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.