Sunday, March 30, 2008

Should Christians Pray before Meals?

Praying before meals may seem like a non-issue because it is a discussion that doesn't seem all that prevalent in Christian circles. I can't think of any books dedicated to the subject, I haven't heard any sermons about it, and I'm not aware of any SBC conferences devoted to mending the rift between those in favor of mealtime invocation and those against. (I don't even want to get into the whole pre-meal/post-meal/a-meal debate.)

This is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. When should Christians pray before meals? While there are numerous passages in scripture that call us to "give thanks," there isn't a single command telling us that this must occur before meals. The closest we have to a command are the examples of Christ saying a blessing or giving thanks when he fed the 5,000 (Matther 14:19), when he fed the 4,000 (Matthew 15:36), and when he broke bread with the disciples in the upper room (Matthew 26:27).

I realize that as Christians we should live our lives in constant gratitude to the One who sustains us by his grace. But how does that translate into coming up with a "special" prayer for meals? How should we pray? Should we limit our prayer to what we are about to consume? Should we always pray before eating? Are there any settings in which prayer would be inappropriate? Does it depend on whether or not the one hosting the meal is a Christian? What if we're in the company of non-believers? Do we take into consideration the ratio of Christians to non-Christians gathered at the table? What if I'm the only Christian at the table? Is it a cultural thing? Do Christians the world over pray before they eat? And should the prayer always come before eating? What if the meal was prepared by a really bad cook? These may seem like silly questions, but you know you've asked them all at one point in your life.

I realize that some of you are probably thinking, "Of course we should pray when we eat. It isn't even up for debate." Well, ask yourself why you don't pray when you go out for ice cream. Does it depend on the quantity of food you are about to consume? (And yes, I've seen that tactic employed.) Or is it only required at designated mealtimes?

Some of you may not think it's a big deal at all. If that's the case, then what example are you setting for your children if you sometimes feel like praying before you eat and sometimes you don't?

This issue may not be as important as the debate over the doctrines of grace or the importance of sound biblical preaching in our churches. But I am curious to know your thoughts on the matter. So, what do you think?

34 comments:

Rick Beckman said...

Can't forget about 1 Timothy 4:3-5 which definitively separates Christians from the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law, provided that the meats are received with thanksgiving, prayer, and sanctification which only God can provide.

Anonymous said...

One Christian to another... in context where does 1 Tim. 4:3-5 have anything to do with Mosaic Law? Rick, do you equate the Mosaic Law with "deceitful spirits and teachings of demons" of verse 1? I am interested to hear your perspective.

The main question remains... where does the whole "saying grace" thing before meals connect to biblical, scriptural Christianity? Why is this is done by Christians in restaurants? Is it supposed to be evangelism? If so, it's not effective. If it is truly offering thanks to God for His provision, then doesn't it relate to Mt. 6:5 where the Lord commands that prayers NOT be done on street corners where others can see? When "saying grace" is done in the home, why?...obligation? habit? tradition? sincere heartfelt gratitude?

Bill T.
St. Louis, MO

Rick Beckman said...

Bill: The connection I made to the Mosaic Law was because it limited the meats that the Jews could eat. It didn't forbid the eating of meats (as, say, some militant Vegans might), and so no I am not equating it with demonic teaching in any way. Sorry for that misunderstanding!

I only meant that the dietary restrictions on certain meats were, well, definitively removed by what Paul said to Timothy -- just as Noah was told he could eat of any animals, so to did Paul echo the same sentiment.

I also thought the main question would be answered by the verses in Timothy -- well, at the very least, we know we should receive meats which were regarded as "unholy" or "unclean" with prayer, for it is "made holy by the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:5, ESV).

awilburjames said...

It would seem to me that praying with thanksgiving at all times to our Lord is applicable as the Holy Spirit leads.

