Christians have a long tradition of pausing and thanking God before eating a meal. It’s so common that sometimes we can slide into and out of our prayer without much thought. Other times we may blow right by prayer and neglect it altogether.
But I think praying before we eat is a healthy spiritual practice. It’s good for us. And as a result, it is something that we should carefully and faithfully do. Here are some reasons why.
To Acknowledge God
The Scriptures teach that every good gift comes from God (James 1:17). The doctrine of providence means that everything comes from his Fatherly hand. The food we eat certainly falls into this category. Consider the hands of God preparing your lunch! You would thank him for this, wouldn’t you? But there’s more. Through his intricate providential workings, he has ordained not only the ends (your lunch) but also the means (all of the steps in the process to bring it to your plate). Take some time to consider the steps that were required to go from the farm to your table or from the ocean to your plate. It’s quite astounding. Prayer pauses to acknowledge that behind the delicious curry (and the taste buds required to enjoy it), there is a loving and good God who provides it to you.
To Be Humbled
It’s humbling to say, “thank-you.” It’s hard. But as Christians, we understand that our priority is reflecting Christ, who modeled humility for us (Phil. 2:3–11). To pause and bow our heads and thank God is to admit that we are not God. While we may not walk around saying that we are God, to think we are self-sufficient is acting like it. Meals typically happen two or three times a day. These are wonderful speed bumps to have throughout your day, slowing our parades of self-sufficiency. Think about how many times you’ve interrupted a bad day with a meal. Prayer is another speed bump that slows you down and puts everything in perspective. By praying, sincerely praying, we are stopping and humbling ourselves before him.
Prayer before eating a meal is speedbump in our hectic lives slowing us down and reminding us that we’re not God and how good that is.
To Express Gratitude
Along the same lines of the previous two, stopping to give thanks before eating is an act of expressing gratitude. In the Old Testament, the people of God would bring a grain offering to God to show their tribute to him (Lev. 2). Bound up in this is their gratitude to God for providing atonement for them but also for giving everything for them. They offered out of their first fruits (Lev. 2:11-14) as an expression of gratitude. Prayer before eating is a chance to thank God for the food he provides with an eye toward the spiritual food he provides for us in Jesus Christ.
For Those Who Are Listening
Though not our primary objective, praying in public does affect those around us. Whether a server or another patron in a restaurant, they see you bow your head and close your eyes in prayer. It makes them at least double take and wonder what you are doing and why you are doing it. In my context here in New England, where the evangelical population hovers at less than 2 percent, the likelihood of seeing someone pray in a restaurant is slightly less than seeing a unicorn at a neighboring table. This makes people wonder. It also affects those with whom you are eating. Whether it is around the family table or lunch with another believing friend, thoughtful prayer before eating affects us. Praying before a meal should not be our primary evangelistic or discipleship strategy, but it should undoubtedly be part of it.
To Prevent Apostasy
I am fully aware that praying before you eat breakfast is not the only thing that’ll keep someone from walking away from the faith. But, I do know that a lack of gratitude is a mark of an unbeliever (Rom. 1:21) and that failing to acknowledge God as God provokes his wrath (Rom. 1:28). Over the last 20 or so years in ministry, I’ve been blessed to hear what comes out of people’s mouths as they give thanks to God before eating. But I’ve also been concerned. On several occasions, I’ve seen people walk away from Jesus, who would either avoid prayer all-together or just ram through a token canned, meal prayer. Heartfelt and sincere prayer before eating has a sanctifying effect upon you. Don’t overlook its value.
Prayer before a meal can become so common that we slide into and out of it without much thought. Other times we may blow right by prayer and neglect it altogether. This is a missed opportunity for us.
To Be Like Jesus
In the life of Jesus, we see him regularly stopping to thank God for providing food. He prays before the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt. 14:19). He prays before the Last Supper (Matt. 26:26–29). He is always thanking God for what he has given. If Jesus, as busy and as important as he is, stopped to give thanks to God, then I think you and I should also.
Do you stop to pray and thank God before eating? I’m not trying to impose a legalistic standard upon you. Instead, I’m trying to commend a profitable and time-tested way to train your heart and your tongue to thank God for what he has provided for you (Matt. 6:11). And in doing so, it reminds you that this same God has provided for all of your needs in Christ (Rom. 8:32).