You think of the need, you feel convicted, and you imagine yourself doing what needs to be done. The flame of zeal fires up for a minute – then the car behind you honks and you’re on your way to work again. Or perhaps the piercing cry of a small child quickly draws you back into the slew of activities that have to be completed before lunch. If you’re like me, you know how easily our best intentions get lost somewhere in the daily grind. Why do we have such a hard time putting the clear truths of Scripture into practice in our lives? At times, our desires (while godly) may be too diffuse and prone to delay. Perhaps what we need is a plan and a couple of baby steps. Here are a few considerations that might help set you on that path.
Have a Burden
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). Our natural instinct is to reserve our goodness for a few – those we like, those we agree with, and those who will elevate our own social status. The Spirit calls us to do good to everyone, and those who do so will quickly stand out in a world where such an approach is valued but rarely practised.
That being said, it does help to have a specific burden. Whom has the Lord brought into your life and placed upon your heart? It may be students, people without families or away from their families, those who are widowed or lonely, those who have a hard time making friends, people from other cultures, young families with noisy children. Who is in need of what the Lord has given you to share? Think about what God has given you during this season of life and how you can use it to extend hospitality. Perhaps you have a home large enough for big group gatherings – there’s a need for that. Perhaps you live in a bachelor apartment but you have time during your lunch breaks for a 45-minute conversation – there’s a need for that. Perhaps you’re running an in-home day care but you have time to listen to other parents at the park as they share their burdens – there’s a need for that. When all we see are our own needs, hospitality feels impossible. So we need to put ourselves in a position to better understand (and feel) the burdens of those around us.
Have a Habit
I’ve been guilty many times of having a burden and failing to act on it. Or perhaps I act, but I do so in a haphazard, ineffective and infrequent manner. You may find that the formation of a strong habit is the only thing that gives you a chance at integrating hospitality into your normal life. I humbly recommend planning on something that recurs regularly, something that you can assume goes forward apart from the occasional interruption. Without this habit, there will always be reasons not to do it – too tired, too busy, the weather is bad, etc. Sadly, hospitality can become the interruption in our life rather than the pattern. Why not try a weekly pattern? Your hospitality effort will quickly become part of your life’s “beat.”
My wife and I are grateful for people at different points in our lives who offered an open invitation – assume you’re invited unless we let you know otherwise. If you have the space to be able to host a group, open it to acquaintances and friends, believers and unbelievers. This can create a welcoming space for connections to be made; the importance of this can’t be overstated. Your hospitality doesn’t have to begin with a weekly event. As with so many areas of life, disciplined practices train us so that we can eventually go above and beyond them. Let your habitual hospitality give you a taste for spontaneous hospitality on other occasions – when a need arises, when someone is on your heart, when there’s someone in your assembly you haven’t connected with in a long time, or when you feel God may be working with someone. What felt like a large effort before may soon begin to feel second nature.
Have a Team
Serving can be a source of stress; just think of Martha and Mary. It’s helpful to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. A married couple may be the natural example that comes to mind when it comes to labouring together in this way. But there are also a variety of ways singles can team up to show hospitality. Some of the social norms which define the roles and responsibilities of the host may also have to be challenged. These norms are often adapted to a setting where hosting people is a big production that only happens occasionally. In the context of habitual hospitality, it may be worthwhile (and enjoyable) to involve your guests. Setting the table, chopping the vegetables, and washing dishes is a lot more fun when we do it together. While it might not fit your current model of what it means to be a good host, your guests will quickly adjust.
You might also consider involving others in your local church. Maybe there are some who have a heart to serve but for various reasons can’t be as directly involved. We’ve personally been blessed by people who provided the meal for us to serve our guests once a month or more. Hospitality is a lot of work, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Have a Heart
Hospitality doesn’t come cheap. This discipline has emotional, spiritual and practical dimensions that can feel draining at times. It would often feel easier to sit back and read a good book after work rather than deal with the ruckus of piled-up dishes and numerous guests. Sometimes we wonder if we have any emotional latitude left to be a good listener to our neighbours and friends. In Luke 14:28, Christ offers a sobering reminder: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Hospitality in any of its forms will be costly – in finances, time and energy. But God is happy to provide; there’s a reason we are told it is more blessed to give than to receive. As we give, we suddenly find that we are conduits (rather than the source) of God’s grace. That being said, it may be wise to take breaks; there may be a season of the year where you rest and focus elsewhere.
Have a Why
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). While this verse may primarily be discussing God’s fatherly training in our lives, it certainly applies to the development of godly habits. Spiritual disciplines (including hospitality) are not the end goal in and of themselves. They are the means to an end – godliness. Hospitality isn’t itself the goal, but it trains us and promotes the growth of the spiritual fruit we long for. This may be especially important to remember for those who don’t naturally gravitate toward social situations. It is challenging but important to be aware of the attitudes of our heart that make hospitality seem scary. By this I don’t mean the personality traits of introverted people, but the natural, fleshly selfishness that tempts all of us. We need to constantly challenge the messaging of our hyper-individualistic culture.
There is a vision of the “good life” insinuated by the media we are immersed in daily. It is rooted in an individualistic version of success, comfort and meaning-making. But God’s plan for us is not self-sufficiency. Liberal giving through hospitality helps retrain our instincts. The question may arise: How specifically does hospitality shape us? I would suggest it promotes within us the growth of one of God’s attributes (likely one amongst others) – His kindness. Our English word fails to capture the beauty and complexity of God’s chesed, His commitment toward our good. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love [chesed]” (Psa 103:8). We can’t think or believe our way into being more kind. But as God’s grace flows through us to those around, we are transformed. As we pay the price that habitual hospitality demands, we find ourselves gaining new kinds of riches.
Prayerfully, then, may each of us ask God to 1) lay a burden upon us, 2) strengthen us to take first steps (or new steps) toward establishing a habit, 3) help us become part of a team with a common vision, 4) find the grace to be joyful givers, and 5) grant us to remember and enjoy the ultimate purpose of this discipline.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.