Have you ever bowed your head in prayer, saying the blessing before a meal, and a selfish thought comes into your mind? Have you ever seen the movie Shenandoah? Jimmy Stewart portrays a wealthy farmer in the 1860s in Shenandoah, VA. Jimmy Stewart begins and ends the 1964 movie with a blessing at the table. The opening blessing features Stewart giving God thanks, but not knowing why. God didn’t plow the fields or harvest the crops or build the barns. Around the table are six sons and a few others. He was not a slave owner and didn’t want any part of the war, but the war found him. One of the women was raped by Yankee raiders. Sons, daughters and in-laws were killed. The prayer at the end of the movie found a nearly empty table. The blessing was heart-felt. He praised God for all that he had, although he had a fraction of what he had when the movie started.
When we get the devil putting ideas of self-reliance into our heads, we might need to perform an exercise. Let’s say that the meal is a simple one: chicken, a vegetable, and mashed potatoes. These were all purchased at the super market, but how did they get there? They were trucked from a distributor. Further up the line of distribution, they came from a processing plant. The chicken was processed using equipment designed to prevent bacteria, etc. That equipment, made of steel, was designed by equipment designers, who manufactured the equipment, shipped it to the location, and assembled it. The chicken came from a farm to the processing plant, again by truck. The farmer raised it from an egg or got hatchlings from a hatchery, usually attached to the processing plant or owned by the same people. The farmer may be free range or may house the chickens in brooder houses, specially designed to provide a safe environment for the chickens. (Note: Turkey farmers have significantly different brooder houses due to the differences in the two poultry species.) The chickens eat feed. This feed could be grown by the farmer or supplied. In either case, grains are grown in fields. The vegetable for the meal was also grown in the fields. The soil in the fields has to have enough nutrients for plant growth, either provided by fallow years, growing something like sunflowers or soy beans which add nutrients to the soil, or by chemical fertilizers. The potatoes are yet another crop, grown in fields.
Why do we thank God for that meal when we bought the groceries, cooked the meal, and served it with our own strength? We could break that one question down? In God’s sovereignty, He provided us with a job so that we could afford to buy the groceries. So many people don’t have jobs. God provided enough affluence for us to have a cook stove, power for the stove, and the intellect to read and understand the recipe. There are those who can’t follow recipes, don’t have stoves, and/or don’t have utilities. On my first trip to Thailand, some business associates allowed us to borrow the company driver for a weekend of being a tourist. After taking us to the crocodile farm, the 100 year old rock garden, the Buddhist temples, etc. the driver took us to his home. We couldn’t tell where he was taking us at first. We rode down a dirt lane between what looked like self-storage garages. He stopped in front of one that had the roll door opened. There was no electricity, so it was dark. You could see a concrete floor, mattresses on cots which provided a bed off the floor, and a propane cook stove. He was so proud of his home and his affluence. He had cots, while his neighbors slept on rice mats on the concrete floor, susceptible to invasion by jungle snakes and other denizens of the night. He was the only one in his neighborhood with a cook stove. I had seen those stoves in the department stores. They weren’t cheap and represented over one year’s wages for him. What was absent was a bathroom. There was a back door and a ditch behind the row of storage units for that. Where did they get water? Carried from a hose bib a block or two away. Compare this to my first trip to India where the women walked miles with containers on their heads to find the nearest water. The greatest blessing for our driver in Thailand was probably his health. He was in his fifties, and he still had a job. That is old for a Thai. If an STD doesn’t kill you, there are blood borne pathogens that will. The accident rate is unbelievable. There are spiders, snakes, and other things that can kill. Monsoons come each year, often not bad, but sometimes causing tremendous flooding with hundreds of deaths. A week later, I was the sole commissioning team member left on site, ready to return home. I was instructed to give the driver enough money for gas and tolls for his return trip when he dropped me off in Bangkok at the airport’s hotel. I had no need for the Thai money in my wallet, except a little of the exit tax. I think I gave him enough for a month’s worth of gas and tolls. My thought was that the project would end soon, and he’d be looking for work. Actually, the SE Asia economy collapsed within a year of that visit and almost everyone was out of work. The steel mill where I had worked was bankrupt.
Our sovereign God put the stars in motion at the dawn of time so that at the precise time of Jesus’ birth, a star would be seen by magi and interpreted as the sign of a great king being born. For us to have a simple meal, God had his hand in the weather so that the fields got enough rain at the right time, but not too much. Often farmers work late into the night harvesting the crops while the ground is dry enough to move equipment into the fields, keeping their eyes on the impending storm that could wash out their year’s efforts. With each tool used for the harvest, we could look at the raw materials and manufacturing equipment necessary to make that tool.
We could also look at the people. God placed people in our lives with whom we interact, allowing us to have the food on the table. These people include the people at the store, the people that write the recipes, and the people that televise the cooking show, publish the cook book, etc. Thousands of people participated in getting the food to the table when you consider the supply chains. Thousands of people participated in you having the money to pay for the groceries from your employer to your customers. With a slight shift in the economy, all of this healthy economic system could be in ruin. You would be left with a grocery store that does not have what you need or the prices are too high. You could be out of work and out of unemployment benefits. Fuel prices could be so high that the food can’t economically be brought to the store, or you have no fuel in your home to cook the food.
We live in a stable economy compared to most places in the world. We expect to have what others only dream of having. As did Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie, Shenandoah, we might be more grateful for what we have after our excess is gone.
Praise the Lord, and Lord, give us this day our daily bread.