In America, we pride ourselves on our rugged independence. We're a self-made people. There is much good in this kind of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps way of life. Hard work and ingenuity are hard-wired into the Creation mandate by a God who gave man the gift of work in the Garden and who commanded Him to "subdue" the earth. When man works hard with his hands and his mind, when he takes the raw materials God has given him and makes something, he images God. God creates. And God created special creatures to create.
But man is not self-made in any way. Man begins with the earth's substance that God provides. Man is born into a world not of his choosing, a time and place ordained by a sovereign God. The social structures, educational opportunities, parentage, even the obstacles you overcome on your rags-to-riches journey--these were all ordered by a God. You did not conceive yourself nor build the world into which you were created.
This reality--acknowledging our dependence on God even as we work hard and advance--seems important to Jesus. When offering the disciples a theological template for prayer, he used the words, "Give us this day our daily bread." That phrase, so oft-repeated in the 2,000 years since they first came off Jesus' lips, are at the heart of what it means to live by faith.
Yes, we work hard. We toil. We demonstrate integrity. We move against obstacles. But in all of our activity, we are not our own providers. We are not our own creators. We are not our own gods. We need daily bread to be given to us.
We are dependent on God. This is why prayer, while simple, is such a revolutionary act. To bow the knee and request something from God, something as simple as bread, acknowledges that He is God and that you are not. It reminds that there is a King, a Sovereign, a Lord of all. It reminds us of our humanity, our dependence, our gratitude for the Giver of all things.
We pray before our meals, not because if we don't, we'll choke on the steak or that somehow the calories in the casserole will magically disappear. We don't pray for protection from poisoning or out of fear that if we forget, God will strike us.
We pray before meals as a simple act of faith and a bold declaration that there is a King who provides for His people. We pray before meals as an act of humility, recognizing that for all of our effort, the food only got to the table, primarily, because God in His Fatherly goodness, willed it to be there.
So Americans who work hard and pay their bills and put food on the table are best served by recognizing that there is really no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We're all under the mercy and care of the only One who can make something out of nothing.