Guests are coming! Does that inspire you with thoughts of time spent with friends or family? Or does that phrase strike terror into your domestic heart?
I grew up in a house where guests were a Big Deal. We only had dinner guests a few times a year, and I can’t remember ever having anyone spend the night with us, even though we had plenty of space.
When guests were coming for dinner, my mom would pull out her tried-and-true menu of baked ham, a convenience food version of au gratin potatoes (I called them o’rotten potatoes!) and frozen peas. There’s nothing wrong with having a “signature” meal… but every time? While her cooking was perfectly fine, my mother lacked confidence, and this was a sure bet.
Then there was the house itself. My parents were both immaculate perfectionists when it came to our living quarters. Everything was perfect… the décor, the paint on the walls, the polished pipes in the cabinets under the bathroom sinks (yes, really). There was certainly no cause for embarrassment regarding our home.
The day arrived. In spite of the easy dinner and clean house, my mother would be a nervous wreck. It’s really the only time growing up that I saw her flustered. And when our much-anticipated company finally showed up, it seemed like a staged production. My dad never said much, but my mom carefully guided the conversation, sticking to topics with which she felt comfortable . The evening was pleasant, but, looking back, it was also shallow. No one shared their inner joys or struggles. The fate of the universe was never decided. Then everyone said good-bye, the dishes were done, and we went to bed with a sigh of relief.
Compare that to our home today. Since the beginning of May (four months ago) Pete and I have hosted a high-tech missionary (one night), our daughter’s brother-in-law (nine nights), a missionary family of five from Nepal (one night), a missionary to Thailand (three nights), a brother and sister we had just met the month before (one night), another good friend/ministry partner (four nights), and a family we’ve known for years (four nights). Plus, we accommodate another couple on Wednesday nights, as they come to town every week to volunteer at a local ministry. That’s in spite of our being out of town ourselves for 23 nights, and not counting the innumerable meals we’re shared with people. In fact, we have a missionary friend sleeping in the guest room as I post this!
Why do we take such delight in having guests, when they were such a trial for my parents?
Our house is nice but not perfect. I enjoy making “company” meals, but sometimes I do that for Pete, not just for guests. Like my mother, I’m an introvert, and require a certain amount of alone time. Yet, I’m invariably happy to invite people into our home.
So why is my experience involving guests so different from that of my mother’s? I finally realized that while she entertained, I aim to offer hospitality.
Entertainment involves a production. You’re putting on a show. The focus is on appearances… the food, the home, the conversation or other activity. In the back of your mind, the big question is, “What will they think about me (my cooking, my housekeeping, my intelligence/opinions?” As a task-oriented person, I naturally lean toward this type of production.
Hospitality, on the other hand, focuses on the guest. How can I make them feel at home? Are they comfortable? What would they enjoy? How can I get to know them better? How would I like to be treated if the tables were turned? In short—how can I love them?
Of course, most guests appreciate good meals, a clean house, and pleasant conversation. I try hard to provide those things. But hospitality doesn’t require perfection. More important than all the externals is your heart attitude. 1 Peter 4:9 states, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” This isn’t a suggestion… it’s actually a commandment!
Romans 12:13 says to “… practice hospitality.” I really appreciate this—we don’t start out as experts… we need practice! How do we learn? The Bible is full of examples of people offering hospitality. I’d start there.
Then there is plenty of good teaching available. Try Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s website for transcripts of her radio series on this topic.
Over the years, I’ve learned lots of practical lessons on how make people feel at home in our home. I’ll be sharing some of those in the weeks and months to come. Most importantly, I’ve tried to overcome my innate tendency to focus on the tasks, and instead focus on the people. How am I doing on that? You’ll have to ask our guests.
 A few of the many hospitality examples in the Bible:
Genesis 18 – Abraham and the three visitors
Genesis 24:31-33 – Laban offering hospitality to Abraham’s servant
1 Kings 17: 7-24, esp. v. 9 – Widow at Zarephath
2 Kings 4:8-10 – Elisha’s guest room
Matthew 26:6 – Jesus stayed with a leper
Matthew 26:17-19 – Jesus eats the Passover in a home
Mark 2: 15 – Jesus eats at a tax collector’s house
Mark 6: 8-11 – the disciples stay in one home in each town
Acts 10: 5- 6, 23 – Pete is himself a house guest, yet he invites more men to stay there with him!
There are many more… what can you find?