Monday, February 11, 2008

Saying Grace?



I’m always quick to challenge and question others, especially my wife, when they say something overtly cliché. For whatever reason, I’m a stickler about this kind of thing. I often will respond with a “Could you please tell me what that even means? Where did that originate?” For the sake of example, I’ve tracked down a few clichés that all will know what they’ve been adopted to insinuate, but likely have no idea whatsoever where the saying originated. “Straight from the horse’s mouth” – “Bought the farm” – “Son of a gun” – “For the love of Pete” – “Knock on wood” – “Dead as a doornail”. OK, you get the point.

Much to my shock and excitement, my wife turned the tables on me last week. She point blank asked me, “Why do we pray before we eat?” I, with a big grin, responded, “I don’t really know… but I’m going to find out!” Of course the “I’m a good Christian”, Sunday School acceptable answer is, ”We pray before a meal to give thanks unto the Lord for His bountiful blessings that He has graciously bestowed upon us one and all.” But I challenge you to personally examine yourself to see if this too has become something lethargically habitual.

Our rhetoric is chock full of sayings and phrases that we don’t even know how to define. “Saying the blessing” or “saying grace” has the ability to become little more than another “Let the cat out of the bag”. In other words, we must be careful that we don’t repetitiously say a few lines without even really knowing what is coming out of our mouth. We could spend days discussing how “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21a), but that’s’ not really where I want to head with this, for now. I simply want us all to know WHY we do what we do and know WHY we say what we say.

As far as origins, I decided to not spend more than a couple of minutes looking into it. After all, this isn’t really a deep, theological mystery here that I feel the need to unfold. If you need something scriptural though, after mentioning those who “abstain from foods”, 1 Timothy 4:4&5 states, “For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer”. Otherwise, I can’t really find anywhere that the Lord desires us to specifically recite a blessing before our meals. (Oddly, in older texts and traditions, such as in Deuteronomy 8, people said thanks after the meal.) We also know that Jesus was known to “bless the food” on several documented occasions in the Gospels.

Finding a common thread, Romans 12:14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not”. The word bless, in both examples - Jesus with the food and our response to others - is the Greek word “eulogeo” which means to speak well of. Our mouths hold such great power when we speak. With each little word that we choose to utter, blessings and curses literally come into being. To me, that brings such a responsibility to all that I choose to speak, but to stay on topic, even that twenty or thirty seconds before a meal could loose Heaven onto the earth. What if everyone that is truly a Believer decided to pray, with great expectation and faith, “Lord Your Kingdom of Heaven be manifested in this room in which I’m now sitting!”? What is more powerful, a prayer that is derived from our innermost being where the Spirit dwells or a half-hearted “thank you for food and grandma and blah, blah, blah” that is prayed from a nearly comatose mind?

I believe it’s not all about what you say, it is about where it originates that I believe is key. After all, we know that God is not interested in the flattering lips of men. If the words uttered from my mouth are birthed in love, gratitude, a thankful heart and strained through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, then there are no worries as to the outcome. Blessing must come forth. We know that the Lord desires us to “Honor Him as God (and) give thanks.” (Romans 1:21), so let’s make sure that is what we’re really doing.

* I know this article is somewhat out of the ordinary around here. I purposely wanted to address something light-hearted today, I’ve been studying Paradise and Sheol and needed a break!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting point, but what about the traditions of and the holding onto the ways of our forefathers of the faith?

Anonymous said...

I thought it was pretty interesting. I don’t think it hurts to pray before a meal, but it is the heart that’s the issue. Are we doing it to make a show of ourselves and how holy and righteous we are? Are we doing it to make sure we’re “covered” before the meal in case it’s going to make us sick? Or is the ultimate goal to give God thanks for the meal that He has once again provided and the constant reminder of His love and care for us by providing?

k

Joel Spencer said...

anonymous: Well, in Mark 7 Jesus addresses that point, pretty much. The Pharisees are getting onto the disciples (and Jesus) for "eating their bread with impure hands". (gasp!)

Jesus said, after calling the Pharisees hypocrites,"(you) honor Me with (your) lips, but (your) heart is far away from Me. In vain do (you) worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."

So the way I see it, it's time we leave behind man's ways and follow Jesus alone. Thanks for asking, I hope this answers your question.

Joel Spencer said...

k: Thanks for the great topic question! It was kinda nice - weird, but nice - to be the one being asked the "why do we?" for a change. We've all got to sit down and think about why we do what we do in the name of Christianity.

