praying before a meal
The Tough Questions

Praying Before A Meal: Does The Bible Say We Have To?

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What does the Bible say about praying before a meal?

I used to think that ‘saying grace’, or praying before a meal, was a bit of a ritual – a token gesture, a nod to God, a mindless platitude that good Christian families would do because it was ‘the right thing’ and not because they actually meant it.

My father-in-law famously recites the same prayer every dinnertime: “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.” After which we all mutter ‘amen’ before wolfing down our food (don’t worry, I’m sure it’s heartfelt!).

When I was in primary school (in the UK) we would sing our prayer “Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you Lord for
everything. Aaaaa-men.”

At home, my faith-filled, Christian parents literally never prayed before food. It just wasn’t a part of our routine, but then neither was sitting round a dinner table!

Nowadays in my own family we rarely make the effort to pray before food, except when we have guests who we deem ‘more spiritual’ than ourselves. We do that thing of pausing, fork in hand, and awkwardly asking “should we pray? Do you want to pray? Yeah, you pray, that’s cool. Ok… do we hold hands…?” It’s a social minefield!

Needless to say, I’m not great at praying before food, or ‘saying grace’!

praying before a meal

So should we pray before a meal?

Does Jesus tell us to pray before food?

What does the Bible say about praying before eating?

Well, in a nutshell, the Bible doesn’t specifically say that we should pray before mealtimes.

In fact, Deuteronomy 8:10 encourages us to praise God after a meal:

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless (praise) the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.”

Jesus himself gives thanks during a meal on a couple of occasions: Matthew 14:19 says “He gave thanks and broke the loaves.”

And Matthew 26:26 says,

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it.”

So, what would Jesus do? He’d give thanks, so we should probably follow his lead.

But in all these instances we are thanking and blessing God for His provision in our lives, we are not bestowing a blessing upon the food itself (though depending on the food, I’m sure God won’t mind if you feel the need to cover it in prayer!).

But rather than get bogged down in the details of theology, let me share something with you that changed my perspective on what I previously thought of as a bit of a ritual or tradition.

Where I work we have a small kitchen where people are able to take their lunch breaks, there’s room for four or five people to sit round the table, chat and eat before heading back to their desks. I
actually don’t take a lunch break because I work shorter hours, but my desk is opposite the kitchen.

Often I get caught having a chat with my colleagues whilst I wait for the kettle to boil and I often hear raucous laughter coming out the door whilst I’m ploughing through emails or editing copy.

From my vantage point every day I often see one lady in particular. She prepares her food, sits at the table – and whether she is alone, or with others – she just pauses for a moment, clasps her hands, bows her head and (I assume!) says a silent prayer. If you blink you might miss it!

There’s no show, no recited words, no judgement, invitation or expectation of others to get involved, just a simple act of acknowledging God in her day, inviting Him into the moment, and giving thanks.

I am learning more recently about daily disciplines, rhythms of grace and the ability to involve God in my day, and yet here we have regular opportunities (rhythms) to implement a daily discipline.

Struggling to find time to pray? Just start with your food! You eat at least three times a day, right?

There are three opportunities to thank God, to acknowledge Him, to invite Him into your moment wherever you might be.

Three times a day that you’re drawing closer to Him.

Three times a day to remember what He’s done for you, and what He’s provided for you.

And three times a day to remember your privilege because others might not be eating like kings today.

This isn’t a ritual, tradition or token gesture, it doesn’t have to be grand or public or particularly long. But praying for your food seems to me to be a moment of spiritual re-centring and bringing our focus back to God.

Do we have to pray before a meal?

No.

Should we pass up an opportunity to meet with God?

Obviously not!

Let’s shift our perspective. Let’s start to see ‘saying grace’ as an opportunity to involve God in the regular, mundane parts of our lives. Who knows what could happen in us and around us!

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