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.
Piper Mealtime Prayers
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.
If you prefer that everyone at the table say a prayer of thanks together, I suggest trying these mealtime prayers that John Piper created for his family years ago. There are shorter and longer prayers.
Lord Jesus, thank you for this day,
And for the night of rest,
And for this food, and for the way
That we are always blessed.
Lord Jesus, thank you for these gifts
And what each one displays;
For your own steady love which lifts
Our hearts in midday praise.
Lord Jesus, come now to our meal,
And bless to us this food;
Where faith is weak, dear Lord, reveal
That all you give is good.
Our Father, every day you give
The food by which our bodies live.
For this we thank you from our heart
And pray that as we this day start,
You might allow our eyes to see
Your endless generosity.
And grant that when we thus are filled,
We may do only what you’ve willed.
We're grateful, Father, for this hour
To rest and draw upon your power
Which you have shown in sun and rain
And measured out to every grain.
Let all this food which you have made
And graciously before us laid
Restore our strength for this next hour
That we may have your fullest power.
How faithful, Father, is your care;
Again as always food is there.
Again you have set us before
A meal we pray will mean much more
Than single persons filled with food;
Let there be, Lord, a loving mood.
And as you make our bodies new,
Come now and feed our oneness too.
Don’t Forget to Thank God for the Dishes!
And we should not forget that dirty dishes are an evidence of God’s grace. They represent the fact that we have food to eat, tools to prepare and eat it with, and a place to live. They are mercies. So washing dishes is not a moment for grumbling (Philippians 2:14), but a moment for gratitude. Using John Piper’s short poem form, allow me to suggest a cleanup prayer:
Prayer for Dirty Dishes
Lord Jesus, thank you for the grace
These dishes represent:
Sufficient food and living space;
Kind mercies you have sent.