(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 for 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, and not just on Thanksgiving Day. 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? (May he or she who hasn’t taken a bite before the prayer cast the first stone.) Will God strike the guilty person with food-poisoning?
Prayers before meals are often high on superstition and low on reflection. Monotony, more than meaningfulness, can characterize them. 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.
Pausing for Praise
Mealtime prayers build into our day reminders that all good things come from God. Whether you take a photo and add #blessed or not, pausing to pray offers a chance to see things for what they are: gifts 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. God won’t strike you with a stomach bug if you skip it. But the Bible commends and models it, not so much for the food’s sake but for our sake.
In John 6, when Jesus o multiplied 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 prayed aboard a ship. We see this language attached to meals throughout the New Testament (Rom. 14:6; 1 Cor. 10:30), including the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 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 skill of whoever made this food is from God. God blessed us with natural resources like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and dairy (to name a few of the goodies God stocked our world with). 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.
A meal provides an intermission in our busyness to reflect on God’s provision and generosity. It’s a concrete way to recognize and rejoice in God’s grace and goodness.
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 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 food looks and tastes good. God could have made all food to taste like tree bark or bird seed (and some healthy food does), but most 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 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. Our dependence on food and water is a daily reminder we are creatures; that God is God and we are not.
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 praying 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. Before grabbing a plate, grab onto one attribute of God and thank Him. Try praying after a meal. 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.
 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.”
To go deeper in biblical thanksgiving and understand how it leads us to know and enjoy God, check out my book The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of A Lost Spiritual Discipline.