The Heart Behind Hospitality

By Casey Bradshaw

legacy eventMy husband and I love opening our home so that we can spend time with friends and family over a good meal.  I believe that over the course of our marriage the Lord has placed in both of us a desire to show hospitality to those he has placed in our lives, whether they be close, intimate friends or acquaintances we barely know.  This desire, however, has not always been there, and even when my true heart’s intent is to bless others while in my home, I still have to fight my flesh while pursuing true and honest hospitality.  The dictionary defines being hospitable as “being given to generous and cordial reception of guests; offering a pleasant or sustaining environment; or readily receptive.”  This sounds like a tall order!  Perhaps it sounds overwhelming? It does to me.  To be generous to those we have in our home does not mean that we must have an abundance of money to provide an expensive and elaborate meal.  To offer a pleasant environment for others does not require a large house with a big kitchen, huge living room, or all of the latest decor on display.  In fact, I believe that you don’t have to have any of those things.  Being hospitable is a state of the heart.

For the past several years, God has had to remind me again and again that it is not the size of my home that matters when we invite others in; it is the condition of my heart that portrays hospitality.  I have struggled countless times feeling that my kitchen table was too small to comfortably fit more than two guests.  We have had to pull out metal folding chairs when having company and even set up a card table just to make room for everyone.  In my pride, I have feared that our friends were uncomfortable because of our seating arrangements.  This past Christmas, we hosted a party for all of the couples in our small group.  Although everyone was having a wonderful time, in the back of my mind I was hoping no one felt too squished in our smaller living room or as they rubbed elbows with each other while helping themselves to some food.  As I shared my concerns with my husband, he so wisely and kindly reminded me that the people in our home were not there because of the size of our house.  It was about fellowship; they were there because of the relationship that we all had together and in Christ, and not because they were offered the seat of honor at our enormous kitchen table.

1 Peter 4:8-11 reads:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” 

Wow.  Just reading that verse again reminds me of the sinful nature of my heart.

Love others as you have been loved.

The passage in 1 Peter opens by telling us to love one another earnestly.  For the perfect example of how to love others in that way, we need only to look at Christ.  1 John 3:16-17 states, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  We are able to love others only because of the love we have personally experienced through our Savior Jesus Christ.  He humbled himself to pay the penalty of our sin.  He offers us acceptance and forgiveness and a freedom to walk in perfect union with our Heavenly Father.  This should be my motivation for loving others, for opening my heart and my home to them.  So, when I realize that Christ has laid down his life for me and calls me to do the same for those he has placed in my life, hospitality should become focused on loving others, serving others, caring for others.  It draws my attention away from myself and what I have to offer.  The food, the location, the setting–it fades.  It’s not the point, is it?  Gosh, how I lose sight of this so often!  As John Piper says in his book This Momentary Marriage, “Our homes need to be open.  Because our hearts are open.  And our hearts are open because God’s heart is open to us.”

Acknowledge the gifts the Lord has already given you.

Whether we recognize it or not, God has blessed us with all that we need to show hospitality to others.  Yes, we may need to fight our own sin to overcome a few things, but He has equipped us.  1 Peter 4, verse 10 says, “As each had received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”  God’s grace in my life may not look the same as everyone else’s.  My house may not look the same as some of my girlfriends’, my decorating budget may not afford me the ability to shop where I want, and I may not be able to cook like Martha Stewart.  However, nowhere in God’s word does He say that these things are a requirement.  The Lord desires us to be faithful and joy-filled with what he has provided for us.  “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”  (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Rely on God’s supply, not your own.

Oh, this is where I really mess things up!  I am very self-sufficient, and not in a good way.  I love to take the reigns and hold on tight with my pride, desire to control, and love for success.  I am so prone to convince myself that I can do it all!  I do not naturally fall into the category of “one who serves by the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11).  In fact, I depend on my own strength in almost every area of my life: parenting, spiritual disciplines, contentment, etc.  In the area of hospitality, we can be prone to fear or anxiety or pride because we do not trust in the strength that God promises to provide us.

I don’t know about you, but often when opening my home up to others–particularly those that I don’t know very well–there seems to be a pressure that I put on myself.  The food I am preparing needs to be really tasty.  The house needs to be clean.  Children need to behave.  I know for sure that my pride and desire to please others is entangled in there very strongly, but it is necessary that our guests not turn their noses up to what we’re offering, right?  The other thing I struggle with when entertaining is that I become so consumed with the meal preparation and cleaning of my house that by the time our friends or family arrive I am exhausted.  You know how it is:  putting toys away, sweeping crumbs off the floor, fussing at uncooperative children who don’t see the imperative nature of cleaning their rooms and picking their fifteen pairs of shoes off of the floor (!).  All of this pressure that I put on myself (and granted, some of these things are legitimate concerns) usually results in me sinning BIG TIME.  By the end of it all, I have almost always lots my patience with my husband and/or children, gotten angry in my heart because countless things have not gone the way that I wanted them to, and yet, I still manage to slap a smile on my face as I open the front door for our guests!  (How is it that I always have enough strength for that last step?)

The above scenario has happened far more times than I’d like to admit.  In those moments, I am not aware of my need for the strength that God will provide.  I am too busy functioning in my own strength instead of humbly walking by the Spirit.   He is faithful!  When we cling to our own strength, our own ability, and our own supplies, we are forgetting that our true source for all of these things is the Lord.  We are, in a sense, doubting His promises to carry us through. Oh, Lord, please give us faith to humbly trust you!  “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:3-4).

Give God the glory.

It is so easy for me to lose sight of why I am opening my home and setting my table.  Is it so that our friends will be impressed with how great of a cook I am? Do I desire them to think highly of me or how skillful I must be to raise three children and keep a clean home? Yes.  Yes, I do.  I am a sinner, naturally inclined to wanting the glory for myself.  This is something that I fight every day.  It is a mystery to me why the Lord continues to use us for His purposes when we are constantly trying to steal the spotlight from Him.  He is so kind, so generous, and so loving.  He has such a desire for His children, and He loves to see us interacting with each other, loving one another, caring for each other in the midst of joy and trial.  In spite of our sinfulness, He continues to give us opportunities to bring Him glory.  The only way I know how to fight my selfish, sinful tendencies to take the glory away from the Father is to pray.  I pray that the Spirit will convict me when I am walking in my own strength instead of being dependent on the strength the Lord promises to provide.  I pray for an ability to love others, those I am inviting into my home, in the way that Christ has loved me.  I pray that my love for God would be evident and speak louder than the comfort of my home or the taste of the meal I prepared.  “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).

Hospitality is about glorifying Christ and showing Him to those we invite into our homes.  It is not about how tasty my meatloaf was (or wasn’t).  It is not about how many beverage choices I can provide.  With that mindset, the only glory I am pursuing is my own.  The only person I am drawing attention to is myself.  Being overly concerned with the cleanliness of my house or size of my living room is usually a result of my desire to please others and have them like me (and my stuff).  What I have been given by the Lord is a gift–my house, my personality, my children, my ability (or lack thereof) to cook.  God only asks that we be faithful stewards of what he has given us.  When I am dependent on the grace and strength that God supplies instead of my own dwindling, self-centered efforts, there is no room for pride, fear, or complaining.

(Photo Credit: A tablescape designed by Karen Landis, Jane Hedger, and Paulette Clow at a Legacy women’s event at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville. Photo taken by Suzanne McNeil of http://suzannemcneilphotography.com/)
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