By Pastor Vern Kratz
I remember when I was still in school, coming home for lunch and finding my sandwich waiting for me on the table. And sometimes in my adolescent haste I would begin eating without waiting for anyone else to join me or without even acknowledging their presence. My mother would always bring me back in line and remind me about my manners. Then she or someone at the table would ask the question, “Did you say grace?”
I’d have to answer, “No.” Then we would all pause, bow our heads, and someone would say, or even recite, a one-line prayer thanking God for the food and asking His blessing on it.
I always found the tradition of “saying grace” before a meal somewhat intriguing. I remember as a child thinking, “What if I don’t like the food? What if there isn’t enough food? What if I get an upset stomach from the food? Maybe we should wait and see, eat first, and then if all is well, say grace and thank God for the food.”
Obviously it doesn’t work that way in most traditions. In fact, in many settings, it is seen as improper or impolite to even take one bite before you thank the Lord for His provision.
“Saying grace” refers to the practice of thanking God for the food before a meal. It is also called “saying the blessing.” Such prayers follow the examples of Jesus and the apostle Paul, both of whom “said grace” before meals.
Matthew records two instances of Jesus feeding thousands of people with only a small amount of food (Matthew 14:15-21; 15:32-38). In both these accounts, before Jesus “broke the bread” (or started the meal), He gave thanks to God for it (14:19).
The passage I was reading today was actually a story from the book of Acts. Let me encourage you to take the time to read Acts 27. It’s a very exciting story. Paul has been taken prisoner and is on a ship being transported to the place he will stand trial when suddenly a huge storm comes up. The storm lasts for days and all the while the sailors are frantically fighting the storm, literally fighting for their lives. After the storm had been raging for several days and the men had not even stopped to eat Paul was visited by an angel and told that they would be alright.
Paul shared this report with the men on the ship and encouraged them to eat something to keep up their strength. Then I got quite a picture in my mind when I read verse 35: “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.”
The wind is howling, the rain is stinging and making them uncomfortable and miserable, the waves are tossing them about; and this isn’t a ride that goes on for a couple of minutes, but rather for days and days. But at Paul’s urging, they stop to eat, and I can imagine them in their haste and impatience agreeing to take a brief break from fighting the storm and then begin grabbing and gulping down the food. But then they look over and see Paul in the middle of the raging storm bowing his head, and pausing to thank God for the food. It’s almost comical.
Our days are filled all types of situations, sometimes good, sometimes stormy, but in every situation we need to stop and eat at some point. Since we owe everything we have to God’s grace, the “free and unmerited favor of God,” it is appropriate to thank Him always (Ephesians 5:20). Meals provide a good time to pause and do just that. So let me encourage you, no matter how busy you are, or in whatever is going on in your life, “Don’t forget to say grace.”