(This devotion is day eight of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
In A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Charlie and Snoopy sit down to eat with their friends at a thanksgiving meal. As they gather around the table—not yet aware the feast will be popcorn, pretzels, buttered toast, and jellybeans—and prepare to chow down, Peppermint Patty suggests they say grace first. Linus offers a prayer of thanksgiving representative of what the first pilgrims might have prayed. Now they eat.
It’s a scene reminiscent of meals all over the world, not just on Thanksgiving. But why pray before meals? Do we expect God to turn a thick slab of greasy pizza into a nutrient-rich meal? If we don’t pray, or if someone slips a fry into their mouth first, is the food cursed? Will God strike them with food-poisoning? Prayers before meals are often high on superstition and low on reflection. You might characterize it by monotony, not meaning.
Many Christians have stopped praying before meals as a reaction to what feels formulaic. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, or the prayer out with the carbonated water.
Mealtime prayers build into our day reminders that everything comes from God. God’s provision and generosity, evident in the spread before us, stir up gratitude.
Scripture doesn’t command it, so don’t do it with guilt-driven motives. Skipping it won’t lead God to strike you with stomach cramps. But the Bible commends and models it, not so much for the food’s sake but for our sake.
In John 6, when Jesus served as the warm host and lead chef who multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish, he “gives thanks” to the Father (6:11, 23). The same description shows up in Acts 27:35 when Paul prays aboard a ship. We see this language attached to meals throughout the New Testament (Romans 14:6; 1 Corinthians 10:30), including the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:14–23).
Giving thanks before eating recognizes God’s provision. Meals provide a great intermission to slow down, sit, and re-tune our hearts and minds. By stopping to pray, we remind ourselves everything comes from God. The work and skills of whoever made this food is from God. God blessed us through the natural resources we turn into food. The healthy bodies to raise or grow the food, and then turn it into something edible, comes from God. God’s common grace allowed us to earn and save money to purchase the meal. This is true of everything, but a meal provides a place to pause and reflect on these things.
We give thanks because of God’s provision, generosity, blessing, and abundance. It’s a concrete way to recognize and rejoice in God’s grace and goodness. Because we live out so much of our day in a here-and-now focus, this space helps us look upward.
A Needed Interruption
In Disruptive Witness, Alan Noble describes prayer in this setting as a “disruption” in our day (for us and those around us) reorienting us toward God. “The results of these habits should be a deeper sense that we live in a created world sustained by a loving God…This is the proper movement whenever we encounter anything good in life. We acknowledge its goodness and we give glory to God.” We’re prone to live in terms of the earthly, natural realm and forget how God intersects with life. Prayer around a table or in a booth unites the two back together so we live as dual-citizens of heaven and earth.
The habit instills in us a posture of seeking and trusting the Lord. Prayer before meals can be meaningless or meaningful, depending on our words and thoughts. This food comes from God, and we thank Him.
Can you imagine a life without food? We give thanks because we really are glad to have this meal.
These prayers don’t have to sound the same. Mix it up. Give thanks because it looks and tastes good. God could have made all food to taste like tree bark or bird seed (and some healthy food does), but much of our food bursts with flavor. Think of the many spices changing a dish, or the contrast of sweet and savory, or the various textures in cuisines. God gifted humans with wisdom and creativity to take raw ingredients and bring them together on a plate to appeal to our eyes and please our taste buds. Next time you pray over a meal, show some excitement by thanking God for the specific pleasures of that food and how He made us to enjoy them.
We also give thanks because much of our food is nutritious. God gives food to strengthen, sustain, and nourish us. That’s not to say everything we eat will make the cover of Clean Eating magazine, but most dishes offer something our body needs. God created us to need fuel through food and drink, and we thank Him for this reminder we are needy, limited, and insufficient, unlike Him.
Though brief, our prayer realigns our hearts with God and resets our thinking so we don’t forget Him. Rather than trusting in self and patting our back as if we deserve everything, we humbly thank God for His gracious gifts and we go forward walking in His ways.
Gratitude doesn’t have to be an add-on or one more thing to do in an already busy life. Build thanksgiving into things you already do, such as pray before meals. And if you don’t do that regularly, it’s a small way to interrupt your day and reorient your mind and heart toward God. The table offers a time, place, and good reasons to give thanks.
For the next couple of days, build gratitude into your pre-meal prayers. As you pray, reflect on one blessing from the day and give thanks. Try praying after a meal. Grab onto one attribute of God and thank Him. Or you could give thanks for how this food gives a glimmer of God’s provision, goodness, and creativity. Let the grub stir up gratitude by thanking God over a meal.
 See Day 1 and its texts (James 1:17; 1 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 11:36; Matthew 7:9–11).
 Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 90, 94. See pages 111–115 for the disruptive witness of “saying grace.”
 This is one reason biblical fasting can be helpful as temporarily abstaining from gifts we take for granted cultivate granted. The phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” could also be “absence makes the heart grow grateful.”