A guest post by Thom Bull
One of the most regular prayers that most Christians will pray is some kind of prayer of thanksgiving for food. We’ll probably pray at least 365 graces in a year (366 in leap years), maybe up to 1095 if breakfast and lunch are included. And I reckon it’s pretty fair to say that if you want a prayer to become tired and a bit of a chore, then praying it anywhere between 365 and 1095 times a year is a pretty good way to do it.
But saying grace, far from a chore, is actually one of the most wonderful, joyful and simple ways to quietly celebrate the truth of the Christian story, and something that undercuts so many of the other stories that our culture tells us. Because, on the outside, saying grace actually seems pretty counter-intuitive. From the outside, I work hard to earn money, I take that money and buy food and bring it home, and
chop and dice and julienne and fry and roast, all to perfection, summon those who are eating with me and sit down to a meal. And it’s at that point, after I’ve done all that hard work of earning, buying, preparing and serving, and before I enjoy the first bite of the fruits of all that labour, that I close my eyes, bow my head and…give thanks to God. Before anything else, I acknowledge and give thanks to him as the only one who has, in fact, provided it all so freely and richly for my enjoyment. And so, when we give thanks to God for our food, we actually do more than just give thanks for food. In saying grace, we actually acknowledge a truth made known in Jesus, a truth that we probably wouldn’t come up with if we just looked at the bare facts involved in getting food on the table. When we say “Thank you” to God for our food, we’re confessing that, even though it might look on the outside as though we ourselves stand behind this meal, the truth is it is all pure gift, given by a generous, gratuitous God upon whom we’re completely dependent.
The other story, the one that our culture tells us, is that we ourselves are the source of the food we enjoy. There’s nobody to thank but ourselves. There’s nothing more to it than what we see – our working, our buying, our preparing, our cooking, our dishing up. And really, that’s taken as true not only of the food that we eat, but of everything we have, and everything we are. And I think a lot of us love that story, because it makes us the centre of our world – independent, empowered, in control. But if you chew on that story for a while, it’s actually pretty terrifying. Because in that story, the only thing that stands between order and disorder, between my life as it is now and the chaos of tomorrow, is me. Just little old, limited- in-every-way me. And when you think about it, that actually means that, in that story, I’m not independent at all! I’m completely dependent – but not on a loving and kind and trustworthy God. Instead, I’m dependent upon the completely random, completely unpredictable, cold hard knucklebone of chance.
Consider the alternative that Jesus gives to his disciples: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, yet your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” As you can see in the last bit, it’s not a promise to be spared from trouble or hardship. But it is assurance that there is a God in heaven who is in control, who knows our needs, and who isn’t stingy and mean, but rather loves us and provides for us. So even if you say it 1095 times a year, don’t tire of saying grace. Thank God for your food – as well as everything else – and embrace and celebrate everything that it means.