Should We Pray Before We Eat?
Should we pray before we eat? Yes, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think.
We should pray before we eat a meal because we want Christ to be with us while we eat. Conversely, we shouldn’t pray before a meal because we’re afraid we’ll get on God’s ‘bad side’ if we don’t or because that’s just what we think Christians are supposed to do.
John 4:31-38 points us in the direction of why it is good to pray before we eat. There the disciples return to Jesus with some food they bought in the city and they invite him to eat. Commenting on this passage in a sermon, Charles Spurgeon said,
When they came back from making their purchases, they found their Master sitting by the well, as they had left Him. They naturally expected that He would be as ready to partake of the provision as they were to offer it to Him, but He made no movement in that direction. His mind was evidently far away from the idea of food. He was absorbed in something else, and therefore His disciples sought to call Him back to a sense of His need. I do not suppose that they had themselves eaten, it was hardly like them to do so while their Lord was not with them.
Think about that last line for a minute, “it was hardly like them to [eat] while their Lord was not with them.” The disciples were unaccustomed to eating without Jesus. What a beautiful thing. Can we say the same of ourselves? What if we could? What if people knew Christians pray before meals not because they’re used to some religious ritual, but because they’re asking God to join them while they eat? It could be quite a witness – and it would be quite a blessing to have God present with us. This is why we should pray before we eat – to be like the disciples in wanting Christ to be with us.
Sadly, we may be more accustomed to reading something on our phones, to watching TV or to working while we eat than we are to enjoying in-person community. Perhaps what we’re missing in our meals is not prayerful invitation, but confession. Maybe we need to confess that we do invite the things we really want to be present with us at our table – our phones, our work, our entertainment. Maybe those are our true guests of honor. Maybe they are our ‘gods.’ Maybe we need to pray and confess, bringing our hearts as well as our meals to God.
Now if we realize there’s some room not only for prayer at our meals but also for confession, we might think we’d better start praying so we don’t get on God’s ‘bad side’ (or so we can get off God’s ‘bad side’). But that’s not right. We shouldn’t pray at the beginning of a meal just to stay on God’s ‘good side.’ That’s not the way God interacts with his children – which is what we are now in Christ (1 John 3:1). That’s the way slaves interact with a cruel master. But in Christ we are no longer slaves and with God we have never had a cruel master. Our God is gracious. He is patient. He is kind. He is love (1 John 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:4-13).
Neither then, should we pray just because we’re supposed to. God isn’t interested in a kind of faith that just goes through the motions. He’s interested in the heart. He’s interested in relationship. He’s interested in YOU.
So why pray before we eat if not to keep ourselves on God’s ‘good side’ or simply because we’re ‘supposed to’? We should do it because we want God to be with us. Because we don’t want to do anything without him. We don’t want an hour to pass or a meal to go by where we aren’t with our Savior and our God, our friend and our shepherd, the lover of our souls, Jesus Christ. We may not be there yet, but that’s where any love of God is heading – into greater and greater intimacy.
And yes, Christ is always with us, as he promised in Matthew 28:20. He does not leave us if we forget to ask him to come with us to this place or to that meal. He is already at the table with us – even before we ask him to join us. In praying then, we simply turn our hearts to consider the one whose heart is constantly turned toward us. We invite the one we cannot see, the Bread of Heaven, to be present with us in what we can see – our daily bread.
So why should we pray before we eat? Because God loves us, because we want him with us and because we’re looking forward to the time when we will eat with him in his kingdom, when he comes to make all things new (Rev. 19:6-9, 21:5).