Question:

Hello, Mr. Hamilton!

My husband and I have been studying the book of Matthew, and we have a question about Matthew 6:5-6. How do these verses apply to saying a prayer of thanks before a meal in a restaurant? We have read your answer to the question, "Must a prayer be said before eating a meal?", but we are still confused. Jesus tells us not to pray openly in public, but there are examples in the Bible of Jesus, as well as Paul, praying in public before a meal. What should we do when we are at a restaurant? Should we each just say a silent prayer, so as not to seem "showy" to everyone else? Thank you so much for your advice!


Answer:

"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:5-6).

The key phrase to notice here is "that they may be seen by men." There is a difference between people seeing you pray and saying a prayer to be seen by others. Solomon did not sin when he offered a prayer to God at the dedication of the temple: "Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven" (I Kings 8:22). The purpose of Solomon's prayer was not to show off. He was offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God on behalf of all present. Stephen prayed before unbelievers (Acts 7:60). Paul prayed with others (Acts 20:36).

In a restaurant, if the food is coming at uneven times, we will say a private prayer. If the food is delivered at once and we deem that it is possible to say a prayer without disturbing others, we will do so but keeping the volume so that just those at the table can hear what is being said. Basically the prayer is for those who wish to thank God before a meal, and not done because we want others to see as as Christians. If the only time you say a prayer is when there are others present, then there is a problem.

Thank you, Mr. Hamilton!