One part of God's creation that has always amazed me is food. Food is not simply utilitarian fuel for us; it is an exquisite and wonderful multi-sensory experience. When we think of food we immediately think of our sense of taste, from the rich juices of a steak to the delightful flavor of a strawberry to the subtle sweetness of chocolate. The variety of tastes that we experience is amazingly diverse and complex.
But food is much more than just taste. Food awakens our sense of sight. Think of the vibrant color spectrum that we see in our food—the deep purple of an eggplant, the bright yellows and oranges of citrus fruit, and the stunning red of a tomato. Seriously, next time you eat a taco or a tossed salad, look down and notice the stunningly beautiful blend of colors. Food also engages our sense of touch with a vast array of contrasting textures1 (the crispness of an apple or the oozy, stickiness of honey) and temperatures (think of cold, brain-freeze inducing ice cream or the warm, coziness of coffee). Even different sounds—sizzling, boiling, crunching, chopping—remind us of food and can begin to whet our appetites. Food is bursting forth with an unnecessary abundance of delights and pleasures.
But why is this the case? Why don't we eat only one, consistent type of food like most other animals? The cow, for example is designed to eat grass for every meal of every day. And all they get for dessert is their cud. God could have designed us to get all of our nutritional needs in a similarly utilitarian fashion. Why hasn't God given us a functional pill that could adequately sustain us? That would certainly be much more efficient. Why has God given us this cornucopia of tastes and sights and sounds and textures in our food? How impractical of God. I think only one response can adequately answer this question: God has done this for our enjoyment.
This isn't something that we are left to figure out on our own; God has told us this in his word. Acts 14:17 says, "He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." Psalm 104:4-5 speaks of the way that the Lord has given us "plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart." And we are commanded in Ecclesiastes 9:7 to "go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart." If you are open to having your modern sensibilities challenged, take a look at Nehemiah 9:25 (in which the Israelites resemble hobbits). And apparently, this enjoyment is not just a temporary necessity but will continue throughout all eternity. When Isaiah 25:6 speaks of Jesus' future consummation of all things, it says "the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, or rich food full of marrow, or aged wine well refined" (for further indications of the eternal intention for food, see Revelation 19:9, 21:6, 22:2). When the Bible speaks about food it consistently uses words like satisfy and gladness and merriment—that is, words of enjoyment.
So how do we honor the Lord with food (and all of his gifts, for that matter)? Well, we enjoy it. We receive it with glad and grateful hearts and give glory to God. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Eat with a happy heart and feast on the richness with which God has blessed us. To suppress our enjoyment of food misses out on God's purpose and limits an enjoyment that he has intended to bring him praise. Being prudish about food doesn't honor God; instead it leaves what he has given us sitting on the table, literally.
But yet food is not ultimate; food is not the end. For example, Jesus said, "Is not life more than food," (Matthew 6:25), and Paul reprimanded those whose "god is their belly" (Philippians 3:19). So how do we rightly receive the gifts that God has given us? Two quick points: first, we give thanks. Giving thanks causes us to remember the Giver from whom the gifts come (see Romans 1:21, 1:25, James 1:17). So a meal-time prayer is not some legalistic formality; instead it places us in the proper theological position to enjoy our food to the full extent before we even take a bite.
Second, our level (or lack of) generosity reveals what we worship most. God has commanded us to be generous with all of our gifts (Isaiah 58:7, James 2:15-16). If we cling on to the gifts, it indicates that we trust in them, not him—that we trust in our ability to possess, not in his ability to provide. But the great thing is that even when Jesus calls us to be generous (or similarly, to fast), it is not to take away a source of our enjoyment so that our satisfaction is lessened. Rather, it opens us to an even greater source, for as Jesus himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
I'll close with an illustration. If I give a gift to my wife, I give it to her for her enjoyment. I don't worry about the gift becoming such an obsession with her that she forgets about me; in fact, the receiving of the gift increases her devotion to me. And she does not honor me if she refuses to enjoy the gift because she fears having the gift compete with her allegiance to me. I desire her to enjoy the gift to its fullest potential. My whole goal with the gift is her enjoyment. When she enjoys the gift, I am happy. I would appreciate it if she tells me thank you (after all, the gift didn't appear out of thin air). And if Jesus calls her to give it away, that will thrill my heart even more because it can then bless another and is an indication that she treasures Jesus more than any gift.
1 Several people who have lost their sense of taste have told me that they have become much more aware of contrasting food textures and developed a liking for different foods based upon textures, much like the blind person who develops an increased capacity to hear.