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February 19, 2015

bring them in

Whether as a single or married woman, I've tried to make a habit of having people into my home regularly for tea, a snack, or a meal. There have been seasons where I've not been able to open my home much (such as when I was working as manager and putting in overtime), seasons of relearning what hospitality looks like (such as in Asia, learning what's culturally appropriate) and my current season, when we can and do have guests in our home frequently. There have been seasons when I've needed the hospitality of others, and seasons where others have needed mine. Hospitality has been a powerful force for good in my life, whether I've been the giver or receiver.

There are many reasons why I value hospitality, but one of the chief is that is that hospitality is so very Chr!stian. Hospitality is not optional for follower of the Son, it is to be part of our practice. The fact that an elder must be hospitable to qualify for eldership shows how important it is to God. There's nothing wrong with restaurants or hotels, but Chr!stian hospitality is much more than the arrangement of forks and flavoursit is the impacting of souls.

Most of the people who have impacted me long-term are people who have allowed me to spend significant time in their homes. In sermons or lectures we find words of truth, but in hospitality we find truth in action. If in the text we find the raw materials of truth, when we are served and loved in a Chr!stian home, we see what to build from those raw materials. Sometimes we might feel that the people of true impact are the ones with the teaching ministries or the authors of many books—and we could all name speakers or authors who have fed us spiritual meat, and their work is vital. But when I think of my life, everyday God-loving people who've shared their homes, food, and lives with me have had at least as much, if not more, impact on me. They put flesh and blood onto truth and show me what it looks like in their conversations and life standards.

The Master had crowds thronging around Him constantly; he taught multitudes on dusty hills and from the bow of a boat to throngs. But still we often find Him focusing His attention on individuals. We remember them, such as: the woman with a debilitating flow of blood, Mary who broke spikenard over His feet, Nicodemus at night, the Samaritan woman at the well, Peter who betrayed him, Martha and her busy body, Zaccheus and his radical turnaround. The Master knew that there's something about one-on-one impact that cannot be replicated en masse. The physical size of our living spaces, the wiggle room in our budgets, the commitments on our schedules...these things limit our in-home hospitality to usually be a ministry to a few individuals at a time. But our Example shows us that this one-on-one ministry is essential.

We know that hospitality (especially to like-minded people, and to strangers) is commanded to us, it's non-optional. There's nothing wrong with taking friends out to eat as an act of hospitality, rather than having them in our homes. This can be a great stop-gap when we are short on time and still want fellowship, and done with intentionality it can be highly effective. But today I want to share ten reasons why I prefer to invite people to eat in rather than out. They're both big and small reasons. Some just personal preferences; take them or leave them.

We invite people in rather than taking them out because....

  1. It's almost always healthier. I get to control how the food is prepared and use reasonable amounts of salt, fat, etc. I'm far less likely to get food poisoning. And if I do find a hair in my soup, at least it's my own.
  2. It's better stewardship of our money and possessions. Here in Europe, eating out is particularly expensive, unless you want a cheap, oily Turkish wrap, so I'm reminded of this all over again. For fifteen euros, my husband and I could eat one greasy pizza out, or feed ourselves and at least two other friends in. Occasionally we choose to spend a bit more money rather than the time it takes to eat in, but in this season we usually eat in with our friends. It is good stewardship of the space God has given to us, too. Rent or mortgage is usually one of everyone's biggest monthly expenses. Hospitality is a way to make that money an investment into eternity, too. Whether or not I have guests, I would want to have a heated, furnished home, and when I share that with guests, it is time and money doubly invested, for us and for them.
  3. It puts me (now us) in a position to control the atmosphere. This is one of my favourite reasons to eat in. Restaurants are at best full of distractions. Who hasn't been interrupted by annoying music, a sleazy TV show playing nearby, an immodest or crass server with more ice water, or someone else's crazy child at a restaurant? In our homes we can virtually eliminate these kinds of distractions and create a peaceful, God-honouring environment conducive to good conversation. Which leads me to my next reason....
  4. It makes my home a teaching platform. My home teaches others about what I value—and hopefully, about what God values. Usually my home is full of words and pictures that are meaningful to me. But other things speak, too, like how my husband and I relate to each other, how neat our home is, the kinds of foods we serve...and so many other things. I remember a friend sitting in my home and telling his friend that "This computer screen is the only screen you will find in this house! Julie doesn't have a TV!" I had to laugh at his gusto, speaking as if my home was a real oddity. But he and his friend were both learning about my values by seeing my house. Obviously, we can teach with words, too, as we have opportunity to guide the conversation and set the tone. Sometimes my husband pulls out the Good Book and we read with our guests, or sometimes we just pursue edifying conversation or prayer together. Hospitality teaches something; make that something worthwhile.

