At the risk of sounding like a heathen, I’ll admit it. I don’t often pray before meals.
I’ll do it when I meet someone in the dining common for lunch or when I’m at home with my family, but when I’m by myself or with a larger group, I don’t stop and pray. To be honest, I don’t really like doing it. And I think others might feel the same way; it can seem stilted, repetitive and tacked on. Is praying before a meal an outdated tradition? Or is it possible that we could change our attitude about the opportunity to thank God for His provisions for us?
While there isn’t a strict command to pray before meals, there are compelling biblical examples. Both Jesus (Matt. 14:19) and Paul (Acts 27:35) thanked God publicly before eating a meal. If the Church’s Head and one of the earliest Church leaders prayed before a meal, it clearly has value that we should consider.
Praying before breakfast, lunch and dinner also gives us a moment to reset in our busy days. Before partaking of our daily bread, we can push aside our daily struggles and remind ourselves of the Father. By doing this, we remember why we are having lunch at that location and place in time: His glory.
Another way to make praying before a meal meaningful is to use it to praise God. Why not use this time to offer God the praise he deserves? We can thank Him for the food but also for how He’s helped us throughout the day (with class work, with our interactions, etc.). Additionally, we can redeem this time by using it intentionally. I personally find it easier to pray here at the university than at home. Why? I think it’s because, at home, I’ve been praying before dinner about one to two times a week for over 10 years. Since I started doing this as a kid when I didn’t fully know how to pray, I tend to repeat the same prayer I’ve been saying since I started.
This became a habit I haven’t broken, partially from feeling awkward, like I’ll draw attention to myself by changing the words I say. At school, however, my prayers are more intentional. If I’m praying with a friend, I haven’t established any tradition, so I actually attempt to dialogue with God before the meal.
This prayer time, when used intentionally, allows a group of believers to petition God with each other for one another while also praising Him for His providence and grace. Considering how little we pray together as believers in general, perhaps this established prayer time can be a way we can strengthen the Body of Christ.
I can easily focus on all the negatives without recognizing the benefits. The issue with this time of prayer exists when I treat it only as a tradition. By viewing it as intentional praise and intercession, the awkwardness and formality melt away.
No longer is it a legalistic ritual but an extra time of communion with God that, while optional, can certainly be beneficial.