Christian prayer before meals

I had to stop myself and review the words before my meal blessing this past weekend. I had been brought up to rehearse the following prayer before meals (which eventually dwindled down to the big Sunday meal and holidays, but nonetheless…)

“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts for which we are about to receive. From thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord, Amen.” These are the mindless words I’ve uttered since I can recall speaking. I was shocked to join my husband’s family for their first holiday meal (they are from varying denominations, including Baptist, RC, non-denom, and no affiliation): the patriarch gave more of a quick homily which specifically addressed the issues for the year (or week, or whenever/whatever). Anyway, it was a very down to earth blessing, where people and issues were briefly addressed and asked for our prayers. I never seemed to mind that it took a whole minute longer than my traditional RC prayer, which always felt half-heartedly muttered at best. What a difference!

What are your traditions (as related to your family or church)?

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Praying before meals may seem like a non-issue because it is a discussion that doesn’t seem all that prevalent in Christian circles. I can’t think of any books dedicated to the subject, I haven’t heard any sermons about it, and I’m not aware of any SBC conferences devoted to mending the rift between those in favor of mealtime invocation and those against. (I don’t even want to get into the whole pre-meal/post-meal/a-meal debate.)

This is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. When should Christians pray before meals? While there are numerous passages in scripture that call us to “give thanks,” there isn’t a single command telling us that this must occur before meals. The closest we have to a command are the examples of Christ saying a blessing or giving thanks when he fed the 5,000 (Matther 14:19), when he fed the 4,000 (Matthew 15:36), and when he broke bread with the disciples in the upper room (Matthew 26:27).

I realize that as Christians we should live our lives in constant gratitude to the One who sustains us by his grace. But how does that translate into coming up with a “special” prayer for meals? How should we pray? Should we limit our prayer to what we are about to consume? Should we always pray before eating? Are there any settings in which prayer would be inappropriate? Does it depend on whether or not the one hosting the meal is a Christian? What if we’re in the company of non-believers? Do we take into consideration the ratio of Christians to non-Christians gathered at the table? What if I’m the only Christian at the table? Is it a cultural thing? Do Christians the world over pray before they eat? And should the prayer always come before eating? What if the meal was prepared by a really bad cook? These may seem like silly questions, but you know you’ve asked them all at one point in your life.

I realize that some of you are probably thinking, “Of course we should pray when we eat. It isn’t even up for debate.” Well, ask yourself why you don’t pray when you go out for ice cream. Does it depend on the quantity of food you are about to consume? (And yes, I’ve seen that tactic employed.) Or is it only required at designated mealtimes?

Some of you may not think it’s a big deal at all. If that’s the case, then what example are you setting for your children if you sometimes feel like praying before you eat and sometimes you don’t?

This issue may not be as important as the debate over the doctrines of grace or the importance of sound biblical preaching in our churches. But I am curious to know your thoughts on the matter. So, what do you think?

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When I was a child we did not pray at meal times but as I have grown in my relationship with the Lord I have learned the importance of the mealtime blessing. Traditionally, some families use the same prayer at every meal, yet others lift up an original thank you to the Lord for meals.

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and bless what you bequeathed us.

Praying before meal times is something that we find in the Bible. Take a look at these popular passages:

“And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.” (Paul speaking in Acts 27:35)

And he said unto them, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: 16 For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18 For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Jesus speaking to the Apostles at the last supper Luke 22:15-20)

Here are 7 Christian dinner prayers that you might consider when you would like to thank the Lord for His provision.

Children’s Prayers

I used to say this one with my children at breakfast and lunch time.

A Rhyming Meal Prayer

Thank you for the world so sweet,

Thank you for the food we eat, Thank you for the birds that sing, Thank you God for everything. Amen.

As a child whenever we had a Girl Scout outing we would sing this as a dinner time blessing. It was not until years later that I learned it was a song from a Disney movie. I also sang this one with my children.

Johnny Appleseed Song

♪♫ The Lord is good to me

And so I thank the Lord

For givin me the things I need

The sun and rain and the apple seed

Yes, He’s been good to me.♫♪

(View a video of this song in the upper right of this page)

Prayer Before Meals (Catholic)

Bless us Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord.  Amen.

Dinner Time Prayer (German)

Komm Herr Jesus.
Sei unser Gast
Und segne was Du uns bescherret hast.

(English translation)
Come Lord Jesus,
Be our guest
And bless what you bequeathed us.

The Selkirk Grace

Some have meat and cannot eat;
Some cannot eat that want it:
But we have meat and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit!

Irish Grace

Bless, O Lord, this food we are about to eat;  and we pray You, O God,that it may be good for our body and soul; and if there be any poor creature hungry or thirsty walking along the road, send them into us that we can share the food with them,  just as You share your gifts with all of us.

