I was a freshman in college when our dorm mother invited our entire freshman hall to her home for a Christmas party. Twenty nineteen-year-old girls descended on her warmly lit, apple-spice-fragranced home one evening for homemade lasagna. Now, I loved dorm-life—the late nights, the practical jokes, the way there was always someone to talk to—but when I walked into that home, I felt as though my soul let out a deep, restful sigh. The hospitality she showed that evening left an impression, even though I can no longer recall her name, demonstrating the truth that although many other institutions offer camaraderie and membership, the home is God’s primary design for conveying community, belonging, and love. Hospitality extended joyfully to one another in our homes is God’s prescription for loneliness, as well as a means of sanctification when offered as an extension of the gift of salvation He has given us.
Since that dinner, I have frequently been the recipient of hospitality as my husband and I often stay in host homes when we travel with his ministry. When we bought our first house, we knew we wanted to extend the kind of hospitality we have received. The Lord has allowed many opportunities for us to do just that. To date, we’ve had five or six adults live with us for extended periods of time, ranging from a month to two years. We’ve had several foster children pass through on their way to permanency. We’ve been able to host family, missionaries, friends, neighbors and even strangers for a meal or weekend stay. As both recipients and givers, hospitality has blessed us abundantly.
God’s Word calls us to be hospitable (see 1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13), but for some of us, obedience to that call is difficult. Maybe you aren’t sure what hospitality should look like, especially if you didn’t grow up seeing your own parents practice it. You might feel inadequate in resources or personality to pull it off, especially if money is tight or you are introverted. And you might be unsure who needs your hospitality.
As always for the Christian, we begin with the Gospel. God-honoring hospitality flows out of our understanding of the Good News when we recognize that we were strangers and Christ invited us in. His Word commands us to do the same, not to earn our salvation, but as proof that we understand exactly what salvation has purchased for us: home, fellowship, and belonging. We welcome the stranger, the oddball, the outcast, and the lonely because God has welcomed us. We feed the hungry guest because the Spirit nourishes us. We do the dirty work of washing the sheets and doing the dishes because God has done the dirty work of cleansing our sin-stained hearts. If we begin with what we want to gain or a sense of obligation instead of what God has done for us, we will quickly become burnt out and resentful.
Secondly, hospitality must be authentic. Offer hospitality in keeping with how God made you and the resources he’s given you. If you are the kind of person who can’t relax if your home is dirty, then by all means vacuum and dust before your guests come. But don’t do it to impress your guests. If the clutter doesn’t bother you, it isn’t likely to bother them. If you love cooking, then cook a sumptuous meal. If you hate it, order pizza. The key is not found in one method, whether nitty-gritty real life or a polished display of hosting, but in your heart as you offer it. Whatever hospitality you choose to give, give it joyfully.
Lastly, expect that hospitality will cost you something, but remember that what it’s buying isn’t your salvation. That was purchased at Calvary. What freedom that gives to obey cheerfully! Do it in love. Expect it to push you out of your comfort zone. Hospitality is one of the ways God can accomplish the work of sanctification in your life. So practice. I firmly believe that if you want to love doing something, you must do it a lot. If hospitality is new to you, start small. Is there someone in your church, workplace, or neighborhood who is lonely? Start with them, maybe just for dessert or a bonfire or a game night. Push yourself, and keep pushing yourself, and it will get easier.
Hospitality is God’s prescription for loneliness. But it is also the antidote to being self-focused. Hospitality forces us to think beyond ourselves, to see our home and possessions not as ours but as God’s which he has loaned to us. The more we give of those good gifts, the more he increases our joy in doing so.