It’s normally chaos before we eat dinner. We’ve battled to get the four of us around the table for dinner, but almost always one of our young kids is complaining about the menu, there’s time pressure for one of us to get to an evening meeting, and then there’s inevitably a spillage, so we’ve got juice running its way around the plates and cascading onto the floor.
It’s amongst this chaos, that we try to stop. Simply to pray. To say grace.
The danger, in our busy, screen-saturated world, is that this ancient discipline gets forgotten.
Over the centuries and across the denominational spectrums and cultures, there has always been this tradition of ‘giving thanks’ before the meal. It comes from the Latin ‘gratiarum actio’ which means ‘an act of thanks’. The danger, in our busy, screen-saturated world, is that this ancient discipline gets forgotten. For some of us we perhaps take the meals we devour for granted. For some of us, a sandwich lunch on the hoof and a microwave meal in front of the TV don’t seem to prompt us to pray. For some of us ’saying grace’ might just feel like some kind of religious act that should be banished to history.
And yet, for me, I believe this ancient tradition of saying grace, is really important in grounding me in the mission of God. The act of saying grace, punctuates my busy-ness, reminding me of three vitally important things…
- It reminds us of who God is: When I say grace, I am taking a step back from the to do list and my me-centred existence and I am choosing to remember who God is. It’s a re-adjustment of my focus, that sets up the next part of my day, framing the decisions I will make and the conversations I will have.
- It reminds us of who we are: We can easily think of ourselves as independent and self-made. And yet when we give thanks for the meal we are about to devour, we remember that our existence is linked to a created order. We remember the intrinsic connection we have to planet earth and we, for a moment, think about those that have made this meal possible. Ultimately, we are reminded of what it means to be human and to be dependent, ultimately on God.
- It reminds us of the way in which God blesses us: We have so much to be thankful for. Whenever I read the Exodus story of the Israelites grumbling in the wilderness, I often think that I would not have been like them. And yet I can often find myself comparing what I have with those around me. Saying grace is a remedy for complaining because it helps us recognise how God has blessed us and continues to bless us.
Ultimately, giving thanks before I eat helps me remember the good news of the Gospel: that God is good, that I have been created for a relationship with Him, and that I am deeply blessed.
But here comes the sticking point – what do we do when we are out at Nando’s or when we have guests round? Is it right impose our prayers on others? Should we instead pray quietly in our heads?
What do we do when we are out at Nando’s or when we have guests round?
Every meal time is different but I have been challenged to pray out loud no matter what the circumstance. My kids are used to praying before we eat and I don’t want them to think that their faith is just for the home. I want them to see prayer as a part of all we do – and the same goes for whoever our guests may be. So, when I’m sharing a meal with others, I often ask the present company if it’s cool for one of us to pray before we eat. And so far, the answer has always been yes!
Saying grace helps punctuate my life with thankfulness but it also becomes a bridge to spark conversations about faith. There is this incredible story in Acts 27 as Paul finds himself being shipped to Rome as a prisoner. The boat is caught in a storm in the Adriatic Sea and all looks lost. Just before they tip the food overboard and run the ship aground, they share a meal.
And before the meal, “Paul gave thanks to God in front of them all” (Acts 27:35). He said grace.
If Paul can do it after a 14-day storm, just before they are to be shipwrecked, then perhaps amongst the chaos of our lives, we can also create time to say grace.
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