And yes I believe in the sovereignty of God over all, most assuridly those whom He chose in Himself before the foudation of the world, and that the gospel is to be preached to all, as we do not know whom God has chosen, so we by the foolishness of preaching we preach the goodnews and let God do the saving as is His sovereign right.

awilburjames@comcast.com

awilburjames said...

What does dietary laws have to do with anything a christian eats? We only regulate our eating for health reasons. Christians are not under 'the'law and Paul states, 'that nothing of itself is unclean, but if a person considers something to be unclean, then to him it is unclean', and to eat would be sin in the flesh against God by attitude.

Rachel R. said...

Interesting food for thought!

J. briggs said...

"Interesting food for thought!"

LOL. Now that's comedy.

J. Briggs said...

A relevant post indeed. I think we should examine ourselves on why we do anything, making sure that we are constantly tethered to Scripture. I don't think the timing of prayer before/after meals is the issue here, but rather it is our gratitude that we are eating in the first place. I try to think how blessed we are in this country to even have abundance of food versus, say, Dafur. At least that's how I look at it.

The point about being grateful for ice cream is comedic. I have trouble praying that God would bless a Big Mac or fattening ice creamto my body and it's funny to see people praying that very thing in fast food joints. C'mon, there are some foods that we shouldn't even be eating! I'm just saying.

"Thank you God, for giving me this meal which will slowly kill me in about a decade. Amen."

Lee Shelton IV said...

It's interesting that the subject of the Law was brought up. Does anyone see the "requirement" to pray before meals as a new Law? Have you known people to regard it in a very legalistic sense, like, say, no mowing the lawn on Sunday?

Saint Christopher said...

I know of no single text which teaches- thou shalt pray over every meal, but we know the Bible has alot to say about being thankful, and who is the source of our daily bread. At least in our family tradition, its been a great way to teach the children that "daily bread" is always a gift from God's hand, that good health in working is a blessing, and just as with any area of life- we want to be grateful and thankful for God's good gifts. So, we tend to pray in public and private, even with hand holding, as that is our tradition. Our motive is not to be seen by men, but to praise and thank the Lord.

Rick Beckman said...

I like what Saint Christopher has said in the previous comment, and I must second what he said about it not being about being seen by men.

I had a lot more to say, but it took on a life of its own and became its own blog post, which I have posted on my blog if anyone's interested.

Arthur Sido said...

I pray before meals, even in "mixed" company and during business meals. I certainly don't think it is a requirement, just something I do in thanks for His providence.

Peggy said...

There was actually a book written on this called "How much prayer should a hamburger get?" It also addressed questions additional to yours, such as, Would it be okay to just have a general dedication in prayer of the food when you got home from the grocery, rather than praying over each meal? And, what if the food you are eating is leftovers? Do they need to be re-prayed over? How many times?

Personally, I see way too much insincere "praying" over food. Most mealtime prayers I observe, don't seem to be really connecting with God in thankfulness, but rather are just a dry ritual.

Don't even get me started on the people who go on and on while my stomach growls and my food gets cold.

On the other hand, perhaps we should pray before we eat. How about something like, Lord, help us not to sin as we're eating, by being glutinous, or selfish (not leaving enough for others). Instead of "bless this food to our bodies" how about "Please don't let this food cause us to become fat!"

Anonymous said...

This is a small but interesting issue. We pray with family present, and briefly when lunching with other Christian brothers, quietly. More from a feeling of being thankful for the bounty we enjoy and for God's provision for us. It is out of thanks, not obligation. But, there are those who use it for getting noticed, which is bad form and unscriptural.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, after a recent meal with my husband 17 year old daughter and her new 17 year old boyfriend, boyfriend made the comment "We never prayed before meals at my house" This caused our daughter to ask why we do it historically. So....this is how I found this sight.
I agree with the dude named Saint Christopher. Everything he said were my exact thoughts!

Shane Gingras said...