Anita Cantrell said...

I think it possibly may stem from the Jewish blessing that is said at meals, especially Friday night Shabbat and also at Passover Seders. But the difference is the Jews bless the Lord and not the food. The blessing goes something like this "Blessed art Thou oh Lord our God, King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth." I believe this is the blessing that Jesus, being a Jew, would have said as He broke the bread. The terminology "blessing the food" I believe is a "Gentile-ized" version of the original Hebrew blessing.

I wrote a communion song that incorporates this Hebrew blessing with giving thanks for the price that Jesus paid called "We take this bread".

Never the less, it is never wrong to give thanks or bless the Lord. What is puzzling is that we normally just give thanks at meals, when I sit down with a bowl of popcorn I don't always give thanks. Anything can become an empty ritual or habit, this is definitely something to be mindful of.

Cool blog!

Joel Spencer said...

anita: I agree, there really is no wrong time to express your thankfulness. I'm just challenging myself to make sure that is really what I'm doing. Likewise, if I ever find myself mumbling some monotonous recitation, then I'd just as soon keep quiet.

Thanks for stopping by!

Joe Blackmon said...

Joel

I've been blogging through the book of Matthew and one of the things I've noticed is how the Pharisees made religion and law the focus of their lives rather than pursuing a right relationship with God. When John rebuked them, he said they needed to bear fruits that demonstrated repentance. I think the problem that some people have is that they think religious activities get them saved rather than a person who is really saved having a desire to serve and worship their Lord.

Just my two cents. Good post.

David D. Flowers said...

Hey Joel,

Nice blog. I enjoyed the "light-hearted" reflection.

I have decided once and for all... I will no longer participate in the religious saying of "grace." Besides... I think she passed away 30 years ago. (if you don't know what this means... just ignore it.)

I am convinced that it is wrong to pray before meals when we go so far as sticking our thumbs up in the air because we do not want to be the one to talk to God. It is ridiculous to say the least. Not long ago... I started telling everyone (those who stick their thumbs in the air) around the table that it is a shame that they do not wish to speak to God on behalf of our thankfulness. I pray a prayer of condemnation on their behalf and ask God to forgive them for their hard hearts. :)

My grandfather is the worst. He can be in the middle of arguing some meaningless point about some meaningless topic... and he will drop his head out of no where and repeat the same ole prayer he says every meal. "Lord, bless this food and all your provisions... la... la... la... and may it be a nourishment to our bodies and our bodies to your service. Amen." Yuck!

I am absolutely sick of religious Christianity and all of her nasty cliches and empty spiritualism. That old time religion aint good enough for me!

Check out my blogs. I think you will enjoy.

Peace bro.

Joel Spencer said...

Joe: Thanks for commenting. Your two cents are always welcome here! You're right, year after year of unsuccesful year, religion is still alive and kicking.


David: I'm with you all the way, with the exception of your statement, "I pray a prayer of condemnation on their behalf". Perhaps you mean "conviction" for I'd never pray condemnation upon any fellow Believer... no matter how off-based I think (or even know) they are.

Nonetheless, I'm glad to hear your opinions and insights here - please stop by again soon!

David D. Flowers said...

Joel,

Yo man! I was just kidding about the condemnation. Most everything I said was done so in humor.

Man, it really stinks being misunderstood so much. I will start footnoting my comments. :)

(that was another joke)

I have published several satirical articles. So... from time to time you can expect me to speak this way. That's the kind of guy I am. Now you know. :)

Peace.

Joel Spencer said...

David: OK, I'm with ya. Sorry for the misunderstanding. You likely know as well as I do that there are some pretty "hard-nosed let 'em have what they deserve's" out there. Glad to see that you're not one of them.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a home of "religiousity"..and was turned off by the prayers at meal time followed by arguing and crud the rest of the time..

NOW I watch in amazement as my earthly father, (who has had a heart changed into one of true relatinship with the Lord), cries as he ofers his thankfulness at mealtimes and any OTHER time he is moved to do so. But it was the mealtime prayer that first gave me the chance to hear his changed heart.. Now I LOVE to hear his "grace" offering..

Joel Spencer said...

anonymous: What an excellent report! How fantastic to see someone "get it". I had the joy to experience someone beginning to see the big picture (the depths of God's love) today and it was so exhilirating!

God is drawing all to Himself!