For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 1Timothy 4:4
Have you ever wondered why some folks bow their heads and pray a prayer of thanksgiving before they partake of a meal, and others simply wolf down their food? Why? Where did this practice of praying over a meal come from?
There are two groups or species who never observe the habit of giving thanks before a meal. Certainly animals never do. They eat whatever is before them, but, of course, animals are animals.
There is another group who never bow their heads in thanksgiving when they eat--people! People? Yes--but even so, this group is divided into two sub-groups: Those who refuse to give thanks because they refuse to acknowledge that God has provided for them, and those who refuse to give thanks either out of embarrassment or ignorance.
Where did the habit of bowing your head in a prayer of thanksgiving before you eat a meal come from? It's an old one, going back for centuries. How far, we really don't know. But we do know that Christ and the disciples observed the habit of taking bread, breaking it and giving thanks to God before they ate of it. We also know that this tradition existed in the early church. Towards the end of his life, Paul instructed Timothy that "everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4).
Bowing your head and rubbing your eyebrows as you mumble, "God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for this food" can be a meaningless routine which is a waste of time and energy; yet expressing sincere gratitude from a thankful heart is a measure of intelligent worship. It's also the acknowledgement that you are a child of God and recognize Him as the source of all blessings. It is a means of teaching your children something valid and important: recognizing the blessing and care of God is a mark of spiritual sensitivity and obedience.
"Well, I get embarrassed to pray out loud." Just a minute. Do you get embarrassed to tell the chef in your favorite restaurant, "That was a great meal--one of the best I have ever had." "That's different!" you say. But is it really?
Prayers of thanksgiving over a meal should be just that. There is a time for real, heart-searching intercession. There is a time to pray for missionaries around the world, for government officials, for your church, and for friends and relatives. But this is not the time. Before a meal you say, "Father, thank you for this food. We acknowledge that it comes from you. Please bless it. For this we are grateful..." And that's it.
"OK," you may be saying, but what about doing this in public? Every record of Jesus' praying over food was in public--not private. Quietly bowing your head over your food in a restaurant makes a statement. So does profanity. So do dirty jokes and suggestive comments. So do bumper stickers.
I have seen people who publicly prayed and prayed, getting louder by the moment. I sat there registering the rise in temperature, feeling embarrassed and out of place--not because I didn't believe in prayer but I felt we were "casting pearls before swine." Yet I think of the Muslim who spread his prayer rug in the waiting area of a Tokyo airport and prayed. He wasn't embarrassed.
Question: Do you give thanks for your food before a meal? If not, why not? If you are in the group of people who are intimidated by ignorance of embarrassment, it's time to do something about it.
Resource reading: Psalm 148.