Thank you for your Blog My thoughts are that we give thanks for that which sustains us and since meals sustain us it is why I give thanks at that time. I do not give thanks when I have a snack because it is not the meal that I am eating to give me nurishment but rather a snack.

I would rather ponder the manner in which prair is given and ask why the folding of hands and the bowing of your head it the only way to show that we are in prair.

I can resite the lords prair in my head without closing my eyes or folding my hands. Do I need to show hose around me that I am Praying.

Anonymous said...

I think the tradition of praying could have come about as a reminder that praying is how we recieve our spiritual food, and maybe it is a way for the devout to show that God's Word is the true bread of life, kind of like Daniel prayed three times a day, and Job said that God's word is more important than his necessary food. Maybe the monks and such just excercised their spiritual feasts prior to their physical feasts as to not let the physical take precedence over the spiritual... and it has long since just become tradition.

nasu2001@yahoo.com said...

I have had all the same questions and more. I did not grow up in a Chrisitan home. I came to know Christ when I was in college.

I started to attend church. Every other Christian around me prayed for their meal so I followed suit.

I talked with my friend who is a pastor. We thought of the same verses.

My questions were

Where did this come from?
Is it a church tradition?
If it is church tradition, it was added because there is nothing in the bible that explicitly says we must pray for our meals or that we should not pray for our meals.
What is the reason for praying for our food?
We are giving thanks for the food provided, of course. But we are to pray unceasingly, giving thanks for all things, good and bad, to pray at all times. Why do I feel like a bad Christian if I don't pray?
I have broken no Christian law. The Lord is more concerned with my heart attitude than with my outward one. If my heart is rotten but I put on a show (like the Pharisees did) my prayer is meaningless. If it is to show that I am a Christian, that's great, but aren't our lives supposed to be Chist-like? Walking in Christ is far better than not walking with him and just praying for your food.
Church tradition for the sake of Church tradition is just tradition. Living in the spirit, walking in the spirit, reading the bible daily, prayer daily, is what is important. So, if praying for my food brings God glory, I will do it but, if it doesn't then I won't. But I will give thanks for all things, even if I don't pray for my food before I eat it.

Transparent Tulip said...

1 Thess 5:16(ESV) "Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. "

Sometimes I just say thank you. Sometimes I wonder if people who pray in public aren't drawing attention to themselves, I don't want attention, I want to thank God. i have taught my kids God doesn't need a long drawn out prayer to know you are thankful. Just make it known to Him you are thankful.

Joseph Roberson said...

I have always viewed praying before the meal to go along with 1st Timothy 4:3-5. I don't know off hand but with food prep of the past I would say that it was worth praying over everything to make sure it was good. As far as in public I have always viewed that is the loud prayers after all the Tax collector was also in public when he prayed.

Barbara said...

Thank you everyone for all of those wonderful insightful comments about praying before eating. The most important thing that concerns God; is your heart right? You can "do" all the right things, but if your heart isn't right, none of it matters.

Anonymous said...

What about Deuteronomy 8:10?

Anonymous said...

Do not misinterpret 1 Timothy 4. It definitely does not say that it is

alright for any human to eat something like pork. It does say that every

creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received

with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

(However, it is definitely so that it is not "of God" for anyone to eat

anything like pork, which is never called a food for man in The Bible,

and also pork is not sanctified by God for be to ate by man. If there is

something that is sanctified by the word of God by being approved of

him as a clean animal in his law, then it may be sanctified by that

together with prayer and thanksgiving. If it is man eating something

like pork it is definitely not approved by God, not by The Father, or

The Son, or The Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is righteous, yesterday, today

and forever and He (wisely) let the demons go into the swine as

recorded in The Bible, but did not keep the demons from destroying

them.) Do not try to sanctify Yourselves by eating an abomination.

Seek sanctification by his words. Also if You are around when the Lord

returns, consider what it says in Isaiah 66: 15-24. Particularly note

that at verses 17-18 it says "They that sanctify themselves, and purify

themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's

flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed

together, saith the LORD. 18 For I know their works and their

thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and

they shall come, and see my glory."

