“God is great, God is Good…”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…”
“For what we are about to receive…”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts…”
Saying grace at the family dinner table used to be a tradition. So much so, that it has been made fun of several times in the movies and on television. Some families recited a favorite prayer; others selected a family member to do the honors. Some families held hands; some closed their eyes; some stood. But NOBODY touched their plate until the Amen.
Grace has fallen out of favor in recent years. Some families still practice it for the holidays or special occasions, but many of us have lost the art of saying grace. In fact, many of us no longer have a family dinner table. Some of us eat, sleep, and live alone; others share a house, but rarely a meal, and never a grace. I would like to think that many of us WOULD say grace more often if we made time and effort for it, but many others actually hold grace in contempt, calling it old-fashioned; a senseless ritual, or a meaningless tradition.
I want to look a little more closely at grace– how and why we say it, and what it means (or should mean) as part of our daily walk with God. Calling grace a meaningless tradition may sound harsh, but it may also be a valid criticism. If “Come, Lord Jesus…” could be replaced with “Gentlemen, start your engines…”, then it might be time to rethink the entire practice. Similarly, if we dust off grace, only to say it for company, or to show that we still acknowledge tradition and have “good manners”, we’re missing the point. Grace should be more than just a moment to bow our heads, say a few familiar words, and dig in…grace has become laughable and spoof-able precisely because it has become senseless, formulaic, awkward, and grudging.
I read a tragic statement by someone who asserted that saying grace is actually “graceless”– tactless and inane. The writer suggested that when we thank God for food, we are really thanking him for feeding us, and choosing to bless us, as he allows others to starve– that saying grace makes us feel more special/less guilty in light of social and economic inequities, which he blithely allows. In other words, saying grace, in this person’s opinion, makes us arrogant and apathetic to the condition of others, while giving an unjust God undeserved thanks.
I would posit that it should be just the opposite. I suppose there are many who pray with the arrogant mindset suggested above, but their mindsets and their hearts are not mine to judge. True grace is not about the recipient of the grace, or the other potential recipients of grace, but about the giver–God– and his worthiness to receive our sincere thanks. If I believe that God is indeed unjust, then it makes little sense to feel “blessed” or “special” at all– an unjust God is also a capricious and unreasonable God who is not likely to be impressed or swayed by my smug “thank you,” anyway. So not praying doesn’t make me any less arrogant or apathetic toward others, nor does it move me to be more grateful or more generous than one who prays. It merely passes the blame for all injustice to God, leaving me off the hook, and making me feel more just than God.
However, if God is loving and gracious, promising perfect justice in his time, and forgiveness to those who seek him; a God who promises to be close to the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are broken and contrite; I am not thanking him for who I am, for what I have, or for what I think he should do. I am thanking him for who he is and for what he has chosen to give. And in thanking him for the very things I would take for granted, I am reminded that blessings are not given for me to boast about or hoard, but to share with others. That’s what saying grace SHOULD do–cause us to reflect on God’s goodness, and our call to share it with a needy world.
Grace is also an invitation– asking God to be part of every moment of our day, rather than just on Sunday or during a special devotional quiet time. According to his Word, he’s always present, anyway. But grace is a way of acknowledging and welcoming that presence. And that invitation isn’t limited to Thanksgiving or Sunday dinner with the whole gang. That invitation can be made anywhere, by anyone, at any meal (or snack, or midnight raid on the fridge!)
Is God welcome at our dinner table? Does he share in our drive-thru breakfast, or our trip to the deli? Do we allow him to join us at the restaurant, where others might overhear and find us quaint and old-fashioned? Does he sit with us in front of the TV or computer as we absent-mindedly munch on a sandwich? Grace isn’t about our goodness, our riches, or worthiness to enjoy God’s blessings. Grace is about a gracious God who has poured out blessings on a graceless and fallen world; a God who loves us all equally and offers to give us something more precious than food– freedom, forgiveness, and family–forevermore.
“God IS great; God IS good; Now we thank him for our food.”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest; let this food to us be BLESSED”
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us TRULY grateful.”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, THY gifts, which we are about to receive from THY bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”