A Wesleyan food ethic rests on the foundation that it is God’s will and desire that we nourish our bodies with healthy food, that we eat no more than is necessary to maintain our health, and that in choosing our food we remain mindful of the consequences our choices have not only for ourselves, but for the rest of creation as well. We should choose this ethic out of a committed belief that following it will better honor God and better reflect God’s desire for us and the rest of creation – that we be healthy and that our food choices contribute to making the world a better place.
As Wesley taught, nothing is separate from God, and everything we do, including eating, should be thought of as prayer. In that sense, of course, we should always be in prayer. But beyond that, I suggest two specific intentional forms of prayer that will be beneficial as we seek to make the Wesleyan food ethic a part of our everyday lives—that we prayerfully and mindfully choose our food, and that we prayerfully consume it in a spirit of thanksgiving.
In his sermon, “On the Use of Money,” Wesley called upon Christians to carefully and deliberately pray about every expenditure of money, including specifically money spent on food. He suggests four questions that should be prayerfully asked of every potential purchase:
If, then, a doubt should at any time arise in your mind concerning what you are going to expend, either on yourself or any part of your family, you have an easy way to remove it. Calmly and seriously inquire, “(1.) In expending this, am I acting according to my character? Am I acting herein, not as a proprietor, but as a steward of my Lord’s goods? (2.) Am I doing this in obedience to his Word? In what Scripture does he require me so to do? (3.) Can I offer up this action, this expense, as a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ? (4.) Have I reason to believe that for this very work I shall have a reward at the resurrection of the just?” You will seldom need anything more to remove any doubt which arises on this head; but by this four-fold consideration you will receive clear light as to the way wherein you should go.
If any doubt still remain, you may farther examine yourself by prayer according to those heads of inquiry. Try whether you can say to the Searcher of hearts, your conscience not condemning you, “Lord, thou seest I am going to expend this sum on that food, apparel, furniture. And thou knowest, I act herein with a single eye as a steward of thy goods, expending this portion of them thus in pursuance of the design thou hadst in entrusting me with them. Thou knowest I do this in obedience to the Lord, as thou commandest, and because thou commandest it. Let this, I beseech thee, be an holy sacrifice, acceptable through Jesus Christ! And give me a witness in myself that for this labour of love I shall have a recompense when thou rewardest every man according to his works.” Now if your conscience bear you witness in the Holy Ghost that this prayer is well-pleasing to God, then have you no reason to doubt but that expense is right and good, and such as will never make you ashamed.
Recast in contemporary language, we might ask:
1) In choosing this food am I being a good steward of both my money and my body?
2) In choosing this food am I being disobedient to God by doing harm to my body, by being gluttonous, or by contributing to the mistreatment of animals or of the poor?
3) Is this food worthy to be offered as a sacrifice to God, acceptable to Jesus Christ?
4) In choosing this food am I participating in God’s redemption and restoration of creation, or am I being complicit in its destruction?
If we follow Wesley’s advice to consider those questions calmly, honestly, seriously and prayerfully, we should expect that our food choices will always be “right and good, such as will never make you ashamed.”
In addition to being prayerful when we choose our food, we should be prayerful when eating it as well. In his sermon, “The More Excellent Way,” Wesley taught that people should pray earnestly at mealtimes, rather than just offering up some perfunctory prayer from habit. He called upon people to pray both before and after eating, first asking God’s blessing on the food and then, after eating it, to “return thanks to the Giver of all his blessings.” This, he said, would be “a more excellent way.” As we seek “a more excellent way” of eating, we should remain mindful that our food, like our health, is a gift of God. By stopping to earnestly ask God’s blessing on our food before we eat it we give ourselves an opportunity to reflect on both the quality and quantity of what we are about to consume. We should prayerfully consider whether what we are about to eat honors God and creation in such a way that it merits God’s blessing. And by pausing after our meals to return thanks to God, we allow ourselves time to reflect on whether we have used God’s gift of food well. Do we feel led to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s provision, or do we feel the need to ask forgiveness?
These prayer practices can assist us on our journey to diets that are characterized by nutritious, ethically-sourced food, and they can help us overcome addiction to over-eating. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he lists “self-control” as among the “fruit of the Spirit,” along with love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and forbearance. As we make the dietary changes to which we feel called, let us not neglect to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, and use the self-control that God has given us.
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