Kids often ask great questions that help us think through our rituals. Like….“daddy, why do we stand at baseball games to sing the national anthem?” Or, “dad, why can’t we wear hats at the table?” Or, let’s focus on this last one–“daddy, why do we pray before we eat?”
I give them two answers. First, because of Scriptural commands to be thankful. Second, because of Biblical examples.
The Bible commends an attitude of thanksgiving for all God’s good gifts. It is as old as the Hebrew Scriptures. In Deuteronomy 8.10, Moses commanded Israel to not forget the Lord and not take his blessings for granted. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.” It is so easy to forget, isn’t it?
In the New Testament, we find the same thing. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy. Some people forbid others “to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer,” (1Timothy 4.3-5).
Or how about 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Along with this, we have lots of Biblical examples of thanking God before we eat. Jesus gave thanks before he fed the 5,000 in Matthew 14.19. He looked to heaven, gave thanks and then broke the loaves. He did the same thing before feeding the 4000 in Matthew 15.36. Likewise, in the upper room, he prayed before he broke bread with the disciples (Matthew 26.27), just as Paul prayed before sharing a meal with fellow passengers on a storm tossed ship (Acts 27.35).
While no single text teaches you must pray before every meal—there is a pattern of thankfulness that should guide us, especially when so many people go hungry in this world.
The bigger question for us, is not—should we pray, but WHAT should we pray? If your family is like mine, we so easily get into a rut. We thoughtlessly pray prayers like “Dear Lord, thankyoufor thisfoodblessittoourbodiesinJesusname. Amen.” (all in one breath), or other such prayers which border on using God’s name in vain, i.e. “for bacon, eggs and buttered toast, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” OR “Good Lord, bless these sinners as they eat their dinners, etc..”
Of course, nothing substitutes for joyful, spontaneous, thoughtful prayers of thanks. But seeing we can get in ruts, (even in our spontaneous prayers), I did a little searching for famous mealtime prayers, which may help you with your rut as it has helped us with ours. We have even tried to memorize some of these. Pick one or two, and get your family to memorize them–even the ones in a different language.
Sung Scottish Prayer- The Old 100th (Psalm)
[to the tune of the Doxology]
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly Host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
All creatures that on earth do dwell,
Sing, to the Lord, with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before Him, and rejoice.
The Lord ye know is God, indeed,
Without our aid He did us make.
We are His flock, He doth us feed,
And, for His sheep He doth us take. Amen
Scottish- The Selkirk Grace by Robert Burns
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some would eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Some have meat and cannot eat;
Some cannot eat that want it:
But we have meat and we can eat;
So let the Lord be thanked.
German Mealtime prayer
Alles das wir haben,
Alles ist gegaben.
Es kommt, O Gott, von dir
Wir danken dir dafuer.
All that we have,
Is all a gift.
It comes, O God, from you;
We thank you for it.
Spanish Table Prayer
Cristo, pan de vida,
Ven y bendice esta comida. Amen
Christ, the bread of life,
Come and bless this food. Amen
Lutheran Mealtime Prayer
Come Lord Jesus be our guest, and let thy gifts to us be blessed.
Like manna in the desert given, the Bread of life, sent down from Heaven.
Anglican Prayer (Church of England)
Dear Lord, thank you for this food. Bless the hands that prepared it. Bless it to our use and us to your service,
And make us ever mindful of the needs of others. Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments and brought forth this food from the earth. Amen