Most of us were taught from childhood that we should pray a prayer of thanksgiving for our food before we eat. I certainly was. No one ever told me why I was supposed to do that, and I never thought to ask. It always just made sense to me. But that’s the way kids are. They usually just do what they’re taught to do when they’re little, without even thinking about it. Then, when they get older, things might change. Perhaps they’ll just get out of the habit they learned when they were little, without ever even realizing it. Other times, they might suddenly ask themselves, “why in the world do we do this?”

I always used to add a little milk to my eggs before I scrambled them because that’s the way I saw my mom making scrambled eggs when I was a kid. I always just thought that’s the way it’s supposed to be done. Some time after I became an adult, I started wondering about that. So I asked her why we did it. It turns out she got into that habit during the Great Depression, because milk was cheaper than eggs. She could stretch the eggs out a little bit by adding some milk. She never got out of the habit, so I always just assumed that’s the way it was supposed to be done.

So why do we “say the blessing” before we eat? Why do we even call it “saying the blessing”? Sure, we ask God to bless the food, but why? What on earth leads us to think that the fool needs to be blessed? Here are three reasons we “say the blessing.”

First, because Jesus thanked his Father for his food. When he was feeding thousands of people, his disciples only passed out the food after Jesus had given thanks for it. When he was sharing his Last Supper with his disciples, they didn’t eat until after Jesus had given thanks for the food. Of course, we realize that the prayer of Thanksgiving at the beginning of the meal was a universal custom among the Jews of Jesus’ time, and remains the staple for devout Jews to this very day. You could imagine that Jesus simply did what he did out of blind, heedless adherence to tradition, like me and my eggs. However, you’d have to be pretty clueless about how Jesus usually handled tradition. Good, godly, helpful traditions he followed carefully. Silly, pointless, or positively harmful traditions he loudly rejected. Jesus would not have carried on the tradition of praying before meals unless there was a good purpose for it. And there was.

Second, it’s always right to thank God for the good gifts he gives, and it’s always wrong to fail to thank him. We should thank him for the food we eat and the air we breathe and every good gift we ever enjoy every day we live. You don’t have to be a theological giant to figure that out. It only takes just a little bit of thought, and a little bit of reading in the Bible. God has some truly choice words of condemnation for unthankful people.

Third, we should pray a prayer of thanksgiving over our food because Paul teaches us that thanksgiving actually sanctifies our food. Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 10, and 1 Timothy 4:3-5 make it clear that food does not defile people, if it is made holy by thankful prayer. Of course, the idea that food needs to be sanctified (made holy) seems pretty weird to us. But so does the idea that we ourselves are defiled, and in need of being sanctified, made holy. But what Jesus says in Mark 5 is that we defile the food, because we are the ones who are sinners. In fact, our Lord himself, in his Sermon on the Mount, assumes that his hearers are “evil” and that their evilness is such a well-known fact that it can be used as an unassailable basis for his argument. We’re defiled. And then, when we gorge our sinful selves on the good gift of God without praising God for the good thing he gives, the gift itself only multiplies our own defilement.

In other words, “saying the blessing” before we eat is actually a form of spiritual warfare, just like praying “in Jesus’ name,” it is a routine reminder that we in ourselves are not worthy of our good God or his good gifts. It is only the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us that makes us worthy, that washes away are the defilement, that makes us clean before our Creator. We need to remind ourselves of that several times a day. Saying the blessing before we eat is just one more little discipline to help us remember who we are and to drive home for us once again how much our Lord Jesus Christ does for us.

So say the blessing, and fix you gaze anew on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!