It felt weird again, praying before we ate. When you jump back into a habit after falling out of it for a bit, it can feel abrupt and awkward.
Probably since the first day of my existence outside of my mother's womb, prayer at meals has been a regular fixture. Missing prayer at a meal throws me off.
If I missed praying before a meal when I was younger, I would think things like, Will I now choke on a piece of the daily bread I should have just given thanks for?
The superstition of the ritual being broken caused me to wonder what curse I had just brought down upon myself. Perhaps the sandwich itself was prepared by hands that had not been properly cleaned and some insidious bacteria would now eat away at my stomach lining. Yikes. (Such is the thought patterns of someone who is banking on superstition instead of Scripture.)
Even when out at a restaurant with others, pausing for a moment to give thanks is a customary practice. For me, prayer and eating go together. For many, I suspect this isn't the habit and I would encourage you to pick it up.
A PATTERN OF THANKS
Prayer should be a habit of the Christian life. Scripture teaches us “pray constantly” (1 Thess. 5:17) and “give thanks in everything” (1 Thess. 5:18). Jesus used a parable to get across the point that we “ought to always pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1-8). Part of the Christian’s armament for the Christian life is “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18).
Prayer at the regular intervals of normal, ordinary life fuel our dependence on God.
Praying at a meal is a part of pursuing Jesus in all of life. When eating a meal, give thanks for it. The pattern to implement is this: First, pause before the meal. Second, pray aloud, expressing gratitude for God's provision of the food. Third, if so desired or needed at the moment, express others’ petitions. Then, eat.
This pattern is simple, ordinary, and powerful.
Here are three reasons why building this habit into your life is a simple means of walking with Christ every day.
1. GIVING THANKS AT A MEAL EXPRESSES DEPENDENCE
Whether you're praying over an elaborate, multi-course meal or over a simple bowl of cereal in the morning, giving thanks for that food demonstrates the ultimate reality that God is the provider. You are recognizing that food is in front of you because of God’s provision.
This kind of prayer is a humble way of showing an understanding of gratitude because the prayer for daily bread has been answered. The sandwich you are about to eat has been put there by God.
2. GIVING THANKS AT A MEAL IS PRAYER
Maybe the routine or the familiarity of it can seem disqualifying. Saying “Father, thank you for providing this food. May you use it to strengthen and nourish our bodies” every time you eat can seem to be a heartless duty instead of a heartfelt response. However, we should not discount the opportunity to sincerely pray and give thanks.
I think about how pleasing it is to hear my children say, "Thank you," when I give them something they may need and the times when I give them something they enjoy. Even though they may use similar language when it happens, it’s still good to know they are grateful for that gift.
So it is with our Heavenly Father. He does not grow impatient when he hears his children say, "Thank you for this food."
3. GIVING THANKS AT A MEAL IS A TESTIMONY TO OTHERS
We may feel uncomfortable praying in front of other people or in public places. However, a briefly offered prayer of gratitude for every meal, even those eaten in public among non-Christians, is a testimony of your faith. I say that with the caveat that we don't want to be condescending ("Look at those pagans who eat without gratitude") or spiritual exhibitionists ("God, I thank you that I'm thankful in public").
We can show humble gratitude and faith in our prayers. We commend Christ to the world when we pray, wherever we are, and give thanks for his provision to us (2 Cor. 5:10).
LET US THANK HIM FOR OUR FOOD
We may think the habitual, repetitive practice of prayer at a meal is a rote superstition. But if we are mindful and sincere in our prayers, we can develop a powerful and humble pathway of pursuing Jesus frequently throughout the day.
Had it not been for the immediate practice of prayer in my own home growing up, I’m not sure I would have ever picked up the habit. Yet this ordinary and simple endeavor to share with the Lord our thanksgiving for his grace is part and parcel of walking with Jesus day by day.
Jeremy Writebol is the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, MI and the Executive Director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in The Present and a contributing author to several other publications. He writes personally at jwritebol.net.