Welcome to Give Us This Day, the daily Bible devotional I’ve written for every passage in the New Testament. I began to write Give Us This Day in the summer of 2006, in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit for me to write a daily Bible devotional based on the ancient way of reading the Scriptures known as the lectio divina. Originally called Daily Bread for the first four years of its existence, my daily devotionals began as a daily e-mail that I sent out to a growing readership. However, for some time it has been my goal to publish the entire series of devotionals so that there would be a daily Bible devotional for every passage of the New Testament. Some of you have been reading Give Us This Day from the beginning, and I thank all of you who have been its faithful readers over the years.
While I originally wrote Give Us This Day primarily for the Reformed Episcopal Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas at which I was serving as rector (St. Chrysostom’s then, but now called Christ Anglican), I became aware that many others might profit by these devotionals. When I first began writing, I surveyed the other daily devotionals that were out there and immediately noticed some differences between what I was writing and what others had written. I was concerned that most of the other devotionals only dealt with a verse of the Bible for each day, and I could find none that provided a devotional for every passage of the New Testament. I also noticed that what I had written was usually longer than the uniformly bite-sized devotionals that seemed to be the publishing norm. In addition, most other devotionals did not include suggestions for further meditations and virtually none offered suggested resolutions to help put into effect what God had revealed through a given passage. At the end of each Give Us This Day meditation, I therefore offer not only a Prayer but also some Points for Further Reflection and a daily Resolution.
This particular volume covers St. Matthew’s Gospel and is the first in what will be an eight-volume series which covers the entire New Testament. Give Us This Day will be made available as a printed book, an e-book, and also, hopefully, available as a daily devotional that is sent each day to those on my list.
“Give us this day our daily bread” is the most fundamental prayer we can ask on behalf of ourselves. Knowing this, our Lord not only commanded us to pray for this every day but also offers Himself to us as our daily bread.
As the Bread of Life that offers Himself to us each day as true spiritual food, Jesus comes to us in many ways. The feedings of the 4000 and 5000 (especially in the Gospel of St. John) remind us that it is through faithful participation in the covenantal meal of the Holy Communion that Jesus feeds us. Through the creatures of bread and wine, Jesus gives His Body and Blood to us and feeds us at His heavenly banquet.
But He feeds us in other ways. In one of his sermons, St. Augustineexpresses his belief that the feeding of the 4000 isn’t just about filling the bellies of men with bread and fish, nor is it solely about the Holy Communion. For St. Augustineand others, the Bread of Life is also the Holy Scriptures, upon which we are to feed every day, for they are the words of life. That the Word of God is also the Bread of God is satisfyingly illustrated by the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent in the Book of Common Prayer, in which we ask God to “Grant that we may in such wise hear them [the Scriptures], read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”
However, Christians in the twenty-first century often do not properly eat or digest the Word of God. I’ve noticed some of you snacking in a sort of hit and run fashion, as you rush to lead your “real life.” “I’ll squeeze in a chapter of Bible reading today,” you think. Some of you are to be commended for devoting yourself to studying the Scriptures, but unfortunately it is in such a way that only the mind is fed. Meanwhile, the soul gets spiritual kwashiorkor, which may easily be identified by your distended spiritual belly.
Scripture must therefore be eaten with prayer, which may be likened to the spiritual blood into which the bread of life must be digested and ingested. Through a life of prayer, the Word of God is carried into every part of your life and becomes your life, just as a piece of digested food is broken down, enters the blood, and is carried to every part of your body. Only through a life of prayer, which is a third means by which Jesus becomes our daily bread, will the Word of God become spiritual food for us. After all, haven’t many of us had teachers of the Bible in college who have read and studied the Word but who, apart from a life of prayer and obedience, use their studies to starve themselves and others?
The most fruitful way I know of to receive my daily bread of Scripture is through the ancient practice of the lectio divina, or divine reading, with which I hope many of you are familiar. The essence of the lectio divina is not just another Bible study to inform our minds. Instead, the lectio divina is formative reading, in which we allow the Holy Scriptures, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to form our very being. There are four basic steps in this divine reading:
1. lectio – reading/ listening
a. Cultivate the ability to listen deeply.
b. Your reading is slow, formative reading.
c. Your reading is based on previous reading and study.
2. meditatio – meditation
a. Gently stop reading when you have found a word, phrase, or passage through which God is speaking to you personally.
b. Ruminate over this passage, as a cow ruminates or chews its cud.
c. Say the passage over and over, noticing different aspects – “taste” it!
d. Allow God’s Word to become His word for you at every level of your being and to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas.
a. Pray – or dialogue with God – over the passage.
b. Interact with God as one who loves you and is present with you.
c. Allow God to transform your thoughts, memories, agendas, tendencies, and habits.
d. Re-affirm and repeat what God has just told you.
