this acknowledgment of our dependence upon others for aid in supporting life and gaining its highest blessings lies one of the essential conditions of human progress. Human brotherhood, and all the blessings of industrial, social, civil, and domestic life grow out of this interdependence of one human being upon another. If we had no need of one another, if we could do nothing for one another, human society could not exist. There could be no more interaction between human beings than there is between one stone and another. All the activities, uses, and delights of human society grow out of human wants. The knowledge and acknowledgment of our dependence upon the Lord for life and all its blessings is still more important. In the degree we feel it we shall constantly look to Him and seek to come into such relations with Him that He can give and we can receive the blessings we need. Unless we acknowledge Him; unless we feel some want and know that He has the power and the disposition to supply it, we shall not go to Him. For this reason He is in the constant effort to reveal Himself to us, to bring us into such relations with Him that we can ask and receive what we need. When we really feel our dependence upon the Lord and understand His willingness to bestow upon us the highest good we can receive, we shall go to Him, and our asking will not be a hypocritical or a vain prayer. It will be sincere, ardent, and earnest.

All the preceding petitions of this Divine prayer lead up to the one we are considering. They are natural and orderly steps to it. When we know the Lord as our Father in the heavens, kind, loving, tender, and watchful over His children, and ready to abundantly supply us with all we need; when we are disposed to hallow His name by regarding all the attributes of His nature as pure and holy, as love and wisdom themselves; when from this knowledge of the Lord’s nature we desire to have His kingdom established in us, and His will done in us in all our natural affections, thoughts, and activities, then we come into a state in which we see and delight to feel our dependence upon the Lord. We begin to see something of the beauty and perfection of the Divine character, and we desire to obtain the means of growing into the likeness and image of our Heavenly Father. We desire to be sustained, guided, fed by Him. We feel our need of His support, and we can sincerely and humbly ask Him to give us our daily bread. Every sincere prayer is the voice of a want: it is the want speaking. If we pray to our Heavenly Father, it is an acknowledgment of our dependence upon Him, and of our belief that He can help us. The faith may be weak, but it is strong enough to lead us to ask. The Lord teaches us to ask Him for our daily bread. Let us consider what is meant by daily bread; why we should ask for it; how we should ask; and what will be the effects of receiving it.

I. What are we to understand by bread? Every child knows its specific and natural meaning. But it is something more than the specific substance we call bread. It is a general term embracing all food of all kinds. It comprises every substance which appeases hunger and supplies materials to repair the ever-wasting tissues of the body. When we pray for bread, then, we ask the Lord for natural food of all kinds for the supply of our natural wants. But why should we ask the Lord to give us what He is constantly providing in some measure, whether we ask Him or not? Those who deny His existence have as rich and varied an abundance of food as the most devout. All food products grow according to immutable laws. Prayer does not strengthen or weaken or change the law. The Lord gives no special favors to the good in this respect. “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth His rain on the just and the unjust.” The Lord provides for every living thing. “Behold the fowls of the air,” He says, “for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them.” Why should we ask Him to do what He is doing? Because by asking we acknowledge that we are dependent upon Him for our bread by whatever agencies He sends it to us. Our Heavenly Father feeds the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field; He clothes the lily with beauty, and makes the hills and valleys smile with harvests. The fact that He gives to all creatures their food according to a universal law, does not detract in the least from His agency in making the provision. Natural law is simply His wise way of giving us our daily bread. Human agency in producing fruits and food does not diminish His providence in their creation. He gives us the privilege of cooperating with Him for our own culture and pleasure; but all our power to do it is momentarily derived from Him. Our food of every kind is as truly and as fully the Lord’s gift as it would be if He placed it upon our table at every meal.

