Most likely, if you’re a Christian, you pray before meals. If you live in the Bible belt then praying before meals is embedded in the culture, so you don’t even have to be a Christian to do it. Praying before meals is a solid habit for many of us so that many times we do it almost without thinking, likes it’s a reflex instead of a choice. We’ve got a cute, little memorized prayer we use that increases in speed the closer we get to the end so that “in Jesus’ name, amen” sounds like one word. Because praying before meals is such a strong habit (sadly, some days it is the only praying we do), it may be that you haven’t thought much about why you do it. I don’t mean praying in general, necessarily, but rather, why you choose to pray right before you eat. Let me suggest a few reasons why I think we should keep this habit and refresh it as well.
1) To express to God that He is more necessary than food – We need food to survive and sometimes when we sit down for a meal, we are so ravenous with hunger it’s all we can do to stop ourselves from forgetting the silverware and shoving gobs of mashed potatoes into our mouths with our bare hands. In these moments, to stop and thank God for the food communicates that we need Him more than what’s on our plate.
2) To express to God that He is more desirable than food – I don’t have to tell you that food is great, especially when it’s covered in gravy! You’ve all tasted good food, and if you’re like me, then you get it often because your spouse is wiz at culinary creation. Sometimes we just want to hold food in our mouths without swallowing so we can savor the flavor, but King David commands us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). The Lord is more desirable than food. Food gets cold, goes bad, loses flavor, gets soggy, and loses its consistency. Not so with God, so take mealtime prayer as an opportunity to communicate this to Him!
3) To keep us praying regularly – I don’t mean here that mealtimes should be the only times you pray during the day. But most of us eat two to three meals a day, so disciplining ourselves to pray before meals keeps us regularly communing with our Father during the day… at least to a certain degree. I think this is a good reason to pray, but make sure your mealtime prayers don’t turn into robotic repetition. Make it a discipline to change your prayers before meals and add more to them than simply thanks for the food.
4) To keep our eyes on the goal of food – Out of habit, we pray “Lord, please nourish this food to our bodies”. Why pray this prayer? Is it just in the hope that it we won’t have to pop the antacids later? No, we should pray this prayer so that God enables our bodies to continue serving Him! Food is a means to the end of enjoying God and serving God more and praying before meals can help us keep the right perspective that food is not an end in itself.