Should Christians pray before mealtimes?

May 3, 2016

From time to time, I grab a meal with another Christian and when the food shows up, I dive right in.

Sometimes, the people I am eating with look at me like I have just committed a grave, mortal sin.  What is my great sin?  Not praying before I took a bite.  It’s as it the food I just consumed can’t be properly converted into energy without the right words being said first.

Whenever someone is mortified at my actions, I challenge them to find me a verse that commands prayer before meals while I eat my fries before they get cold.

Many people find verses for me.  So let’s take a look at them and specifically try to answer this question:

Are Christians commanded to pray before each meal?

Then [Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
(Matthew 14:19—21)

And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
(Matthew 15:34—37)

Here we have two separate occasions where Jesus prayed before a meal.  What do they have in common?  Two things:

1) Jesus was about to perform a miracle.

2) The passages describe what he did but do not issue a command for Christians to follow.  If praying a “blessing” is a command, perhaps so would be his method for feeding thousands of people or that mealtime must take place while sitting on the ground or the fact that the person praying must “break the loaf.”  We don’t typically take those parts of this passage to be a command because they aren’t.  Neither is the prayer.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
(Matthew 26:26—29)

This is a very familiar passage where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper.  Again, he “blessed” the bread and “broke it.”  What else can we see in these verses?

1) “As they were eating…”  Interesting.  Jesus’ prayer came in the middle of the meal, not before it.

2) “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks…” Again, he prays in the middle of the meal.

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and prayed in the middle of or at the end of a meal.  This is one of the reasons we encourage Life Groups at Riverview to have meals together and as part of the meal, to pray and take communion following the example of Jesus.  This one is a command by Jesus, by the way (see Luke 22:19).

When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.
(Luke 24:30—31)

After Jesus’ resurrection, he met some guys on the road and shared a meal with them.  As he broke bread and blessed it, they recognized him.  What can we learn here?

1) It’s kinda cool that he didn’t drink wine at this time (just like he told the guys at the Last Supper, he is waiting for the big party that is still to come in his Father’s Kingdom).

2) This is an example of something Jesus did so they would recognize him, not a command for us to follow.

As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.
(Acts 27:33—35)

In this account, the Apostle Paul was on a prisoner transfer boat and a storm struck.  He took bread and thanked God for it and began to eat, showing the men around him that he trusted God to take them through the storm.  Again, this is a description of what Paul did, not a command for us to follow.  His prayer was an act of trust.

OK…so what’s the answer to our big question?

Are Christians commanded to pray before mealtimes?

Simply put, no.

Why have I spent so much time on this?  I wanted to show that we have to be careful with the way we treat the Bible.  When we elevate things to commands that are not commands, we are going too far.

Is it OK to pray before we eat?

YES!  In fact, it is a fantastic thing!  We are, in many ways, following the example of Jesus and Paul when we give thanks which is a good thing.  We just have to be very careful not to push this onto other people as a command they must follow “to be a good Christian.”

So what now?

Be Thankful – If there is one thing we can learn from all of these passages, it is that we should be thankful for every meal that we are able eat, every breath we are able to take, and everything we have in life.  When we sit down to eat, if we don’t do so in an attitude of thankfulness, something is going wrong.  Sometimes I am so famished that I quickly eat half of my meal (to take the edge off) and then stop and thank God before finishing.  To be honest, it is at that moment that I am most thankful like a man running out of the desert takes a cool drink of water and then thanks God that his thirst is quenched!

Pray Always – Instead of worrying about whether we should pray before meals, obey the clear commands of Scripture to “give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20), to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16—18), and to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).

Follow Your Conscience – Some people’s conscience requires them to pray before every meal.  If that is you, by no means sin against your conscience by not praying!  For those who feel a freedom in this area, do not look down on those who don’t.  I’ll wrap up with one final passage that illustrates both of these points:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
(Romans 14:1—6)

 No matter what you do, do it in honor of the Lord.

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