But our agency in procuring our bread hides from us the Lord’s providence and working. We attribute to the universal laws according to which the Lord works the creative power. We mistake the instrument or method for the Being who employs it. In this way we are led to forget and deny the Lord and trust to ourselves alone, and to live only a natural life. But our Heavenly Father desires to have us know Him “whom to know aright is life everlasting.” He desires to have us see His goodness and mercy, His love and wisdom, in all the provisions He has made for our natural good, for our protection and the supply of all our material wants. He desires to win our love that He may open the interior planes of our minds, and come to us and bestow upon us larger and more precious spiritual blessings. It is not for Himself that He asks us to pray to Him or desires to have us acknowledge Him, but for our own good. In the degree He can get us to look up to Him and open our hearts to Him, He can bless us. If we regarded our food as a daily gift from the Lord, we should not eat it as the animal does; our thoughts would rise to the Lord at every meal, and our hearts would be filled with gratitude for His provident and loving care. Every morsel of food would have a more precious value than its power to supply a natural want; it would lead us to know and love our Heavenly Father, and to become more fully His children.

How shall we pray for our daily bread? Not alone in words. We cannot get it in that way, because the Lord cannot give it to us in that way except in a most meagre and imperfect manner. One of the conditions of a full and varied supply is wanting. He has made our cooperation necessary in gaining our bread. We cannot do much, but the little is one link in the chain of causes by which the end is accomplished. We must, therefore, do our part. We must prepare the ground, cast the seed into it, protect the growing plants from harm, cultivate them, and gather the harvest when it is ripe. The most devout and persistent urgency of words, the most rigid formalities would not procure a morsel of bread for us. The husbandman knows how to worship, and what sacrifices to offer that will be efficacious in filling his granaries and loading his table with food. But while he is doing his work and in doing it, he should acknowledge that all his labor would be vain without the Lord’s cooperation; he should be in the constant acknowledgment of his dependence upon Him. He should feel his absolute dependence upon his Heavenly Father for these precious gifts. He should pray without ceasing and with perfect faith, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If we worked in this frame of mind, we should be living near the Lord; we should be in constant communion with Him while engaged in our daily employments, and our hearts would overflow with gratitude and praise. Our prayer, also, would be answered because it would be offered in His name; that is, according to the laws of His Divine order. If all men prayed in this spirit and worked in this way there would be no want. The Lord would bless their basket and their store.

II. But man has a higher plane of faculties than the animal, and he needs bread of a corresponding excellence. By bread we are to understand all the substances which support and nourish his spiritual nature. All consciousness of life is gained by organization. The spirit is an organic form as well as the body. It is a spiritual body subject to spiritual laws. A mental, or spiritual faculty is a spiritual organ, in the same sense as a material faculty is a material organ. The faculty of seeing is the eye; of hearing, the ear; of feeling, the nerves of sensation. The faculty of knowing, of thinking, of loving, are spiritual organs. They have their origin, their laws of development, the substances of which they are formed. They must have their daily bread. “Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”

The spirit is the real man in every respect. It is in the human form. The material body is cast into its mould. It is organized within and without, in every least and greatest part, as the material body. It has bones, arteries, veins, nerves, flesh and blood, heart and lungs, eyes and ears, and every organ necessary to perform all the functions of a human being. But the substances of which they are formed are spiritual, and as distinct from matter as the mind is distinct from the body, and as superior to it as love and knowledge are superior to heat and light. This spiritual organism requires food to supply its wastes and to develop its powers. The organic forms of the material body are constantly wasting away, and must be constantly supplied with food to repair the waste. The same process in principle is going on in the spiritual body. The forces which operate upon it from within and without dissipate its substance, and would destroy if the waste was not supplied and the organization constantly renewed.

