All of us have to eat; but so often we satisfy this basic need by munching on the hoof, in front of the television or at a work-station; intent on satisfying the hunger pangs, but paying little attention to the actual process.
If sustenance was the only function of food, we might have been designed to get all our nutrition from a little grey pill; instead, the Lord has provided a wealth of consumables in a vast array of colours, textures, nutritional value and taste – and the capacity to create endless permutations – all for our enjoyment. Eating was meant to be a delight, as well as a means of nourishment.
And mealtimes can be so much more than fuelling stations; they are an important context for communion with others. In the ancient world, to eat with another was to declare a relationship bond.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, one of the results was a profound ‘togetherness’ among the believers, a unity and joy which was expressed in shared meals. At the table we can share our hearts and listen to others; we can laugh and learn; we can belong.
So many stories in the Gospels show Jesus sharing in different meals: in private homes and formal banquets, at hillside picnics and festive feasts – even a barbecue on the beach! In contrast with John the Baptist’s frugal eating habits, Jesus evidently enjoyed his meals, giving rise to false accusations of excess (Matthew 11:18,19).
And when Jesus was present, the table became a place of revelation, healing, learning and worship – invariably relaxed and informal, but always profound. Each meal became a gateway to a personal encounter with him. And this wasn’t confined to his days on earth. When two stressed-out disciples invited a stranger to dinner, they ended up with a wonderful experience of the risen Christ (Luke 24:13–32).
Our mealtimes can be an amazing means of grace if we invest them with faith and expectation. We may not be able to transform every repast into an opportunity for delight, communion and transformation; but couldn’t we do it with some?
7 ways to practise grace-filled mealtimes
• Be intentional about carving out quality time for some meals, and making time to breathe. Focus on what you are eating, delight in it and express your gratitude to the Lord, “who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
• When you eat with others, take time to listen, to ask questions, and listen to the heart as well as the words. Deep relationships can be forged as we eat together and our pursuit of fellowship, when offered to the Lord, is also an act of worship.
• When you eat alone consider ’fasting’ from your book, newspaper or TV screen, and invite the Lord to join you. Turn your heart towards him, listen to his voice, and enjoy his company.
• Use your creative ingenuity to make mealtimes a means to calm, distract or comfort children. One rainy, fractious day when our children were small, we had an ‘upside down’ picnic under the table, wearing ‘upside down’ clothes, and eating simple ‘upside down’ food; an atmosphere-changing meal that, decades later, we still remember with joy.
• Make some meals an event. Even if you eat alone, celebrate a festival, a season, a person or just being alive! Set the table with nice linens – charity shops are a great source – add some seasonal decorations and candles, and play some music. Present food with flair; it doesn’t have to be luxurious – even bread and cheese can look like a feast when creatively displayed.
• Give hospitality. Make some of your mealtimes a breathing place for others. This is not about performance-based ‘entertaining’, but about providing a place of loving acceptance where people can unwind, unload and belong.
• Pray over your meals, asking the Lord to join you at the table. Cultivate the expectation that special things can happen as you eat together in his presence. We have seen his healing oil poured into broken hearts, as guests have shared in the table-laughter; revelation dawn on the searching as conversation has deepened, and physical healing received as end-of-dinner talk has melted into prayer.
And we ourselves have been changed, meal by meal, as we have eaten with friends and family in his presence.
Kate Waterman lives in Northumberland, where she divides her time between writing, speaking and enjoying country living. Connect with her at www.rhythmsofgraceuk.org