Papa Was Right (Maybe)

My Grandfather, John D. McKeel

My grandfather was a huge influence in my life. He was a very small, dark Oklahoman, but had a ready wit and loved a good story. Papa was also very wise. For example, he noted that only fat people eat diet food, so if you want to avoid being overweight, you should avoid diet food, at least according to my grandfather. Likewise, Papa was a practical man. He insisted, “Life is uncertain so eat dessert first.” Papa also insisted that we should pray after meals instead of before so we would know just how thankful to be. It turns out, Papa wasn’t too far off base. The Jewish people, based on Deuteronomy 8:10, say the blessing after the meal!

“When you have eaten, and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”

On the other hand, Jesus gave thanks sometimes before (Luke 24:30), and sometimes afterwards (Luke 22:20). So why do Christians say their “blessing” over the meal before enjoying it? Some scholars believe the practice is tied to Jews and Gentiles eating together.

It must have been very hard for someone like Peter, a Jew, who had never eaten anything “unclean” (Acts 10:14), to enjoy a meal of forbidden food (Galatians 2:12). Perhaps that’s why Paul told Timothy, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” In other words, prayers make the food acceptable to eat, so it would make sense for Peter to pray before the meal.

But whether we pray before, after, or both, thanking God for our food is a wonderful practice. First, it cultivates an “attitude of gratitude” – an essential Christian virtue. I remember watching an old Walter Brennan movie where Brennan played a cantankerous old farmer. As he dug into the family meal his wife chastised him and insisted they say grace before they ate. I’ll never forget his bitter prayer: “Lord, we ploughed the field, planted the seed, hoed, watered and harvested the crop, but we give you thanks anyway.” His prayer reflected his sad character. How much sweeter is a thankful spirit!

Second, thanking God for our meals teaches us to depend on Him Who provides us with food, and shelter and clothing (Acts 17:25).

Finally, saying grace is a wonderful opportunity to teach our children to pray. Don’t you remember how special you felt when your father asked you to lead the family prayer at the dinner table? So, go ahead, take a moment to bow your head and thank the Lord for his love at every meal – even if, as Papa advised, it’s after dessert.

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