I’ve got a brother-in-law who, at least for a time, didn’t pray when he went out to eat in a restaurant.
It wasn’t that he was against prayer. And it wasn’t that he was ashamed of being a Christian. He was just trying to take the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:5 & 6 seriously: But when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in their synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. My brother-in-law felt that by praying in restaurants we were in danger of being like the hypocrites who just want to get noticed. So he decided he would pray at other times—at home or in private. And I’m confident he did.
I can understand his concern.
It can be a dangerous thing to pray in public. We can easily fall into the trap of wanting to show others just how holy we are. But I haven’t given up praying in restaurants (and especially praying before I eat at some fast food places—if there’s any food that needs God to bless it, it’s fast food—who knows what happened in that kitchen???). I do think that there are some things we need to avoid if we’re going to pray in a restaurant—showing off, trying to make any “unsaved” people in the restaurant see that they need Jesus, praying loudly enough to disturb others. But I still think it’s a good idea to pray before eating in a restaurant—and it’s not simply that if we don’t pray we might get indigestion from eating unblessed food.
I pray before I eat in a restaurant because God is there and meal times are really good times for me to remind myself of that.
My prayers in restaurants are not first for the food, though I do thank God for it. My prayers are first that I can remember every moment that I am living in God’s world and that I am living in God’s hands. I like the way that Richard Mouw puts it in his book Praying at Burger King: My restaurant prayers are opportunities for me to pause and remind myself that there is indeed a God whose mercy reaches out to me even when I am sitting in a fast-food booth with noisy kids running past me. I have a tendency to get so busy with what is right in front of me that I can “forget” God. I need these times in my day where I remember that God is the center of all things.
So I don’t worry that my brother-in-law is being a bad person when he doesn’t pray in public before he starts in on his whopper.
I know that he is a committed Christian who is just trying to do what Jesus is calling him to do. And I don’t think he really minds that I pause for a moment before I start in on my salad (OK-sometimes I do get a whopper).
What about you? What do you think? Should we, in the name of taking what Jesus says in Matthew 6:5-6 seriously, not pray in restaurants? How do we honor God as the giver of all good gifts without being like the hypocrites?