This analogy between the material and the spiritual bodies gives force, a distinct, literal, and comprehensible meaning to many passages in the Sacred Scriptures which have been regarded as figurative and to have only a vague and inferential application to practical life. When our Lord says, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of,” “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work,” He reveals a great law of universal application: He states a Divine fact. His human nature, or the human plane of His being with which He clothed His Divine nature and with which He identifies Himself, did receive its existence, its growth, its support, and all its power from the essential Divine within Him which He constantly refers to as the Father. Life, which is substance itself, was constantly supplied from the uncreated fountain within. When He says, “The Father that dwelleth within me, He doeth the works,” He states a literal truth, applicable to His human nature before it was glorified or made Divine. He assumed it to make it a medium of communicating His Divine life to men in forms which they could receive and appropriate. Therefore He calls Himself “the bread of life,” and declares that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. “I am the living bread,” He says, “which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.” He does not mean by these words that He is going to suffer vicariously for man, and by that means save him from spiritual death. He means just what He says. He is the bread that came down from heaven, He is the living water which becomes in those who drink it “a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.” The life which constantly flows from Him is a substance which bears the same relation to the spiritual body that natural bread bears to the material body, and renders it the same service. In perfect accordance with this plain statement of our Lord, Swedenborg says, “The life of angels and spirits is not supported by any food like that of this world, but by every word which comes forth from the mouth of the Lord, as the Lord Himself teaches when He says, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ The fact is that the Lord alone is the life of all. From Him come all and everything which angels and spirits think, speak, and do. Thus the universal heaven and the universal world of spirits live by everything which proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord, and every one has thence his life; nay, this is the case not only with the heaven and the world of spirits, but also with the whole race of mankind. If angels, spirits, and men were deprived of this meat they would instantly expire.”

By the words which proceed out of the mouth of the Lord we are not to understand mere verbal expressions, but those Divine and substantial forces of love and truth which constantly flow from Him and which are to all spiritual life as the heat and light of the sun to vegetable life.

One of the great difficulties in understanding this subject consists in our utterly inadequate and false notions concerning love and truth. Love is regarded as a feeling and truth as a matter of words, when in reality love is the cause of all feeling and of all the activities of life; and truth is the veriest reality and substantial existence in the universe. Words are only the signs or names of truths. Love and truth are the substances from which all things are derived, and out of which they are created. God is love. Love is His flesh, the bread with which He feeds all intelligent beings. His blood is Divine truth, which cleanses from sin the soul that drinks it; truth sustains, enlarges, invigorates, and builds up the human soul. Truth is the blood of the spiritual body, and carries in its red currents the substances of which it is organized. It is real, genuine, substantial drink. With regard to this subject Swedenborg, speaking of man’s nature and quality, says, “His spirit is greatly delighted with knowledge, insomuch that it seems of all things the most desirable; it is his food whereby he is refreshed, as is the external man by terrestrial food. This food, which is that of the spirit, is communicated to his external man, to the end that the external man may be adapted to the internal. But the different kinds of food succeed each other according to the following order: celestial food is every good principle of love and charity from the Lord; spiritual food is every truth of faith. On these kinds of food the angels live. From these exists a food, which is also celestial and spiritual, but of an inferior angelic nature, on which live angelic spirits. From this again exists a food, celestial and spiritual, still inferior, which is that of reason and of science thence derived. On this live good spirits. Lastly comes corporeal food, which is proper to man while he lives in the body. These kinds of food correspond with each other in a wonderful manner.”

It is not, therefore, a figure of speech which our Lord uses when He calls Himself the “bread of life.” He states a universal fact. Every substance which gives and sustains life is a form of His love and wisdom in that plane of the creation in which it exists. The harvests of wheat and corn which clothe our prairies and cover our hills; the delicious fruits which nestle among the leaves, hang in purple clusters from the vine, and load the trees with their precious burdens, embodying odors and savors and substances for the sustenance and delight of man, are all forms, each after its own kind, of the Lord's love and truth. The loaf of bread upon our table is the Divine love in material form and substance as truly as those forces which kindle into holy ardor the affections of the angels. We know from our own experience that love gives us strength, excites to action, and sustains us in the most protracted labors of body and mind. We know that there is no thought and no action where love is wanting. The Divine love, which is life, sustains; power is the bread we are to daily ask the Lord to give us. How are we to ask?