4. contemplatio – contemplation
a. Rest in the presence of the One who has come to transform and bless you.
b. Rest quietly, experiencing the presence of God.
c. Leave with a renewed energy and commitment to what God has just told you.
Daily reading of the Holy Scriptures through the lectio divina is just the food we need to nourish and correct our impoverished spiritual lives, our over-emphasis on the intellect, and our random foragings into the Bible that leave us unsatisfied.
A Few Words of Advice:
1. Use what is profitable, and don’t worry about the rest.
2. Don’t feel the need to meditate on every part of every Give Us This Day. It’s not good to exhaust yourself spiritually. Also, don’t feel it necessary keep up with a different Resolution every day: you’ll drive yourself crazy in the process and unnecessarily feel like a failure! Work on what God is calling you to work on. Use the Give Us This Days as they are most profitable for you.
3. If God stops you and tells you to do something different – for example to meditate on one small part of the lesson and apply it to your life today – drop everything else and listen to Him!
4. Most importantly: once you’ve developed the godly habit of meditating on the Bible every day – don’t ever let go of it!
Ways to Profitably Eat Give Us This Day
1. Find and use some system for reading Scripture on a daily basis. I’ve organized Give Us This Day in the canonical order of the New Testament: from Matthew to Revelation. But many church traditions use a lectionary system of reading the New Testament. With your favorite lectionary in hand, you can read Give Us This Day according the daily New Testament assigned by that lectionary. For example, the Roman Catholic Church uses a form of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which is also used by the American Baptist Churches, the Disciples of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church. Other churches, such as my own Reformed Episcopal Church, use a different lectionary system.
2. Give Us This Day was written with the conscious aim of encouraging the reader to think more actively about the act of interpretation. While the literal meaning of the text is always the beginning point, the Bible can legitimately be applied in other ways. I’ve especially tried to suggest that the Bible is best read with the interpretation of the entire Church in mind.
3. I’ve also written Give Us This Day so that it could serve as a reference point for Bible study: in other words, as a kind of commentary to be consulted and not only a daily devotional to be used only once.
4. The Resolutions found in each Give Us This Day are another resource that should not be neglected. It may be neither desirable nor possible to follow the prescribed Resolution for each day. But these Resolutions can be returned to for further reference and used even apart from the devotional for the day.
5. The Prayers of Give Us This Day, many of which have been taken from a variety of historical sources, are also a rich resource that bears repeated use. Together, the prayers form a kind of treasury of prayer that can be used in any of a variety of ways. They especially include a number of different ways to think about how to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
6. Finally, in the future I hope to add even greater resources to Give Us This Day, such as an index of keywords and topics and possibly artwork and interactivity.
A Note on Interpretation
Most of us who believe the Bible is the Word of God naturally assume that God intends it all for me, but even if this is true, the question remains as to how it applies to me. This is the task of all interpretation, including teaching and preaching. Historically, the Church has read the Bible in four senses or kinds of interpretations: the literal, allegorical, moral (or tropological), and anagogical. The allegorical meaning, of which so many Bible-believing Christians are afraid, is simply applying a given passage to Jesus Christ or the Church Militant (the Church still here on earth). We interpret the Bible allegorically all the time whenever we read the Old Testament and find Jesus Christ in it, for the literal meaning may be about the entrance into the Promised Land or about kings or about the delicate art of sacrificing animals. Yet we know that such passages also teach us about Christ. The moral sense is also one we use all the time, even if we claim we are only being literal. A moral interpretation of a passage involves applying it to yourself or other Christians. The anagogical interpretation means applying the passage to the heavenly realities and is thus (here goes another big word) eschatological in nature, applying the Word of God to the end things, or the world to come, on which we think too infrequently.
Give Us This Day is designed to be primarily moral in its interpretation because I want each of you to apply the Word of God to your life. But your life is not merely your own: it belongs to Christ, and so we seek Jesus Christ in His Church (allegorical interpretation). And all who are truly Christians are part of the Body of Christ and hopefully part of a local body, and therefore much of what the Bible says must be allegorical in this sense.
May God bless you through Give Us This Day, however you choose to use it, however you allow God to use it in your life. It is, in essence, but one way to make sure God’s people are meditating on His Word even as they pray. Feel free to share it with friends and pass along those parts that may be profitable to your brothers and sisters in Christ.