Also, read the rest

starting in verse- 15 For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and

with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and

his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For by fire and by his sword will the

LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be

many. 17 They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the

gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and

the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the

LORD. 18 For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall

come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come,

and see my glory. 19 And I will set a sign among them, and I will

send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and

Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off,

that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they

shall declare my glory among the Gentiles. 20 And they shall

bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all

nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules,

and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the

LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel

into the house of the LORD. 21 And I will also take of them for priests

and for Levites, saith the LORD. 22 For as the new heavens

and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the

LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. 23 And it

shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one

sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me,

saith the LORD. 24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the

carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their

worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall

be an abhorring unto all flesh.

Lee Shelton IV said...

Dang! I guess I can no longer eat pork ribs with a side of mouse nuggets.

Sorry, Anonymous @ 2:36, but I see no prohibition of pork under the New Covenant. And yes, we are under a New Covenant.

Anonymous said...

Don’t misunderstand the New Covenant. It doesn’t give us permission to sin. His law is of His Spirit and He doesn’t change. “Malachi 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.". To know what it is to be under the New Covenant, read the words of God on The New Covenant. "Jeremiah 31: 33. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying , Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." And "Hebrews 8: 10. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11. And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying , Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest . 12. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13. In that he saith , A new covenant, he hath made the first old . Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." And "Hebrews 10: 15. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, 16. This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 17. And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. 19. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20. By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say , his flesh; 21. And having an high priest over the house of God; 22. Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised ;) 24. And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching . 26. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27. But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." If one thinks that he is under some New Covenant without God having written His laws upon their heart, think not that he can back up such belief by way of The Bible. Read the inspired words of God. The New Covenant is to be of God. It is not everyone that God is going to give salvation to. One will not receive salvation outside of his will. Believe on He who said this. "Matthew 4: 4 But he answered and said , It is written , Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." And "Luke 4: 4. And Jesus answered him , saying , It is written , That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.". Don’t think that one is under a New Covenant from God if one has not had Gods' law written on his heart by God. If he has His law written on his heart won’t the right ways of God be the desire of him? If he knows that Gods' law was given of His Spirit, shouldn’t he know His Spirit tells us the right ways to follow? Note that the same New Covenant is mentioned in the Old and New Testament.

Anonymous said...

Two points on the pork issue. The first is Peter's vision in Acts 10:9-16. "It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth... Then a voice told him, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' 'surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.''Do not call anything impure that God has made clean". Second point is when the apostles debated what requirements there would be for Gentile believers. Acts 15 says the only stipulation was that they refrain from food offered to idols, from blood, from meat of strangled animals, and sexual immorality. All else is legal.

Back on the subject of prayer before meals, my wife and I have been having this discussion. When we pray before meals at restaurants she feels like it is being on display. We were wondering where it originated.

MAZ

Anonymous said...

I work in a restaurant and have watched many people pray before their meals and thought "How wonderful" The sad thing is though, many of them will finish their prayer and then turn into very rude and impatient people. If you are going to pray in public, be sure to follow up with proper Christian behaviour.

Eddie Eddings said...

Anonymous said...
I work in a restaurant and have watched many people pray before their meals and thought "How wonderful" The sad thing is though, many of them will finish their prayer and then turn into very rude and impatient people. If you are going to pray in public, be sure to follow up with proper Christian behaviour.

Anonymous...you said a mouthful! Amen to that!

Pam said...

