Should we pray before meals?
While we observe no direct commands in Scripture to pray before meals it is wise and dutiful to follow the numerous examples set down in Scripture (Matt. 26:27, Mark 14: 22-23, Luke 22:17, 19, etc.). We should observe prayers of both "thanksgiving" (Matt 14:19-22; 15:34-36; Luke 24:30; Acts 27:35; cf. 1 Tim 4:4-5) and "blessing" (Deut 8:10) for God's divine provision (1 Cor 4:7; 10:32; Eph 5:20; Rom 11:36) throughout the Bible.
Praying before meals gives us the opportunity to: (1) celebrate who the Lord is (1 Chron 29:10-11); (2) remember who our Provider is (1 Chron 29:12-14); and (3) redirect our hearts to God (1 Chron 29:17-18). Not only is every meal a miracle from God, but every moment we spend with him in thanksgiving and worship is as a well. "It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night" (Psa 92:1-2; cf. Psa 33:2; 135:3; 147:1).
The Practice of Piety Before Meals (edited), by Rev Lewis Bayly (1575-1631) is a helpful primer on this most important topic.
Before dinner and supper, when the table is covered, ponder with thyself upon these meditations; to work a deeper impression in thy heart of God's fatherly providence and goodness towards thee.
Meditations before Dinner and Supper.
Meditate that hunger is like the sickness called a wolf; which, if thou dost not feed, will devour thee, and eat thee up; and that meat and drink are but as physic, or means which God hath ordained, to relieve and cure this natural infirmity and necessity of man. Use, therefore, to eat and to drink, rather to sustain and refresh the weakness of nature, than to satisfy the sensuality and delights of the flesh. Eat, therefore, to live, but live not to eat. There is no service so base, as for a man to be a slave to his belly; the apostle terms such, belly-gods (Phil. 3:19). Therefore we may boldly term them, as the Scriptures do other idols, gillulim, dung-gods (Hab. 2:18, 19; [2 Kings 10:28]). And as no one action (God's ordinances excepted) makes a man more to resemble a beast, than eating and drinking, so the abuse of eating and drinking to surfeiting and drunkenness, makes a man more vile than a beast.
2. Meditate on the omnipotency of God, who made all these creatures of nothing (Heb. 11:3) - of his wisdom (Psa 145:15, 16), who feedeth so many infinite creatures through the universal world, maintaining all their lives, which he has given them, which surpasseth the wisdom of all the angels in heaven - and of his clemency and goodness, in feeding also his very enemies (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17).
3. Meditate how many sorts of creatures, as beasts, fish, and fowl, have lost their lives, to become food to nourish thee; and how God's providence from remote places has brought all these portions together on thy table for thy nourishment; and how by these dead creatures he maintains thee in health and life.
4. Meditate that seeing thou hast so many pledges of God's fatherly bounty, goodness, and mercy towards thee, as there are dishes of meat on thy table, O suffer not in such a place, so gracious a God to be abused by scurrility, ribaldry, or swearing; or thy fellow-brother, by disgraceful backbiting, taunting, or slandering.
5. Meditate how that thy master Jesus Christ did never eat any food, but first he blessed the creatures, and gave thanks to his heavenly Father for the same (Luke 9:16; Matt. 14:19; 15:36; Mark 6:41; 8:6; Luke 24:30; John 6:11). And after his last supper, we read that he sung a 151 psalm (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26) for this was the commandment of God, "When thou hast eaten and filled thyself, thou shalt bless the Lord thy God," (Deut. 8:10). This was the practice of the prophets; for "the people would not eat at their feast, till Samuel came to bless their meat," (1 Sam. 9:13) and saith Joel to God's people, "Ye shall eat and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God" (Joel 2:26). This also was the practice of the apostles; for St. Paul in the ship, gave thanks before meat, in the presence of all the people that were there (Acts 27:35).
Imitate, therefore, in so holy an action, so blessed a master, and so many worthy precedents that have followed him, and gone before thee. It may be, because thou hast never used to give thanks at meals, therefore thou art now ashamed to begin. Think it no shame to do what Christ did; but be rather ashamed that thou hast so long neglected so Christian a duty. And if the Son of God gave his Father such great thanks for a dinner of barley-bread and broiled fish (John 6:9, 11), what thanks should such a sinful man as thou art render unto God for such variety of good and dainty cheer? How many a true Christian would be glad to fill his belly with the morsels which thou refusest; and do lack that which thou leavest! how hardly do others labour for that which they eat, and thou hast thy food provided for thee, without either care or labour! To conclude, if pagan idolaters at their feasts were accustomed to praise their false gods (Dan. 5:1, 4), what a shame is it for a Christian, at his dinners and suppers, not to praise the true God, "in whom we live, move, and have our being?" (Acts 17:28).
6. Meditate that thy body, which thou dost now so daintily feed, must be, thou knowest not how soon, meat for worms, "When thou shalt say to corruption, Thou art my father; and to the worm,. Thou art my mother, and my sister." (Job 17:14).
7. Meditate, that many a man's table is made his snare (Psa 69:22) so that through his intemperance and unthankfulness, the meat which should nourish his body, kills him with a surfeit; insomuch, that more are killed with this snare than with the sword (Gen. 3:17). And seeing that since the curse, the use of all creatures, so likewise of meat and drink, is to us unclean, till the same be sanctified by the word of God, and prayer; and that man liveth not by bread only, but by the word of God's ordinance, and his blessing, which is called the staff of bread: sit not therefore down to eat, before you pray, and rise not before you give God thanks. Feed to suffice nature, yet rise with an appetite; and remember thy poor Christian brethren, who suffer hunger, and want those good things wherewith thou dost abound (1 Tim. 4:4, 5; Matt. 4:4; Lev. 26:26; Ezek. 4:16; 5:16; 1 Sam. 9:13; Matt. 14:19; Luke 24:30; 1 Cor. 10:16; Rom. 14:6; 1 Thess. 5:18; Eccl. 10:17; Luke 22:34; Neh. 5:17; Amos 6:6.) These things, or some of them premeditated, if there be not a Samuel present (1 Sam. 9:13), lift up with all comely reverence (Matt. 14:19) thy heart, with thy hands and eyes, to the great Creator and feeder of all creatures, and before meat, pray to him thus ...
Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).