1. By repeating the words the Lord has given us. There is a great and precious use in regular, stated prayer. Our children should learn this prayer and form the habit of using it. They may not think much of its meaning; they may not understand its full import. No man and no angel does. But it is the true form of thought and affection, and it becomes the means of conjunction and communication between those who use it and the angels and the Lord. It is a vessel for the reception of spiritual life; it is an instrument of transmitting heavenly influences to the soul. It becomes “remains” in the secret chambers of the heart which may be vivified in some critical and favorable moment, and be the means of turning the balance of influence in favor of heaven. Even if no positive good is gained, some evil may be prevented. The habit of lifting up our thoughts to the Lord in any time of temptation, of joy or sorrow; when we are in doubt what course to pursue; when we feel our need of strength and guidance, will have a most important influence upon our progress in spiritual life.

2. We must ask by diligently seeking to secure the means of obtaining the bread which we need. We must procure and bring to the Lord the vessels which can receive and retain the bread we ask. The beggars who go from door to door provide a basket in which to receive what is given them. Divine truths are the only vessels which will receive and retain the bread of heaven. We must learn these truths from the Word. Spiritual truths are the only vessels which can receive and retain spiritual life. Natural truths will not. A man might know all the facts and principles and laws of the material world, if such an amount of knowledge were possible, without having a spiritual idea, or anything in his mind capable of receiving and being acted upon by the Holy Spirit which is Divine truth. The memory must be stored and the understanding formed by Divine truths before the Lord can make us spiritual. He operates upon us by means of a force, an influence. There must be something in us to receive the force and be affected by it. The Lord cannot communicate a heavenly affection to a stone or to an animal, because there is nothing in them to receive it. The stone can be acted upon by heat and light; the animal can receive affection and sensation in low forms because it has an organization adapted to the forces which produce those effects. But sensation cannot be communicated to the stone, and a rational love to God and man cannot be given to the animal for the same reason. The ear does not ask for light, and light cannot be given to it, because it is not a vessel organized to receive it. The law is of universal application. We cannot think upon any subject or love any person of whom we have no knowledge.

If, therefore, we desire to receive the love of the Lord, which is the bread of life, we must learn truths which relate to Him. Divine truths are called in the Word spiritual riches. They are to man’s spiritual progress and attainment as gold and silver and precious stones to supplying his natural wants and ministering to his natural delights. He should, therefore, be more eager and diligent in obtaining them in great abundance and variety than he is in acquiring natural wealth. He should seek for them as for hid treasure. He should pray for them morning, noon, and evening. He should store his memory with them. No two truths are exactly alike, consequently they do not receive precisely the same form of good. The bread will differ in quality; will be more or less adapted to sustain spiritual life; will differ in flavor and delicious power to nourish and enlarge our spiritual faculties as the truths which receive it differ in quality. As water takes on the form of the vessel which contains it, so the Divine love takes on the qualities of the truth which receives it. When we are learning Divine truths and storing our minds with them we are praying for our spiritual bread.

3. But a vessel will remain empty and render us no service unless we take it to the fountain and fill it. No asking is effective, and no prayer is complete until it be comes embodied in the deed. We may have an abundance of vessels and know where the bread is, but unless we put the bread into the basket; unless we eat it, it will not sustain and nurture our souls. We fill the truth with heavenly bread when we do what the truth tells us to do. When we begin to obey the commandments the love flows in. The Lord fills them with the bread of heaven; He gives us His flesh to eat. This is the most difficult part of the prayer; but it is the part which gives fullness and effect to the others. An illustration from natural bread will show this. We pray for material bread when we feel the need of it, when we learn how to get it and actually procure it. But the hunger, which is the prayer of the body for bread, is not answered until we eat it and it becomes a part of its tissues. So the prayer of our spiritual bodies is not fully made and answered until we appropriate the love of the Lord, and it becomes a component part of our spiritual organism. The Divine love must be in us; it must be flowing through our spiritual arteries and conveying life to every organ, and become life as it is incorporated into it. This reception and appropriation of the Divine love takes place in the exercise of the affections which this love creates. We pray for this bread in every act of keeping the commandments and in every effort to keep them. We pray this prayer when we shun evils as sins against God, and when we do good because it is from God and of God. We offer this petition when we perform any useful service to others from regard to their good.