  5. It reminds everyone that eating is a community affair. Eating is something we do together. This might be a minor point, but in a restaurant we (usually) order what we want individually and have our own personal experience. At home, we eat what we are served and share the same eating experience. Homemade meals remind us, in our ultra-customized society, that the universe does not exist simply to please us individually; we are made to contribute to community.
  6. It allows people to get to know the real me. My home puts me in a place of vulnerability, because it is a personal space. Sometimes I'm afraid my home is too grand for the guests I'm inviting. Other times I've felt my home is far too simple, like when I invite someone wealthy to visit. We know our guests may make value judgements after seeing us in our home. But it's a good reality check, to remind me to be my real selfmy sincerity is much more important than my status, or lack thereof.
  7. It encourages me to keep my home clean. I'm trying to be better about cleaning consistently, whether or not guests are coming through. But if it hasn't gotten done, and nothing makes me scramble for the vacuum or the mop like knowing that someone else will be seeing our space. (OK, who are we kidding, I only mop if I must. But the vacuum, that I use quite frequently).
  8. It's an outlet for my creativity. Feeding people in my home is a perfect place to express creativity. I like to keep an arsenal of colourful napkins, placemats and banners on hand. And I admit it, I was the one who had a Reformation Day party on October 31, complete with German food, the Luther movie and Catholic candles (with monks on them) burning. I do like theme parties and coordinating decorations....and, not surprisingly, I'm all about cooking foods from around the world.

  9. It's interesting and it expands my world without even leaving home. Since being married, we've had guests from Syria, India, China, Pakistan, Germany, Ukraine.... Their stories are each unique and teach us about the world. I have a cousin who regularly hosts couchsurfers from around the world. Their children learn to have mature conversation with adults, and "travel" by eating the guests' food and hearing their stories. (You might be interested to check out this hospitality network for people who need a place to stay, or have a place to share).
  10. It encourages others to do the same. Lastly, hospitality is best taught by example. The easiest way to learn it (and I still have so much to learn) is by watching others who do it well and sincerely. I've found that hospitality is a bit contagious, if I invite people over, they often do the same in return; sometimes it just takes one person to get the ball rolling.
What you found above is my rough philosophy of hospitality, and why I want to purposefully invite people into our home. One in every three people is lonely, or so I've been told. What better way to seek out that lonely person (whether they look lonely or not) by inviting someone to eat or drink at home with you? We serve a Father who "puts the lonely in families" and human hospitality pictures His heart that notices individuals and brings them into fellowship and community. 

Again, there's no reason hospitality has to be limited to your home. Last week a lady who lives outside our city treated me to breakfast at a restaurant not far from my home. This was more convenient for me than having to figure out how to get to her home. Her invitation, her interest in me personally, her lack of rush, her generosity in paying the tab: all these things spoke hospitality to me, someone who's been facing some loneliness of her own. Next weekend, we're invited to her home, and I know that that visit will be even more insightful into who she and her family are.

At home we have been discussing what living by faith looks like, and how faith challenges us to stretch ourselves with whom we invite into our home. Sometimes we invite people who are pleasant and mannerly, who bring a hostess gift and good conversation. But other times we're trying to invite that person who follows different dietary laws and prays five times a day. Or someone who makes us a little uncomfortable because of our different worldviews. Or the guy with a sour attitude (who secretly liked that we invited him, I think). Currently I'm working on getting up the courage to invite the neighbour over for tea. (Does it feel weirder that we share a wall? Maybe). Faith serves the people of God, but it doesn't just invite "like minds" to its table. It invites differently-oriented guests with a purpose of influencing more than being influenced. Rosaria Butterfield's story is just one beautiful example of a woman who came to faith because others took a step of faith in offering gracious, patient hospitality.

As I was finishing this post, I got a call from a lady who plans to eat here tonight. We don't know much about her, except that she's from Ghana, she does cleaning jobs, she seems lonely and she's happy to talk to English speakers. A mutual friend told us that she currently lives with the fear that B0ko Haram will soon come wreak chaos near her relatives' homes in Africa. My husband can't go there and stop the onslaught, and I can't go back and change her difficult past. But we're trying something small, believing that love shown over chicken stew in a godly home (whether you're single or married) is so very Chr!stian and makes a difference. So whenever we can, let's bring others in.  It doesn't really matter how elaborate or simple the meal. Our love and homes shout our story: "how great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us!"

"He escorts me to the banquet hall;
it's obvious how much he loves me."
Shulamith (Song of Solmon 2:4 NLT)

"Share with the Lord's people who are in need.
Practice hospitality."



  1. By your life and good works, by your open home and hearts as foreigners in the land, may many others come to glorify our Creator. 1 Pet. 2 v.12 (Mom)