Hospitality is not about our cooking or entertaining skills, but learning to welcome the people God has put in our lives, says Carolyn Lacey. Here’s her top five tips for not letting the call to care for others overwhelm or intimate us
How do you feel about hospitality?
Perhaps, like me, you want to obey the Bible’s commands to “practise hospitality” (Romans 12:13) but often feel exhausted at the thought of opening your home and preparing for a long evening of cooking and conversation. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The bible shows that true hospitality is seen in the character of God and in the welcome he offers. It tells the story of a generous, compassionate God who persists in offering welcome to undeserving people. And the purpose of our hospitality is to point to his. We can obey the Bible’s commands to practise hospitality not by improving our cooking or entertaining skills, but by learning to welcome the people God has put in our lives.
Here are five simple ways to do this:
1. Pay attention
When you’re at church, look around and try to identify the needs of your church family. Who is new? Who is alone? Who is grieving? Who is suffering? Who seems overwhelmed by work or family pressures?
You can probably think of someone who is often excluded because they are awkward to be around. Be the one to make an effort
Think about how you could communicate welcome to one of those people. Go and sit with the person who is on their own; take a drink to the newcomer; plan to message the person who is suffering; offer to take a meal (shop-bought pizza is fine!) to the person who is overwhelmed.
Don’t try to do all of this every week. Just pick one or two things and pray they will communicate welcome. Then think about how you might be able to do something similar in your workplace or neighbourhood.
2. Avoid favouritism
It’s easy to welcome people who think and act like we do. It’s much harder to welcome those who are different—especially if we find their viewpoints or behaviour offensive.
But Jesus gave his life for us when we were his enemies (Romans 5:10). One way to show extraordinary hospitality is to move towards the people we find most difficult—people no one else prioritises.
You can probably think of someone in your neighbourhood or workplace—even in your church—who is often excluded because they are awkward to be around. Be the one to make an effort: start a conversation, invite them to go for a walk with you, eat your lunch with them. And pray that God will give you an opportunity to share what he has done for you in Christ.
3. Serve humbly
A mark of genuine hospitality is a desire to serve—and that requires humility. It involves putting others before ourselves—caring more about what someone else needs than what we would prefer to do. This is the difference between entertaining and hospitality: while entertaining often seeks to impress, hospitality always seeks to bless.
Simple acts of service can make another person feel welcome, whether that’s in your home, the workplace, at church or in a public place. Serving coffee, washing dishes, emptying bins and offering lifts communicate a desire to value others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Look for simple ways to serve others that will communicate that you value them.
4. Be persistent
Sometimes our attempts to offer hospitality aren’t received well. A colleague may be unfriendly; a neighbour may be polite but distant. It’s hard to persist with people who don’t seem to want our welcome, but don’t assume it’s pointless.
While entertaining often seeks to impress, hospitality always seeks to bless
Some people find conversation difficult. Some are not used to people taking an interest in them. Others are cautious about forming friendships because they’ve been hurt in the past. It can take time for people to trust that we are genuine in our welcome.
If you invite someone to spend time with you and they don’t accept, try again. Look for small ways to show you want to know them: kind words, offers of help, friendly smiles. Try an invitation to a group event so it doesn’t seem so intense. Remember how patient and persistent God is in his welcome of you.
5. Accept help
Hospitality doesn’t have to be a solo sport. Like most areas of discipleship, community helps.
If you want to invite people for a meal in your home but find the idea overwhelming, ask a friend to help. Having someone to share the cooking and help keep the conversation going can relieve the pressure. If you notice someone sitting alone at church but feel anxious about approaching them on your own, take a friend with you. If someone new moves into your street, suggest to another neighbour that you go and welcome them together.
These are very ordinary habits to build into our everyday lives. But we can pray that God will use them to point to his extraordinary hospitality.
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