I think the fact that we have to ask why we pray before meals speaks volumes to why we should be so thankful. One of the Hebrew names given to God was Jehovah Jirah, (God our Provider.) When the Israelites wandered in the desert they had to depend on him completely for food. For 40 years He provided manna daily (except on the Sabbath when they ate the extra collected the day before.) How many other accounts in the Bible can we think of where God provided physical sustenance? How many cultures, how many time periods have people had to live from one meal to the next, if indeed they had/have three meals a day? I suspect our tradition of praying before a meal came from our Hebrew roots. Blessing the food they ate - before and after they ate it--was a mitzvah (or commandment). While that's part of the law that Jesus fulfilled in his coming, I suspect the gratitude continued. I think Christians (past and present) who have struggled to put a meal on the table have no question as to why they pray before a meal. It is only those of us who take our food for granted that have to ask. I suspect that we only have to ask because we have never really felt true hunger, and felt totally reliant on God to provide the food to satisfy it.

Nathan said...

I started to think about this in a very different way. In the past several hundred years we've gone from a socity that prays before school, football games, backyard barbaque, boardmeetings to a socity that has to have a debate on whether or not a Christian should pray before eating! Secularism rules! The Christian has the oblication to show his faith publicly, even when it's not comfortable. Christians in other countires tolerate all kinds of persecution, but in the West we can't even stand a little psychological persecution from agnostics and secularists who think prayer before meals is instrusive! Cowards!

Nathan said...

Of course anyone can say a silent prayer to let God know he is thankful, and He knows our heart. What is important about public prayer, especially today, is that it is a way for the Christian to confirm his faith to himself and his neighbors, both Christian and non-Christian. I'm not sure there is a formula on when and how it should be done, but it should be done. You should be proud to be a Christian and excited to live it and show and tell other people about it.

Rick Beckman said...

Prayer isn't a way for Christians to confirm their faith to others; that was what the proud Pharisee did: showed off before others.

Jesus instructs Christians to pray privately. And really, what's so hard about that? That answers so many debates about prayer. And if someone is so concerned about appearing "Christlike" to his neighbors, why not actually pray as he did by sneaking away to a garden privately, for example?

Anonymous said...

As for going off in the garden to pray, Jesus was specifically praying that he not have to drink the cup that he was about to. If we're supposed to follow the example of Christ shouldn't the giving thanks before feeding the masses (twice) be the appropriate model?

As for praying in public before a meal, I think of that more in context of "let your light so shine" and the Great Commission." As the media and others attempt to characterize any moral standards as close minded and out of date, any sort of prayer helps demonstrate to the world that Christ really still have followers on this world. The loud mouths in the temple were praying primarily (exclusively?) to impress man, so the claim could be made that they weren't really praying at all, since they weren't really talking to God. As for pork, what about Peter's dream about the animals and "nothing that God made is unclean?" Granted the larger point was that the Word was to be for Gentiles also, not just Jews, but why would the animals be used to make the point? Isn't it a two-level lesson?

No then, all that said, the comment about not praying in public then acting like God immediately departed and you can serve as a disgraceful example of a Christian, that clearly overrides and those people probably should keep their lights under a basket a little longer.

jmelco51 said...

for me and my family it was a tradition to hold hands and bow our heads and say thank you to God. the bowing i think is to approach God humbly. the holding of hands is a bonding but also that we are all equal before God. many a sunday we would have guest at the table and the holding of hands was a inclusive symbol that they were a part of our family. our mother would often remind us of all the people who had a hand in helping put food on our table, from farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers to the garbage collectors. she instilled with in us kids that though we had much we were still dependent on many others for our bounty.this served as a constant reminder to humbly be grateful for each and every meal and how we are all connected with every one else in the world. the sunday noon meal was always special as it followed going to church.often we went to the grandparents house. there was always smoking and drinking there. our father, a doctor, was very disapproving of these activities yet he honored his parents and shared his kids with them. i don't remember ever praying there although we might have. the difference in how things were done was instructive. i can remember being told several times that we obey traffic laws such as traffic lights because it was a safety issue. the idea of taking turns, going when it is your turn. to our simple childish minds this all made perfect sense. prayer was just a part of our lives. mostly to express gratitude to God.

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