Meal Prayer

Lord God and Giver of All Good Gifts, we are grateful as we pause before this meal, for all the blessings of life that You give to us. Daily, we are fed with good things, nourished by friendship and care, feasted with forgiveness and understanding. And so, mindful of Your continuous care, we pause to be grateful for the blessings of this table.

– Pause for silent reflection –

May Your presence be the “extra” taste to this meal which we eat in the name of Your Son, Jesus.

Amen.

What is your favorite mealtime prayer?

Share your favorites in the comments below.

Looking for more prayers?

Take a look at these from our archives

  • 10 Popular Bedtime Prayers

  • Prayers from the Bible

  • 10 Short Prayers for Protection

Sources:

The Holy Bible, King James Version

The Selkirk Grace: Burns, Robert 1759-1796

Meal Prayer: Hays, Edward, Prayers for the Domestic Church: A Handbook for Worship in the Home (Kansas: Forest of Peace Books, 1979), 110.

YouTube video: Johnny Appleseed Song

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Grace before meals is a Jewish tradition that was in some respects followed by Jesus and also Paul, but is not technically ‘commanded’ in a legal sense from scripture.

As far as the overall origin of ‘grace before meals’ I would say it was established in all the ancient sacrifices which included eating portions of the sacrifice. Very early under the Levitical ceremonies food was associated with religious significance. It is no wonder then that a tradition around food has always accompanied various forms of Judaism and Christianity.

According to the rabbinic tradition found in Berakhot, Mishnah-, Tosefta-, Talmud tractate Benedictions:

“It is forbidden man to enjoy anything of this world without benediction,” b. Ber., 35a. “At good news one says: Blessed be He who is good and who does good. But at bad news one says: Blessed be the judge of truth … Man has a duty to pronounce a blessing on the bad as he pronounces a blessing on the good,” 54a. (TDNT, Kittel, p 9.410)

One can witness Christ followed this Jewish custom (he followed many of them) in the miraculous feedings. (See Matthew 15:36). This does not mean that he or his disciples fastidiously had grace ‘before every meal’. The Pharisees who did every thing with ‘caution’ and a reverence to the ‘external’, attacked Jesus’ disciples on one occasion for eating without even washing their hands so it would not be improbable that they also neglected whatever prayers might have been expected upon them.

Alfred Edersheim the Jewish historian actually confidently affirms that most likely Christ’s prayer would have been the typical ‘thanksgiving’:

‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the world, Who causes to come forth (הַמּוֹצִיא) bread from the earth.’ (Alfred Edersheim , The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1.64)

It should be noted that the context of scriptures reference to Christ’s observance is a large formally religious gathering in a prayerful need that is about to be miraculously answered. Hardly can this be translated into a legalistic rule mandating prayers of thanks before eating Chicken McNuggets on the run. However there are a few scarce stands of scripture in the Epistles that keep up with this theme, although somewhat always on the circumference of other subjects. First in Acts when Paul is on the stormy ship ‘he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.’ (Acts 27:34). Note that this occasion was also a formally religious one with calls of help and salvation.

Also,

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4)

See also 1 Corinthians 10:30-31.

However here is what we should really conclude (in my own mind). Paul’s main use of ‘thanksgiving’ was in how he opened many of his letters with prayers. It was a way of life and although it also extended to formal religious meals, meals are not set aside as more special than the thanksgiving for all the good things we receive. The idea that any family who sits down at a table to eat without a prayer of thanksgiving is somehow inferior to one that does, is more of an interpretive cultural notion not directly established in scripture. In fact beyond the few references that I have mentioned little in the entire Bible would suggest ‘grace’ before meals as expected behavior for all Christians. The silence of the Bible on the subject is a strong argument against its legalization.

In the Old Testament ‘thanksgiving’ was most formally identified with singing and in the ‘thanksgiving’ sacrifice. In the New Testament it is sincerely giving our lives to God, in totality and in love to God and our neighbor. This high and extreme thanksgiving must toss aside all other forms as inconsequential especially those having to do with ‘food and drink’. If I was to personally become legalistic in my thinking about ‘grace’, I would probably insist that public prayers be offered in the ‘harvest in gathering’ during our monthly salary banking transactions. Falling onto one knee in our cubicle when sighting our payroll deposit, which comes from God to buy our food and so much more, would be more in-line with Mosaic Law than saying a few words before a meal.

Having said this prayer and thanksgiving is a very good thing, so neither should we judge anyone who feels a duty to formally receive all food in a prayer (whether snacks and drinks are included in this ‘duty’ I leave it to those who concern themselves over it). In either case, whether offering prayers outwardly, or just being happy inwardly, in God’s presence, in all occasions, we should receive in thanksgiving all that we receive, including gratitude for all those blessings contained in brothers and sisters in Christ, that may have their own view about these things.

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