If you’re like me, you look forward to Christmas partly because of the delicious food that is connected with that season. Like so many Brits, I love Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies and of course turkey & stuffing, cranberry sauce plus about ten vegetables to go with it! There’s nothing quite like it. The bottom line is that I love eating. I love the variety of cuisine; I love the tastes and plan to continue to love it until I can eat no longer. One of the qualities of Rite, my wife, is that she is an extremely good cook. Actually, it was the fact that she was cooking while as a student in our school of evangelism, that I got to hang out with her and develop a relationship. While everyone else did their duties after lunch, she started to cook later, giving us the chance to chat while I worked at duplicating teaching tapes – no podcasts back then. Thanks Barry for organising that for us! But wait; the focus of Christmas isn’t about food but on celebrating Jesus’ birthday together. It’s about relating and enjoying one another as family and community. And of course, one of the ways we can do this best is around meals.
Meals seemed to be particularly important in the life of Jesus: Tim Chester is the author of “A meal with Jesus” and I want to share some of his thoughts. Jesus came to do three things: He came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45), He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and He came to eat and drink (Luke 7:34). The first two are statements of purpose while the third is a statement of method. Apart from all the parables Jesus taught involving eating, he spent much of his ministry time sitting with people enjoying meals:
- Luke 5 Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi
- Luke 7 Jesus is anointed at the home of Simon the Pharisee during a meal
- Luke 9 Jesus feeds the five thousand
- Luke 10 Jesus eats in the home of Martha and Mary
- Luke 11 Jesus condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law at a meal
- Luke 14 Jesus urges people to invite the poor to their meals rather than just their friends
- Luke 19 Jesus invites himself to dinner with Zacchaeus
- Luke 22 Jesus eats with his disciples at the last supper
- Luke 24 Jesus eats a meal with the two disciples in Emmaus
- Luke 24 Jesus eats fish with the disciples in Jerusalem
Food as mission: As we read about the early church, we see people meeting in homes, eating together and sharing fellowship (Acts 2:46). Perhaps this is why hospitality was such an important value for an elder – they needed to live it out every time the church got together because it was around a meal. Meetings were meals! This sounds great. How about instead of Youth With A Meeting, we introduce Youth With A Meal (healthy & delicious ones)!! Rite and I have often said that the way to evangelise and reach out to the Spanish is over meals. When we first started a church in our home there, it was centred around eating together. There is something about food that develops friendship and brings significance to a relationship. You really don’t know someone until you go to their home! Interestingly the word “companion” comes from the Latin “cum” (together) and “paris” (bread). Somehow
food connects us. Conversation comes easier when we sit as equals around the table. Meals
become social occasions that represent friendship, community and welcome.
Tim Chester shares that “Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programmes or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission.” We are not talking about institutional hospitality here. In YWAM it’s easy to recognise the importance of hospitality because it’s one of our values. But often something is lost when we create a separate ministry out of hospitality. It is important that we all take responsibility with hospitality and don’t just expect the hospitality department to fulfil it all. As local churches we don’t need to start a ministry in hospitality to minister to people, we just need to open our homes. In large YWAM bases, every family and single person is part of the hospitality ministry as they open their home or room.
The questions then are: “Do we make the most of our meals? Do we see eating as fuel for our bodies – a task to keep our stomachs satisfied? Or do we see it as something far deeper; a time and space to stop, relax and connect with others as we eat and fellowship together?”
Food as a meeting point: Maybe the custom of saying grace has become a little ritualistic for some, but I would encourage you to add fresh inspiration and make the most of this opportunity of appreciating God’s wonderful gifts to us. A long-standing tradition is that of the ‘daily office’ – taking specific times throughout the day where we connect with God and move towards the practice of praying without ceasing. Saying grace at three points during the day as we eat our meals can become something more than just a quick prayer to bless the food. It can be a time to give thanks for what God has done in the last few hours, a time of thanking him for his provision of the food and those who have served in providing it. Rite and I often take time in saying grace to pray for our family scattered around the world as we sit to enjoy our food together. It is also important to set aside the mealtime as a sacred space for God to interact with us in our conversations, as we slow down and stop from our work or ministry.
Robert Putman reveals that over the last three decades there has been a 33% decrease in American families who eat together – more than half of these families are watching TV as they eat. I wonder how this differs across the world. It’s certainly true in the UK. There has also been a 45% decline in entertaining friends with home cooked meals. The average number of dinners together as a family is three per week with an average length of dinner being 20 minutes. This obviously doesn’t allow much time for a depth of sharing.
