February 9, 2012

Thoughts on Hospitality

Like a parent trying to squeeze in final instructions to a child about having fun and staying safe before he/she rushes out the door, the Apostle Paul often closed his letters to the New Testament era churches with strings of commands.  Here's one instance, from Romans 12: 9-13.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

These lists are always interesting.  For example, here the first several verses seem to be such weighty reminders: loving sincerely, hating evil, clinging to God, honoring one another, serving the Lord zealously, joyful hope, patient affliction, faithful prayer, sharing with the needy.  Then he closes the paragraph with practice hospitality.

I think it is important to note that this is not a list of spiritual gifts.  Paul instructs all the Roman Christians to practice hospitality.

Quickly one's mind can rush to the images on the cover of home magazines with beautifully laid, seasonally-themed tables: matching glasses, cloth napkins in rings, a stain-free tablecloth, a perfectly browned turkey, a mosaic of fruit on a tray.  So inviting!

But is this what Paul is talking about when he instructs us to practice hospitality?

Let me highlight that rarely are there any people in these magazine photos.  So the table is beautiful, but is the host or hostess willing to have the tablecloth stained, joyfully do all of the dishes, allow anyone who comes to sit at the table?  Will there be fellowship, joy, and laughter around that table?  Does being hospitable mean that our table has to look that amazing before we can have people over, that all of our home improvement projects need to be done, and that all of our stuff needs to be perfectly organized?  What does it mean to practice hospitality?

I learned a lot from my mom about hospitality growing up.  I have since also drawn from Sally Clarkson and Edith Schaeffer's thoughts on the subject.  Here are just a few thoughts to encourage you not to gloss over, but rather to take seriously Paul's command to practice hospitality.

Hospitality is about relationship!  Giving the people that come into your home - owned or rented, single family or apartment, dorm room or mansion - an environment where they can breathe easy, be edified, and sure, enjoy a treat and something to drink ... that is hospitality!  Create a space where people can walk in and know that you are glad they're there, making them feel loved and cared for, whether you knew they were coming over and have time to set a beautiful table and make something homemade to eat or they arrived unexpected and you make a pot of coffee and put some store-bought cookies out for consumption.

If you know guests are coming, you could prepare a welcome sign for the door.
Your kids can help!

How can you use your home, whatever kind of place it is, to practice hospitality?

Hospitality is NOT about impeccable housekeeping!  Recently I began hosting some monthly gatherings for ladies and their kids at my house, very informal and open house style, because I was craving more time with women and the Spirit spoke to my heart, You have the space, make the time and see what happens.  These have been a blessing to me, causing me to pray that ladies that enter our home will be blessed, that it would be a refuge in the middle of a busy day, that we'd all be mutually encouraged.

Last time, part of the kitchen counter looked like this:

But the other side looked like this:

Keeping the perspective that hospitality is not about a spotless house, but about the atmosphere you create in your home - the way you treat those who enter - allowed me to leave those crazy piles of lesson plans, coupons, lists, books, notebooks, etc.  There wasn't time to get to them, and that was okay.  Sure, it's polite to make sure your guests can walk across the floor without falling over toys and risking a trip to the ER!  But our standards must line up with God's, not Martha Stewart's.  Our pride (fear of judgment or rejection) can too easily keep us from opening our hearts and homes to others, can't it?

What obstacles about your home or in your heart keep you from practicing hospitality?
How can you confront those with the Lord and step out in faith?

Hospitality is about Jesus!  Whether you're in your home or in your car, at the grocery store or at the park, you're the aroma of Christ to those who you encounter.  Hospitality fits with Paul's previous instructions both to honor one another before yourselves and pray faithfully.  Because, well, sometimes people show up when you're NOT expecting it and it's not part of the day's plan, don't they?  In fact, this might be the way we practice hospitality most of the time.  Are our hearts prepared and at the ready?*

Remembering the gospel can really help here.  Think about how God welcomes people - welcomed you! - into His kingdom.  There's always room for one more, always a party (Luke 15), no one is turned away.  Having received such, shall we not ask God to work in our hearts to extend the same loving welcome to those we met?

Have you ever considered hospitality in the context of the Gospel?
How can this perspective spur you on in the area of hospitality?

*     *     *

You have been uniquely placed in time and space and can, therefore, uniquely bring glory to God there.  I don't have the same family, friends, or neighbors as you; I can only strive, by God's grace, to be salt and light where I am.  You can do the same in your home, neighborhood, and relationships.  God will use you to touch the lives of those around you as you reach out in genuine, God-directed hospitality.  And He will change you more into His likeness in the process.  His blessings be upon you as you consider these things and take action to spread the aroma of Christ because of all you've received from Him!

*I've recently been convicted even of how extremely inhospitable I can be to my own family when I'm preparing the house for guests,  acting like the need to be ready and hospitable to others negates the need to be kind and honor them in the process.  I wasn't sure how to fit this into the post, but I want to keep it real folks!


  1. Thanks for this reminder. I often get caught up in feeling the need to keep my house perfectly neat. This is not what God asks! He asks us to welcome people into our lives and to share with them. You have a wonderful spirit of hospitality - I have always felt so welcome at your home. I have special memories of leftovers lunch :)

  2. Thanks, Jenny! It is too easy to get caught up in what people think, especially when relationships are new. Blessings upon you as you practice hospitality in your new city. You too are always a generous hostess and a shining light in dark places; God will use that in Atlanta just as much as He did in Boston! :)