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The Saying Grace Dilemma

I have had a similar experience on a several occasions over the last few years to my "saying grace" or simply put thanking God for my meal before I eat. In my travels, if I am eating among a group of people, it is invariably in a corporate setting, and usually among a group of largely non-Christian colleagues, or at least colleagues who rarely identify themselves to me as being Christian. The experience to which I allude is one of someone remarking how they think it takes "so much courage" to pray over my food in the presence of business colleagues. To be fair, I understand this sentiment. I understand the motivation behind saying it, and I acknowledge the reality to which it speaks.

Those of us who pray over our meals are simply acknowledging God as the supplier of our food. Then why the supposed courage? Well I suspect it is in part the legacy that "my religion should be private", an inference that many people grew up with in such denominations as Catholiscm, Lutheran or Presbyterianism. The suggestion here is that although God is to be thanked for providing for us, He should not be thanked publicly (especially among non-believers), because that would be akin to imposing God on others. If so, how then can Christians be themselves among other people? Are we aliens among a crowd of others from whom we should hide our true identity? Perhaps this is what Peter (Christ's disciple) meant when he wrote: Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12) Here Peter clearly states that indeed, Christ's followers are in fact "aliens" in this world...but I would argue, that Peter is by no means suggesting that we should necessarily hide our other-worldly nature. To the contrary, I see Peter exorting Christians to live in such a way, that our good deeds will bring glory to God. I'm not sure if my or others thanking God for our meals in the presence of non-believers does bring glory to Him in their eyes at that time, but Peter is clearly indicating that perhaps it will validate God's glory for them on the day He visits us.

When asked by a non-Christian about my habit of saying grace, I usually make an analogy to the relationship of a child and their parent. Picture a dad buying a shiny new bike for his kid. Sometime later, the kid is in the park playing on his bike among his friends, when his dad happens to come by. If that kid were to thank his dad for buying that bike at that moment in time, if you were the dad (or the mom) wouldn't that make you feel appreciated by your child for acknowledging your gesture? Another analogy here: what if the kid in the story thought about thanking their dad, but then decides against doing so because that would look awkward in front of his friends? The dad in our fictional story wouldn't be any the wiser having not been privy to his son's thoughts. However what if he was privy to his child's thoughts? He probably would be hurt by his child's decision to not acknowledge him due to embarrassment. In our real world however God is privy to all our thoughts and motivations. He is probably hurt every time we fail to acknowledge Him after first having thought about it. Perhaps that is why the Bible calls him the "long-suffering" God: You understand, O LORD; remember me and care for me...You are long-suffering--do not take me away (Jeremiah 15:15)

The Bible references several instances in which Jesus showed us the example of thanking God for our food:

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.

Matthew 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you...

Luke 24:28-36 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

The apostle Paul also does the same in Acts 27:33-36: Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. "For the last fourteen days," he said, "you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food--you haven't eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head." After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.

I thank God for providing us all the things that we have here on this earth by His mercy and grace: "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:35-36)

All scripture courtesy of the NIV Bible


Lisa said…
Good "food for thought" for many. Saying grace is means to thank God for the provision of the food as well as the resources to purchase the food. It is also to acknowledge that we need HIM in all things including the blessing of the food we eat. While I have not had your exact experience of people asking me questions when they see me publicly praying over my food, what I have experienced is the table becoming quiet until I say "amen". Then the talking resumes. It is an unspoken respect unto God even if they don't realize it. I have also had many times of gently asking, "may I say grace for us or may I bless the table?" and the non-Christians say yes. In this way I find they are drawn into a reminder that GOD's presence is always there. I think as Christians if we just be who we are with sincere hearts others will be drawn toward the CHRIST in us. GOOD MESSAGE Peter.
Isabel said…
I have enjoyed reading your blog about the Amish and it is so true.
In spite of the hurt and pain that they were going through they, like Jesus kept quite
and forgave. It is good to know that there are still Christians that love the Lord
and obey His word. God bless you. Isabel

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