Two things happened to me this week that have had a gnawing impact on my life. I will tell you what they were.
At our house, I’m sort of the ‘undeclared’ and unofficially nominated pray-er at meal time. Whether in some diner, restaurant, or sitting around our table at home, like many families, I know, we thank God for our meal. I guess I should say, ‘I’ thank God for our meal, while others around our table bow their heads and join me silently. I’m the pray-er.
True confession time, I suppose: I have grown accustomed to that simple time of saying grace around our table, thanking God for our food. So comfortable, in fact, that I’m afraid I’ve become ‘predictable,’ at least when my family is waiting for me to pray. I say the same, short prayer at every meal: ‘Thank You Jesus, for this food. Bless it to our body’s use. In Jesus Name, amen.’ And then, the noise of forks and knives. It’s legal to begin the meal.
I don’t sermonize. I don’t pray for the missionaries in far-off lands. I don’t ask God to heal my sore knee, or forgive the sins I have no doubt committed in thought or deed since the last meal when I said grace. No. I just bow my head and say, “Thank You, Jesus, for this food. Bless it to our body’s use. In Jesus Name, Amen.” I have become so accustomed to my comfortable way of thanking God for his provision that my wife made note of it. (She often makes note of things in my life that I would do well to note.) She said (and I’m not kidding, a direct quote,) “I think we could make a tape of your prayer at mealtime, and just play the tape, instead of you’re needing to say it each time. It’s always the same.” She laughed as she said it. I laughed as she said it. My son laughed, too. We all had a good laugh at the way I say grace. Except … and this is the gnawing impact part, I wondered if God was laughing about the way I thank him for our food.
Two days after my wife made her observation about my mealtime prayer life, I experienced another poignant and gnawing moment. I sat at lunchtime in a large buffet restaurant. I’d already made a visit with my plate to several stations, filling it with various kinds of food. Then, with head bowed I prayed, but not aloud. No one sat with me. God would hear, even if I only prayed in my heart: “Thank you, Jesus for this food. Bless it to my body’s use. In Jesus name, Amen.” Immediately after my prayer, I remembered my wife’s funny comment, I Could have played a tape. But I gave that thought only a passing notice, as I reached for my fork to begin my lunch.
And then, they walked in.
Eight men, all dressed in slacks and nice shirts. Gray-haired. Jovial. They did not look related, but they did look as if they were all together. One-by-one, after filling their plates they returned to their large table, each one finding their place but waiting until all eight were seated.
And then it happened. As I sat peeling shrimp and eating chicken on a skewer, they all rose in unison, as if some marionette had pulled an imaginary set of strings that connected all of them together. One of them spoke to God in a language I could not recognize. Slow and deliberate. I have no idea what he said to God. I did understand one word. It was the word, “Amen.” They all repeated the Amen.
Can I tell you something? As I sat there in that buffet restaurant, part of me desperately wanted to pick up my plate, walk across the room and find a chair at their table. I wanted to ask them questions about who they were, and their standing for prayer at mealtime. I wanted to ask the guy who prayed what he said to God when he thanked Him for the food. I’d love to have had a tape of that prayer for future reference. I think taping that prayer would have been different than taping my mealtime prayer.
I would not be surprised for a moment if the translation for that prayer began with, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Somehow, standing together in a circle praying … made those guys seem like they were truly … thankful.