Posted by: davidlarkin | January 23, 2018

Prayer before a Meal

Prayer before Meal. Painting by Vincente Manansala (1910 –1981) Manansala was a Filipino cubist painter and illustrator.

The Christian practice of grace before meals follows Jesus practice of looking up to Heaven and giving thanks for food prior to meals, for example, in Matthew 14:15-21:

‘Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he 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.

And again in Matthew 15:32–38:

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 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. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.

From the beginning, the Church practiced giving thanks before meals from the beginning, even on a ship in danger, as the Apostle Paul did in Acts 27:33-37:

When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

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. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.

The English Puritan, Thomas Gouge, made the underlying seriousness of our dependence on God plain in his devotional discussion of the need for prayer for blessing on a meal, before partaking God’s creatures. The thought of food as God’s creatures is generally far from our consciousness in this secular world of commercially mass-produced, processed and packaged food today:

What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? Psalm 116:12

Forget not to pray unto God for a blessing on the things you are to partake. For as the apostle says, “Every creature of God is good, being sanctified by the Word of God, and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5). By the Word, as it does show, and warrant our right thereunto: and by prayer, as it is a means appointed by God for obtaining His blessing upon our food, without which it will do us little good. “For man liveth not by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). that is, bread does not nourish by its own power, but by the appointment and blessing of God. And therefore it was the usual practice of our Savior to lift up his eyes and crave a blessing upon the creatures, before he did partake of them, which has been the usual practice of the saints and people of God, before and since Christ’s time (1 Sam. 9:13; Acts 27:35-36). Having therefore such worthy patterns and precedents, follow them, not daring to partake of any of God’s good creatures, until you have lifted up your heart to God and craved his blessing upon them, for otherwise how justly might you expect from God a curse rather than a blessing? The things on the table are God’s things, and therefore you must need be more bold than welcome, if you make use of them without asking His blessing.”

Thomas Gouge, The Works of the Late Reverent and Pious Ms. Thomas Gouge (London: Printed by Thomas Braddyll, 1706), 218-19 quoted in Day by Day with the English Puritans, edited by Randall J. Pederson (Hendrickson, Publishers 2007), entry for January 23.

Gouge cites 1 Samuel 9:13 as example of the practice of prayer before the blood sacrifice and sacrificial meal that followed, which the Jews practiced before Jesus was born.  In this passage from Samuel, Saul is on his way to meet with Samuel, who is referred to as the “Seer” or prophet.  Samuel, as a priest and prophet would bless the animal sacrifice, which would then be eaten, thus prayer before the sacrificial meal:

When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant[a] who was with him, “Come, let us go back, lest my father cease to care about the donkeys and become anxious about us.”  But he said to him, “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go.”  Then Saul said to his servant, “But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?” The servant answered Saul again, “Here, I have with me a quarter of a shekel of silver, and I will give it to the man of God to tell us our way.”  (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let us go to the seer,” for today’s “prophet” was formerly called a seer.)  And Saul said to his servant, “Well said; come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was.

As they went up the hill to the city, they met young women coming out to draw water and said to them, “Is the seer here?”  They answered, “He is; behold, he is just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place.  As soon as you enter the city you will find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat till he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.”  So they went up to the city. As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the high place.

1 Samuel 9:5-14 (ESV)

But Christians pray before every meal as Jesus and Paul did because there is no more sacrifice for sin.  Jesus was sacrificed once for all on the cross, then resurrected from the dead to make intercession for us.

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

Hebrews 7:23-27 (ESV)

A final thought, this from Our Daily Bread for June 25, 2018, the author of the entry writes:

For many years, I’ve enjoyed the writings of British author G. K. Chesterton. His humor and insight often cause me to chuckle and then pause for more serious contemplation. For example, he wrote, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the play and the opera, and grace before the concert and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

As the Apostle Paul wrote:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

 


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