I love food. If this were a food blog I would fill you in on the recent culinary findings that have changed my life, but since this is a church blog I will talk about prayer – specifically prayer before meals. Last week as I was eating a sandwich at my desk (shhh don’t tell our
church administrator) I asked God to bless the food, and I paused to think about where this idea of praying before meals came from. Growing up I was taught to pray before I eat to give thanks and so the food would be blessed. Sometimes I would do it out of fear because if I forgot to, then I thought I could choke on my pizza or contract some disease from it. Every so often at church functions, we would pray after the meal and that always seemed like a risky move.
Does this sound familiar to you? As an adult, now I understand that God isn’t going to make me choke if I take a bite of food before I pray. I no longer sing “God is Good, God is Great” as quickly as possible because I don’t think that mindlessly reciting a prayer as I hold my food two inches away from my face is the best way to pray at mealtime. While I was eating lunch, I started to think about how I should change the way I pray before I eat, and I came across this article written by Jon Bloom of Desiring God Ministries that provides some good insight on this topic of mealtime prayers. Here is an excerpt from it:
Praying before we eat a meal is a beautiful thing — or should be a beautiful thing. It is gloriously appropriate to give thanks and praise to God from whom all blessings flow. And to have food to eat is a merciful blessing.
The Dark Side of Abundance
Those of us who live in prosperous regions of the globe and have never known food scarcity perhaps don’t feel much awe in it. That is a sad thing: a lack of awe. It’s the dark side of abundance. We sinners tend to grow blind to glory when there’s a lot of it. God is kind not to give us heaven yet. We would not appreciate more than a fraction of it.
Assuming there will always be way more food available than we need is a luxury very few have experienced in world history. Complaining about the food we have is a luxury hundreds of millions don’t experience now. If we lack gratitude, repentance is the only appropriate response.
Every Meal Is a Miracle
It should shock us that we don’t bow down in worship every time we come to a table full of food. God’s design in our experience of eating is simply marvelous.
Receiving strength by eating food is itself an astonishing concept. But God made eating more than pragmatic; through smell, taste, and texture he made it enjoyable for us! And he made it even more enjoyable when we share the experience with others — wherever two or more are gathered, there (typically) food is in their midst. He also made the preparation of food to be an art as well as an act of servant-hearted love. Strength. Joy. Community. Service.
And time would fail me to talk of all the vocations and human ingenuity involved in growing, nurturing, packaging, distributing, selling, and buying food. Every meal is a miracle.
Receive This Blessing with Thanksgiving
And so it is only right that we pray before meals. It should be a beautiful thing. We should not pray flippantly or out of mindless habit. We certainly shouldn’t sound bored. Miracles are not boring. To have a meal to eat so that we can continue to live for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) is a holy moment — if it is received in faith:
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4–5).
We should make sure to teach our children why we pray before meals. Unexplained traditions can result in weird ideas. The whole point to a mealtime prayer is to receive the blessing of God’s provision with thanksgiving. It’s not an incantation we chant to ensure that our food is “blessed.” Food eaten before a prayer is not any less blessed by God. You might even choose to pray at the end of a meal occasionally. Post-meal gratitude is equally and gloriously appropriate.
If we are in the habit of saying the same well-worn phrases for mealtime prayers, if others (or you) tune out during the prayer, it’s probably time for a change.
One thing to try is forcing yourself to find a fresh way to thank God for every time you sit down for a meal. Simply identify one or two unusual things to thank to God for. Think outside the box. It took thousands of combined factors to make the meal possible. It’s not that hard to identify a couple.
I love how Bloom suggests that eating can be a worshipful experience. It is an act of grace that God would create food and flavors for us to enjoy. What a good God! I hope this article has inspired you to find new ways to pray and make that time before, or after, your meals more meaningful. Let us pray, not because of mindless tradition; rather let it be a time to praise the One who has provided not only the food, but also the ability to enjoy it as it nourishes you.
Middle School Minister