Food fuels intimacy: When we ran a retreat centre we must have cooked and served thousands of meals over the years. And it’s extremely easy for us to lose sight of the value of eating together. It becomes another plate of food rather than an opportunity to connect with each other and the Lord. To help maintain the quality of relationships and pursue a greater depth of relating, we introduced a custom of celebrating communion on a regular basis during our retreats. As people were starting or finishing their meal, one of our staff introduced a short devotional and shared out the symbols of bread/cracker & wine/juice. We encouraged a sharing of lives around the remembering of Jesus with the elements. Perhaps we introduced a short ‘examen’ – “when did you experience God today, and when did you feel he was at a distance?” Or we gave people an opportunity to share something they had learned recently
or we gave a toast to the Lord with an affirmation of who he is. We always finished by praying with each other at the table, bringing worship and thanksgiving to God and blessing one another. We have had such a variety in sharing different aspects of our lives as we remember Jesus; this prevents it from becoming predictable and gives vigour to the celebration of breaking bread together. Develop your own creative ideas so that as you remember Jesus it
remains fresh, relevant, and personal.
Hospitality involves welcoming, creating space, listening, paying attention and providing meals. It also has a way of slowing things down. Some of us don’t like that. I remember at one YWAM base we introduced a rule that no one could leave the table until announcements were made. It encouraged conversation even for those who had finished eating. And the announcements were never given until we had been sitting for at least 30 minutes. It was positive for everyone to slow down and take a breath. It was good ‘time wasting’ – it was being community together. Sharing a meal is not the only way to build relationships but it is number one on my list. Meals can bring you closer.
Food can be a catalyst for depth of relationship: Sometimes we must be a little formal to move things into the next level of conversation. Introducing communion into our retreats is an example of this. Tim Chester shares:
- In a busy culture with people desperate to succeed, we practice in communion resting on the finished work of Christ.
- In a fragmented culture that is radically individualistic, we practice in communion belonging to one another.
- In a dissatisfied culture of constant striving, we practice in communion receiving this world with joy as a gift from God.
- In a narcissistic culture of self-fulfillment, we practice in communion joyous self-denial and service.
- In a proud culture of self-promotion, we practice in communion humility and generosity.
All these practices are habit-forming and therefore seep into the rest of our lives. As we look back over our family life together, I would say that a high percentage of parenting took place over the meal table. It still does when we are together. It tends to be the only time during the day where we have a fixed audience – nobody is involved in any other tasks (no phones allowed!). Having begun with a meaningful prayer of grace that enables us to engage or reengage with God, we then engage with each other. We will often share some small talk as we get settled, share laughter, have fun, and move on to talk about some important issues. Things we have been thinking about, questions we have, dilemmas we are working through, insights, ideas etc. Then we can go deeper as the environment allows. “So, what do you think about…, how are you feeling about…” If you have seen the TV show Bluebloods, the police family does a lot of this kind of sharing at the meal table. It’s the one time they are all together during the day and in each episode, there is some kind of dilemma or a particular person that is the focus. They debrief their days together and build a strong family unit in the process.
During couples retreats that we have led in many settings, we have several special intimate meals where couples eat at their own tables and the staff act as waiters/waitresses. It’s amazing how serving someone can change the dynamics of the relationship. The leader who serves at table is no longer aloof but has become a real person – especially when in the serving there can be some fun banter and affirmation of the individuals. I have experienced quite an emotional response from a number of people being ministered to in this way.
Food is part of God’s great creativity: Remember the story of Elijah running for his life from Queen Jezebel after the miracle offering at Mount Carmel. He was given a special bread that kept him running for 40 days and nights. Food could have been a fuel for us just like that special bread when we simply take our daily pill or piece of bread which keeps us going for the next day. But no, God gave us a multitude of different vegetables, grains, fruit and spices which combine to make millions of meals with an incredible variety of tastes. The world is more delicious than it needs to be. Why did God go to all the trouble? Because there is more to meals than feeding the body. Food is a gift enabling us to enter into another space with God and others. How rich our lives as YWAMers have become through sharing diverse cultural foods with an incredible mix of nationalities in our teams and bases. Eating is sacred! Food is the vehicle for God’s main agenda – relationship. We are often told to not make food our god.
Like anything, food can become addictive. Let’s be on guard, utilise self-control but enjoy and appreciate God’s bountiful gifts to us.
Jesus frequented parties because he knew that it was there that he would be able to interact with people and build relationships. So, we need to develop a passion for parties – of course along with our passion for Jesus and our passion for people. Use any excuse for a party. We have made the most of every kind of celebration:
- public holidays like new year, Easter, Pentecost, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc.
- personal celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, passing exams, milestone events, housewarming, baby showers etc.
- special events like love feasts during a training school, graduation, sporting events, cultural feasts etc.
The beauty of meals is that we don’t have to remember to eat! Mealtimes are in our schedule already. So, why not ask Jesus to help you bring a fresh focus to your meal table then watch the Lord use this simple event to bring much encouragement and take your relationships one step deeper?