Greg explains how saying grace in a restaurant can be a good witness.
I always try to bow my head and give thanks over meals in restaurants, even when I’m alone. Sometimes, though, it creates awkward moments.
Often servers are oblivious to the prayer (I suspect this doesn’t happen for them that often). They return to the table and carry out their duties, refilling coffee or dropping off mustard, completely unaware of the significance of the moment.
I don’t make a fuss, of course. I just pause, smile, and wait until they’re finished before I finish.
Just a few weeks ago, something unique happened while I was at a Mexican restaurant with my wife and girls. As usual, we held hands, bowed our heads over enchiladas and chili rellenos, and prayed. Nothing fancy, just a specific, genuine expression of thanks from the heart.
When I lifted my head, I noticed our server waiting patiently—and politely—for us to finish. He then came closer, took a knee next to the table, and in broken English asked a question. Could I teach him to pray?
He told me he liked the idea of giving thanks with his own family over meals, but he was a little unsure of himself. Did I have any suggestions? I thanked him for his interest, offered some thoughts, and then passed on a word of encouragement.
It was a short conversation, but it reinforced for me the importance of appropriate gestures of public piety.
I have three specific reasons for saying grace in restaurants, none having anything to do with grandstanding, trying to look “religious,” or attempting to impress anyone with my spirituality. Here they are.
First, I want to express gratitude to God.
When Jesus dined—whether in private (Luke 22:19) or in public (John 6:11)—it was His practice to give thanks. Paul did the same, once “in the presence of all” before a shipload of nearly 300 prisoners, soldiers, and seamen—virtually all non-Christians (Acts 27:35).
It is right to be grateful to God for every good thing we receive from Him, including what we eat (1 Tim. 4:3-5). Giving thanks for any meal—even in the humblest circumstances with no one watching—is simply good manners towards God.
Sometimes people are watching, though, which brings me to the second reason I always try to say grace publicly in restaurants. I want to express gratitude to God before other people.
Though I’m not trying to show off, I do want people to know that I care about honoring God and that I don’t care if they see. I want them to know I am not uneasy about my love for the Lord, even in a culture where some might think it odd.
But isn’t it possible an onlooker might be offended? I don’t know why they should be. Furthermore, in all my years of praying in public, I’ve never had anyone object. Quite the contrary, many times people have come over to my table to tell me they approved and were even touched by the practice.
This brings me to my final reason for always saying grace publicly in restaurants: I want my simple act of devotion to have a beneficial effect on others.
Instead of thinking the worst of those around me, I assume my behavior might encourage them. I don’t expect to get many requests for a short tutorial on prayer, but I do hope my effort will get others thinking in a positive way.
Some of those who offer a compliment turn out to be believers who weren’t as bold themselves. My effort encouraged them to stand a little taller and be more concerned about honoring God rather than being anxious about the judgment of others.
Even with non-believers present, I’m willing to take the risk that they may not like what they see. Those who don’t share my convictions display their values publicly. Why should I, as a Christian, timidly shrink into the background?
I hope in the future you won’t miss opportunities like this. Non-Christians frequently zero in on the negatives of religion. Maybe your decision in this small area will give them something positive to consider.