By Cole Douglas Claybourn, Crosswalk.com
It’s a common practice for most Christians, whether it be a Tuesday taco night or a Thanksgiving feast, to say “grace” before a meal.
Our pre-meal prayers can range from simple, recited prayers to longer, more specific prayers, but they all do the same thing — give thanks to God for the meal and company that we are about to experience.
But have you ever wondered why we do it? Is it just a customary thing, or is it something deeper? By definition, prayer in any form is our chance to directly speak with our Creator, and it is the way we as Christians deepen our relationship with God. Whether it’s to give thanks for a meal or to ask God to help you endure a tough season, prayer is the lifeblood of our faith.
The Bible is full of stories of people coming together over a table to share a meal. Whether you’re flying solo at a diner or with family over a holiday, here are four reasons why praying before a meal is essential:
1. Because we are following Jesus’s example.
Part of the reason we pray before a meal is simply because that’s exactly what Jesus did.
Throughout the Bible, we see stories of Jesus feeding large crowds of people. When he fed thousands with fish and loaves, “he looked up to Heaven and said a blessing” (Matthew 14:19).
At the Last Supper, Jesus passed the cup to his disciples and told them the elements were representative of his body and his blood, given for them, and he gave thanks.
Then, following his resurrection, Jesus stopped with two men on the road to Emmaus to eat with them. He “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” (Luke 24:30).
Time and again, we see Jesus give thanks to God in all things. Whether it’s a meal with friends or in the Garden of Gethsemane when He is awaiting his death, Jesus turns to His father to give thanks.
Giving thanks before a meal aligns our hearts with the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which tells us to, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
2. To help us remember that God provides.
At times we can allow ourselves to be blinded by all that brings us pain and forget to open our eyes to all that is good in this world. Even in the midst of the fires of life, God is still working on our behalf.
We will undoubtedly experience trials and heartache on this earth, and in those times it can feel difficult to believe that God has provided, is providing, and will provide for us.
We can rest in the promise in Matthew 6:28-34, where God tells us that if he cares as much about the flowers of the field, he will care that much more about His people:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Food is the essential sustenance for our earthly bodies, and being able to enjoy a meal is evidence that God has and will provide for us.
3. To remind us that God gives us food and other things to enjoy life.
Yes, God wants us to enjoy life! Right away in Genesis 1, God declared His creation good, meaning perfect in the way He intended it. Everything that encompasses life — food, companionship, nature, beauty. All of it was intended to be good.
He has given us all of this to enjoy.
The book of Ecclesiastes, especially, speaks to this.
The author writes in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”
Then, again in chapter 5, verse 18: “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them — for this is their lot.”
In his book Hoping for Happiness, author Barnabas Piper puts it this way:
“Our delight in friendship reflects our part in the body of Christ. Our enjoyment of work and creating declares our status as image-bearers. Our pleasure in eating points us to gratitude for God’s provision and for the skills of the one who prepared the food. The peace we find in cool breezes and rolling surf is the peace of the Lord shared through his beautiful creation.
“God does, indeed, want us to be happy. He wants us to enjoy and to revel and to delight. God wants us to be holy too. What a miracle of his wisdom and love it is, then, that he has given us everything we need to find both.”
When we pray before a meal, we are coming to God in gratitude for the blessings of food, friendship, and community that enrich our lives and allow us to enjoy our time on this earth.
4. To realign our hearts with a spirit of gratitude.
We know how the story in Genesis 1 goes, and we know that Adam and Eve ruined what was intended to be good. We are prone to doing the same through overindulgence in food, drink, relationships, work, you name it. We are sinful creatures who tend to think everything is about us.
Turning a tasty meal into a chance to show God gratitude is a good step toward turning the spotlight off of you and instead onto God.
Psalm 104 shows that we can bask in God’s provision over our lives. It is good to enjoy food and drink and be glad in it. But do it with a joyful heart.
Piper spoke to this in Hoping for Happiness, as well:
“To glorify God in my eating and drinking (or whatever I do) doesn’t necessarily mean I need to be serious. It means I need to be purposeful. It means that I need to pay attention to the goodness in this world because ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’ It means eating ‘with thankfulness’ and embracing joy, which glorifies God.”
To take that a step further, as Piper explains, would be to always approach these gifts with intentional gratitude. The old adage of too much of a good thing is a bad thing still applies. We cannot rely on these things alone for our happiness, for our eternal and lasting happiness comes only from God.
“Gratitude never diminishes pleasure and it always glorifies God,” he writes. “If we find ourselves unable to be grateful for a good thing, it probably means that something is out of alignment in our hearts (or we know that thing isn’t really good for us).”
When we thank God for providing food for us, we are acknowledging that all good and perfect gifts come from Him (James 1:17). He is the source of everything we have, and praying before meals as a habit helps to remind us of that truth.
Praying before we eat with a grateful heart makes us more like Jesus, it brings pleasure and glory to God, and it recalibrates our minds on the love He has for His children, the gifts He provides us with, and the people he gives us to enjoy those gifts with.
Photo Credit: @GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages
Cole Douglas Claybourn is a writer and podcaster living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with his wife, Emily. Cole teaches high school English and is the host of the In No Hurry Podcast. His work has been featured in RELEVANT Magazine, Sports Spectrum Magazine, Outreach Magazine, Think Eternity, and USA Today. He enjoys telling stories of where faith and creativity intersect and sharing his story to help Christians navigate through their own journey. You can also find his work at coleclaybourn.com.