Why Do We Pray before We Eat?

Published: Jan 17, 2023
Why Do We Pray before We Eat?

“God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.”

One of the first things small children learn to do in a Christian household is to pray before they eat. For people who have a relationship with the Lord, and even for some people who do not know what they believe, it is such an ingrained habit or family tradition that it can be easy to do it out of habit, rather than a sincere moment of gratitude for a meal.

Why do people pray before they eat anyway? Does God really command us to do so? While there is no commandment in the Bible where God says, “thou shalt pray before you eat,” there are consistent examples in the Bible, including from the Lord Jesus who Christians are to imitate, of saying a blessing and a prayer of thankfulness before a meal.

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dinner prayer before meal

Why Do We Pray before We Eat?

Beginning early in Genesis, there is a connection between food and prayers of thanks, primarily starting with the Levitical Law. Under the law, there were certain sacrifices the people made to God in the tabernacle, and eventually the temple.

The priests of the tabernacle and temple were from the tribe of Levi, who did not receive land in Israel. However, they were allowed to eat portions of certain offerings; “‘These are the regulations for the grain offering: Aaron’s sons are to bring it before the Lord, in front of the altar. The priest is to take a handful of the finest flour and some olive oil, together with all the incense on the grain offering, and burn the memorial portion on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the Lord.  Aaron and his sons shall eat the rest of it…” (Leviticus 6:14-18a).

In addition to the grain offering, the priests could also partake of the fellowship offering, “If they offer it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering they are to offer thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with oil, and thick loaves of the finest flour well-kneaded and with oil mixed in…The meat of their fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; they must leave none of it till morning” (Leviticus 7:12 & 18).

In both of these situations, thankfulness and expressions of that thankfulness, and the consumption of food are linked. In Deuteronomy, it says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10). God had just blessed the Hebrew people with a land of their own, and they were encouraged to thank God for the food that came from that land.

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Bible on empty dinner plate on table

Where in the Bible Do People Pray before Eating?

The relationship between prayer and eating is further enforced in the New Testament. In every case the Lord Jesus is shown eating or feeding people, He blesses the food, and expressing gratitude to the Father before, and sometimes after, the meal is a part of that blessing. Some examples of Jesus blessing and giving thanks around meals include:

Feeding the 5,000: Matthew 14:19 “And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.”

The Last Supper: Luke 22:17-19 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”

Beyond the example of the Lord Jesus, there are verses in both the Old and New Testament that encourage giving thanks to God in all things, which would include being thankful for meals.

Verses about giving thanks include: 

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psalm 100:4).

 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

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two generations family at dinner table granddad smiling at granddaughter

Do We Always Have to Pray before We Eat?

It is common at a table of Christians to see someone take a couple bites, then someone says, “should we pray?”, and the person gives a guilty smirk as they finish their bite and everyone lowers their head to say grace.

Nowhere in the Bible is it commanded that someone should say a blessing over every meal. It is not a sin to forget to thank God for food, to not pray because it is not habit, or to not do it at all, even if someone feels thankful in their hearts. It is also okay to pray silently if someone does so with sincerity.

When helping the prophet Samuel choose the second king of Israel, He said, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b). This idea that what God cares about is the state of the heart, rather than overt showings of gratitude, praise, and adoration is consistent.

Jesus told a parable about the priest and the tax collector. The priest publicly and loudly prayed, drawing attention to himself and his goodness. The tax collector was off by himself, beating his breast in shame for his sin. The Lord concluded, “I tell you that [the tax collector], rather than the [priest], went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Any prayer of thanksgiving or blessing for food should be sincere. In fact, it would be less appealing to God for someone to pray when they are not thankful, or just to draw attention to themselves.

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Breakfast in bed

3 Prayers to Say before You Eat

For Breakfast

Holy Father,

This is the day that You have made, and I want to rejoice and be glad in it. Thank you for this meal that I have this morning, to fuel my mind and body to serve You today in whatever way You call. Please bless it, and help it to keep me focused and healthy so that I can be ready for my tasks and responsibilities, and so that what I do can be truly glorifying to You. In Your Name, I pray,

Amen.

For Lunch

Holy Father,

Thank you for sustaining me to this point in the day. I praise You for Your ever-steady hand and Your presence. I ask that you bless this meal to help me finish my tasks today. Thank you for the harvest that made it possible. Please bless the farmers and ranchers who produced this food. I am so thankful for what I have, and I pray that You will show me how I can be a blessing to those around me. In Your Name, I pray,

Amen.

For Dinner

Holy Father,

Thank you for helping me today. I thank you for helping me get things done, and for being with me when things were hard. Lord, thank you for this last moment of nourishment at the end of the day. Please bless it, and help it to be a part of my body resetting tonight, keeping me healthy. Please keep me close to You, humble and dependent on Your boundless love and grace for my needs. You are Jehovah Jireh, God who provides, and it is because of You that I have this meal, and I know that You will continue to supply my needs according to Your riches in glory. In Your Name, I pray,

Amen.

The Bible encourages Christians to pray when they are thankful, to take a moment in the day to connect with God, and speak with Him. Even a short prayer before a meal is a time to grow closer to the Lord, who made that meal possible.

Sources

Lockyer, Herbert. All the Prayers of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019.

McHenry, Janet Holm. The Complete Guide to the Prayers of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2018.

Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.

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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.

Originally published Tuesday, 17 January 2023.