Stop praying before you eat


I think I may have taught my kids legalism – or rather they may have caught it from me. This is something I’ve been more aware of the last few years.

Steve Treichler and Timothy Keller are two people who’ve taught me a lot about the gospel – and I’m on a first name basis with one of them. Both men have helped me see the dangers of being over-churched. Even if you’re not directly told this, you start to think that you’re a better person and you’re maturing as a Christian if you’re reading your Bible, praying before meals, going to church and all that stuff. These things may bring you closer to God, but they may also push you farther away from God. They only bring you closer to God if you approach God with a broken and contrite spirit – a humble one that makes much of God.

When I give an instruction, command, or family rule without any specific grounding why, I’m preaching law. I think preaching law is appropriate for a 0 to 3-year-olds, but that starts to change as a child’s understanding grows. Our “instruction” needs to shift toward preaching grace. Commands like, “don’t hit your brother! We don’t hit. We be kind” – while true and appropriate teaching – implies certain rules about Christian behavior. The words behind the words say that we don’t do “that” and do do “this,” because that’s what Christians do.

I believe a better choice would be to tell a child that “hitting is a sin and that God died for our sins and set us free and that we’re no longer enslaved to our sins. Ask God for forgiveness and then ask your brother for forgiveness. You are free (and forgiven)!” It takes a lot longer to do this (trying to find new ways of saying the same thing must be akin to a preacher talking about incarnation every Christmas), and sometimes you just have time for the inadequate shorthand: “Don’t hit your brother.”

As my kids have gotten older, I’ve realized that I’ve been indirectly preaching law by praying for every meal. We don’t start digging in until everyone is sitting down and we’ve prayed for our meal. This is all good and I don’t disagree with this process. But, I think in my family, it has unintentionally led to thinking that praying is one more “law” that we must follow. To combat this, I have tried to lead with many small prayers throughout the day. Thanking and praising God for things throughout the day, and when it comes to mealtime…sometimes we don’t pray. Yikes! Sometimes, I even pray with my eyes open while we’re still moving about, grabbing food, and try to lead by example with a thankful heart.

Ideally, there shouldn’t be a straining to walk the tightrope between legalism and license – trying to balance things out – but rather we should be filled with the Spirit, living free with a heart full of thanksgiving.

In what areas do you feel like legalism might be creeping in?

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

–Graham Nelson

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