In the context of the ministry of Jesus, this is a prayer for the needs of the individual. Frequently “our daily bread” is made into “spiritual bread” or a sacrament, but that is not what Jesus is talking about. While this is a genuine attempt to make the text “applicable,” it misses the point that Jesus is setting up a model prayer for his disciples. The followers of Jesus really did live in crushing poverty and relied on God for their daily bread!
This is a very Jewish idea, that the ones with food would share it with the poor, James 2:15 for example, indicates it is our responsibility to care for the brothers and sisters who do not have food. In the Second Temple book Psalm of Solomon the writer encourages moderate living and contentment (PsSol 5:16-19). Later in Matthew Jesus is going to send his disciples out to visit the villages throughout the Galilee and they are to rely only on God (Matthews 10:4-15). He tells them to not take any money but rather rely on God totally for their needs.
In a culture which did not have a way to store food, sharing makes a lot of sense. Bread which is surplus will go bad, extra milk will spoil, etc. If a person “slaughters the fatted calf” they must give it all away that day since it will be wasted. This is why the poor were regularly cared for by the leftovers from a banquet table. Some holidays, Sukkoth for example, included sharing food with strangers intentionally. There is nothing like this in the modern church, even the potluck is something of a trade – few people stay for a pot luck if they have brought nothing.
In Church history, some people have gone to extremes which are not at all what is in mind here. There were some in the medieval period who took voluntary vows of poverty, relying on begging for their daily needs. Their goal was noble, to be like Christ in every way, including his poverty, but a Mendicant monk was not balancing voluntary poverty with Paul’s command to work and provide for your own needs (1 Thess 4:8-12).
A monk living in voluntary poverty stood in contrast to the extreme riches of the church. The great cathedrals cost enormous amounts of money in a time when there was great poverty. Is it right to spend that much on a building or for the opulent trappings which went along with this in a time when people were dying of starvation? The mendicant reaction was reasonable, but perhaps misguided.
This balance between poverty and riches has always been a problem for the Christian. Usually this results in a wise use of resources (which are provided by God) so that needs are met and God’s work is supported.
How are we to pray for our daily needs? First, recognize we have daily needs. It is very difficult for us to admit we do have daily needs. Part of the reason is that they are so easily met we do not think of them as needs. Most of us have never really suffered from serious want, so food and shelter are taken for granted.
Second, develop an attitude of thanksgiving for how God has provided for your needs. We have a job, we have resources which are far beyond what we deserve, and from the perspective of the history of the world, mind-boggling in richness. No generation of the church has been as wealthy as the western church of the twenty-first century. How often do we seriously thank God for allowing us to be born when and where he did?
Third, bring your real needs before the Lord. God is not too busy to be interested in our needs, do not think that our physical needs are so insignificant that God is not interested in them. Analogy: Perhaps your child has an assignment in school, maybe a science fair project. They are perfectly capable of doing it without ever telling you about it, but most parents are thrilled to hear about what their kids are doing in school, and want to help (or even take over the project!) Just as you are happy to know about and help your child, God is thrilled when we bring him our projects, needs wants, desires.
Finally, find ways in which you can be used to provide for the needs of others. There are some who are praying for their daily needs who are going to struggle to make ends meet, who are needing the miraculous gift of a bag of groceries, or an anonymous Meijer card in the mail at Christmas. God gave us our affluence in order to manage it for him, we ought to find places to make use of our riches to meet the needs of others.