“Saying grace” is a form of words sometimes used as an alternative expression for “giving thanks.”
“Asking a blessing” is a third phrase for the same thing. The same thing, but the same thing differently conceived. To “ask a blessing” is to invoke favor from God. To “give thanks” is to acknowledge favor from God. To “say grace” is, I suppose, a Latinized equivalent for to “give thanks;” “grace,” in this use, standing for gratias, Latin for “thanks.” These phrases are, in customary use, all of them appropriated to a particular occasion, that of partaking food.
We ask a blessing at (the) table, we say grace, or give thanks, at (the) table. An old usage, and a good one, did both, asked a blessing before, and said grace or gave thanks after, the meal. However, it is not the phrase, but the thing, that I now wish to speak of. The thing is very common, but it is not yet common enough. I would have the habit of giving thanks at meals not simply common, but universal; that is, among Christians. But this is no limitation, for I would have everybody a Christian. If I were a Christian preacher, as I once was and as I would have chosen always to be, and if I desired to enforce the duty of observing a daily season of family worship, I should be at a loss what Scripture text to take for my sermon. The duty, I think, is binding; but I know of no text that directly enjoins the duty by precept, or that directly recommends it by example.
I should have no similar embarrassment in finding a text for the duty of asking the Divine blessing, or of acknowledging the Divine goodness, at meals. One of the most striking, to me at least most striking, records in the New Testament is this parenthesis: “Howbeit, there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks.” I have italicized the part that has always singularly affected me. The reference is to the occasion of a miraculous supply afforded to the suffering multitude. Something peculiarly impressive there must have been in our Lord’s behavior on that occasion to have suggested this unexpected and apparently unnecessary allusion.
The miracle of the feeding was by itself sufficient, one would say, to fix the identity of the spot. But the memory and the awed imagination of the evangelist carried him on to add the circumstance, “after that the Lord had given thanks.” The Lord had exercised His miraculous power to create the bread that was eaten; and yet He gave thanks for it, with something exemplary in His manner of doing so that fastened itself extraordinarily upon the mind of John. What a lesson to us all for giving thanks when we partake of food. I read, too, the moving story of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Twice it is related, “And when He had given thanks.”
The real meaning of ‘Breakfast’?
The story of Paul in the shipwreck, standing on the slippery deck in the gray of morning twilight to break his fast, and to encourage his ship-fellows to break theirs, is hardly his instruction: “And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all.” The public piety, unashamed of this exemplary act, on Paul’s part, is full of incitement to us. It seems to me that we should never take a meal without reverently thanking God. There is hardly any act of piety more natural and more obligatory. Hunger is a constantly recurring reminder to us of the mortal and needy nature of our earthly condition.
Food bestowed is as a repeated act of creation from God. We confess our dependent condition when we eat. Not to confess this in heart as well as in act, not to confess it gratefully, is obvious impiety. Who would be guilty of it? I confess it, I am shocked and saddened when I sit —sometimes, though seldom, I do—at the table of a professed Christian where no thanks are given to the Giver. Very refreshing to the spirit, on the other hand, it is to sit at table where any members of the family necessarily absent at the commencement of the meal, in tardily taking their seats offer a silent prayer of thanks by themselves before beginning to eat.
Let Christians inspirit themselves, by Paul’s example, not to omit their thanks, even at the table of the hotel or of the restaurant. The act need not be obtrusively conspicuous. But so, too, it need not be in the least awkward or ashamed. A moment’s pause, a moment’s closing of the eyes, an unuttered thanksgiving, let it not be neglected. You cannot afford to neglect it. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord. Not simply to feel glad, but to feel grateful.
Not simply to feel grateful, and let the Lord take your gratitude for granted; but to give the thanks that you feel. No matter how informal your meal, give thanks. If it is a private picnic in the woods, still give thanks. There is no danger of fanaticism or of folly in the matter. You need not fear being too thankful. Your danger is all the other way. You may be formal, but, so your act be genuine, you cannot thank too much or too often. Remember the example of Jesus and of Paul. In everything give thanks; but then surely when you take food from God.”–By William C. Wilkinson, DD; The Sunday School Times; 1883.