Finally, let us consider more fully what is meant by “this day” and “daily” in its application to our spiritual sustenance and growth, for it is a most important part of the petition. Day, when translated into spiritual language, means state. It can have no reference to time or space, as there are no fixed times and spaces in the spiritual world, and these qualities of matter have no relation to the spirit. By daily is not meant simply enough bread for today, but support and nourishment for every possible state and degree of affection. The real meaning of this clause of the prayer is, Give me today what I need today. It is not a request that our Heavenly Father will give us today what we need for tomorrow and for all coming time, but what we need now. There is much more implied in this petition than appears upon the surface.

4. It implies entire trust in the Lord. It implies the conviction that He will do the best He can for us at all times and in all conditions. There is in the very nature of self-love a disposition to depend upon ourselves and to distrust the Lord. This is the cause of all our regrets for the past, all our corroding cares for the present, all our anxieties about the future. As we look back over the past and see how many of our plans have failed, how many mistakes we have made, how much suffering and sorrow have been caused by our ignorance, our willfulness, our perversities, we sometimes feel disposed to distrust the goodness and constant care of our Heavenly Father. Why did He not prevent us from taking some step which led to loss of health or property or friends, and to a long train of miseries? Why did He permit us to do a deed, to form some acquaintance, to make an alliance which has made life a failure and caused years of suffering and sorrow? There is a feeling that the Lord might have prevented these evils if He were disposed to do so. But He could not. He did the best He could for us at the time. He could not restrain us by principles which had no existence in our minds. He could not guide us by knowledge which we did not possess. He could not lead us by motives and affections which had never been awakened in our hearts. He cannot guide the ignorant by heavenly intelligence. He cannot lead the perverse and malignant will by heavenly affections. He restrained us from evil as fully as we would be restrained. Do we know how much He restrains us? How much sin, sorrow, and agony we should rush into if His restraining hand was not constantly laid upon us? We know nothing of what is prevented. What might have been if we had pursued a different course we can never tell. There are infinite paths leading from every point. Endless consequences result from every act. Every truth or falsity we learn, every good or evil affection we exercise, every deed we do modifies to some extent our eternal future. The Lord does the best He can every moment to restrain us from evil, to lead us in the wisest way, to give us the bread we need.

We look upon great events as the controlling agencies of life, and as those which are specially under the direction of the Divine Providence. But this is not so. It is the little, daily constant acts and influences which cause the great events and become the controlling forces of life. The greater is made up of the less. The Lord acts in leasts and by means of them in the greatests. He feeds and sustains our spiritual life as He does our physical life momentarily, and in every least, infinitesimal point. He provides in the least parts for the whole and in every point of time for eternity. The whole of life is in every part. If we trust the Lord in the present we trust Him always. If we do our duty today according to our highest knowledge and ability we establish the strongest safeguards against evil and sorrow, and we make the surest provisions for our eternal good. Tomorrow is the flower and fruitage of today; eternity, of time. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” The present is the only time in which we can act. The love and wisdom we possess is the only love and wisdom we can use. Let us then learn this prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Let us cease to mourn over the past; let us cease to fear or hope for the future; let us live in the present; let us do the work of the present; let us enjoy the good of the present; let us trust in the Lord for our bread today, and we shall trust Him forever; we shall not know any want; we shall be guided by the highest wisdom and shall obtain the greatest good.

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