“You prepare a table before me…”
With three little ones dinnertime is rarely calm. In fact, more times than not it is a messy pandemonium of spilled milk, fallen crumbs, and manner enforcing, but I wouldn’t trade that time for anything else.It's one of my favorite times of the day, nestled right in between the busyness of work and school and the chaos of a bedtime routine for three young kids. This is the one time of day my family of five is seated together around a table to eat a good meal, talk about our day, and laugh with one another.
My love for gathering around a table is not unique to me. Who doesn’t love to join family, friends, and neighbors to hang out, and when we do, usually some kind of food or drink is enjoyed along with the people. The table is so much more than a place to eat; it represents a place of acceptance, association, approval, community, fellowship, and privilege. Its significance is why so many people were outraged that Jesus would sit at a table with sinners (Mark 2:15-16). By sitting and eating at a table with the outcasts and lowly of society, Jesus was displaying his acceptance of who they were and his willingness to associate with them.
The Bible is filled with many important references to what goes on around a table but perhaps one of the most well-known is the mention of a table in Psalm 23:5a. Here we read that God, the Infinite, Transcendent Almighty wants to dine with you and with me! This profound truth shows God’s unmerited acceptance, unwavering approval, and unflinching willingness to associate with us. Not only does He want to dine with us, He also prepares the table for us and personally hosts us! You can be sure that our Divine Host holds nothing back in provision and goodness at His table. Imagine, baskets piled high with the Bread of Presence, cups overflowing with the Water of Life, and plates packed full of the delicacies of Heaven’s harvest, hand-picked by the Great Gardener Himself!
Psalm 23:5a teaches us three reasons why gathering around a table is so significant:
1. Foresight. “He prepares”. The idea of preparation includes foresight, care, provision, readiness, anticipation, thoughtfulness, and priority. God shows great intentionality in hosting us. He is not forgetful, neglectful, apathetic, disorganized, or careless when it comes to setting His table. He knows what we like to eat, drink, and the kind of ambience to create for us. Likewise, when we prepare a table for others, we must put in the same attitude of excellence. It takes effort to know our guests, or thought into how we can get to know them better, accommodate what days of the week work best for them, and how to meet any needs they have such as small children, a limited time-frame, or consideration for their difficult circumstances.
2. Food. “He prepares a table”. People love to gather around food and before you know it, community is formed. Food is has the power to bring people together because it is a universal language. I love how versatile the idea of having food at the table is. In fact, the table does not have to be traditional stature, nor the meal of six-courses, to be significant. Food at a table nowadays can look like sharing coffee at the corner nook of your local coffee shop, dessert on a cozy living room couch with pillows, chips and salsa sitting on barstools at your kitchen island, fast-food eaten on a worn blanket on a grassy hill, a picnic on a bench overlooking the city, sandwiches in a welcoming cubicle during break, or hot chocolate in a cool car on a rainy day. Wherever and whatever your table and food choice, the point is that it provides the opportunity and potential to enjoy community and do life with others.
3. Fellowship. “He prepares a table before me”. The author knew the personal connection God had toward him and he personalized the preparation of the meal and the love of God. God desires to show the same personal, connection and provision for each one of us. When we experience intimate community and fellowship with God we naturally want to extend that to others. The reason we ultimately gather at a table is to create a point of personal connection and make space for meaningful interaction. Purposeful gathering is at the heart of true fellowship, so whether it’s Starbucks or steak, a dining table or desk, the goal is always love expressed in community.
Foresight, food, and fellowship are three encouragements to help us prepare a table for others. It’s not what is served or where it’s served, but why it’s served. Our why is to engage our community, be a light to our world, develop relationships, and reverberate our faith to share the love and generosity we’ve been shown.