A couple weeks ago, I went out to long-overdue lunch with a beautiful friend. As we sat across from each other in that cute little downtown diner, she gave me something that the petty side of me had actually wanted for quite a while: an apology. After thinking about it, though, I realized that I owe her an apology, too.
In fact, I owe the whole world one, and you, my friend, probably do, too.
You see, a while ago, I had my friend and her new-to-the-area family over for a meal. It was sometime around Christmas, and my husband and I lived in a tiny 1400 square foot house. I think I made brunch, and since we didn’t have a living room, we sat huddled in my small living room. Some of us sat on folding metal chairs because I didn’t have enough furniture for the whole group. It was far from glamourous, but I enjoyed having them over, and they’ve said many times that they really loved our time together.
Doesn’t sound like there’s a reason for an apology, does it?
Here’s the thing, though: That day (and at many other times), she’s said that she wants to have me and my family over sometime, too. Has this happened?
Not yet. It’s been about a decade, but not yet.
She’s not the only one to say this sort of thing and not follow through. Sadly, many people I know have said and done the same thing to my family. Most of the time, “we’ll have to have you over” doesn’t really pan out in the real world of work, family, church, little league, chores, swimming lessons, grocery shopping, etc.
Our best intentions become little broken promises, and we’re left with these terrible regrets that rob us from the joy that God gives to those who live out His Word in this broken world.
Hospitality– what my dictionary defines as “receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way—is a central topic in the Bible, but it’s something that many of us rarely do.
Think of this:
1. While He walked this earth, Jesus modeled hospitality.
Take a look in the Bible at the number of meals that Jesus shared with others; He ate with friends like Mary and Martha, sinners like Zacchaeus, and ministry partners like the disciples. During his short, busy lifetime, Jesus especially valued hospitality, and we should, too!
2. Before Jesus left earth and went to heaven, he made a promise to show hospitality to us.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3)
3. One way in which Jesus differentiates true disciples (the sheep) from false followers (the goats) is that true disciples show hospitality:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” (Matthew 25:35)
4. God especially expects church leaders to show hospitality (it’s actually a qualification for ministry):
“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” (1 Tim. 3:2)
5. God also expects ALL his followers to practice hospitality:
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)
So, to be clear- hospitality is not the sole domain of women, a gift with which God only gives to certain individuals, or something that God expects from the married but not the single. Instead, it’s a sign of true discipleship! Honestly, we could fill pages with verses on this subject, but even with these few verses, the point is clear: God prioritizes hospitality, and His followers should, too!
It’s all well and good to say that Christians should practice hospitality, but it’s another thing entirely to actually do it. Like so many other things that we know we ought to do, we’re caught in Romans 10:17…” I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
When it comes to hospitality, how do we bridge the gap between “We should have you over sometime” to sitting down together around a table?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Like any other good thing, we have to start in prayer. Why not pray about hospitality? Ask God whom you should invite. Ask God to show you the best time to have people over. Ask him to give you a passion for hospitality. He cares about these things, and He’ll help you!
2. Read a book or a blog about Christian hospitality! There are lots out there, and I’ve found them tremendously encouraging and challenging!
3. Relinquish worldly expectations. There’s a big difference between “entertaining” and “hospitality.” The first is ME-focused (MY house is gorgeous, MY cooking is amazing, MY family is picture-perfect), while the latter is OTHER-focused (how can I bless YOU?). Some of the excuses that my sweet friend said over lunch are things that many of us use to justify our lack of hospitality: “My house isn’t clean enough,” “I’m not a good cook,” “I’m busy.” Real hospitality isn’t about being Martha Stewart; it’s about showing love to others by putting them above ourselves. Honestly, I’d be thrilled if a friend had me over & we ate hot dogs (or even better, drank coffee)! It’s not about the food, the house, or propriety; it’s about the fellowship.
4. Think of hospitality as a MINISTRY. Too many times, when we do manage to have people over, we’re inviting people who fit into our comfort-zone: friends, family, pastors, church-goers, etc. That’s great because we never know what others are experiencing and how our ministry may bless them, but at the same time, I would like to encourage us to think outside the box when it comes to hospitality. Who do you know who might need special encouragement? A widow? Someone without much family or social ties? Someone struggling with their Christian walk?
We need to think of the root word in hospitality—HOSPITAL—and consider how we can make our homes a place of healing for the broken hearts trudging through the world rather than playing it safe by inviting people over who don’t honestly require much ministry!
5. Don’t expect others to reciprocate. As well-meaning as your guests may be, and even if they do have you over, basing our hospitality on the hope of a return invitation misses the whole point! If we want a reward for our ministry, is our motive really love for God and others? When we let go of these expectations, we also help ourselves avoid the temptation to harbor bitterness. Honestly, I’ve struggled with this, and my struggle reveals my own selfish tendencies. Real hospitality, though, isn’t about what we can GET, but what we can GIVE.
With these things in mind, this year I want to intentionally show hospitality. Lately I’ve been lax in this area, but with God’s help, I want to receive and treat guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.
What about you?
- Do you think hospitality is an important ministry that Christians should practice?
- Do you have ideas about how to express hospitality?
- What successful hospitality experiences have you had?
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Let’s become more hospitable together!