Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Hospitality and prayer

Lynne Baab • Tuesday May 30 2023

Hospitality and prayer

I wonder what comes to mind when you hear the word “hospitality.” Hosting people in your home for meals or overnight? Perhaps larger-scale hospitality events like meals at church for church members or the wider community? In your mind, does hospitality usually or always involve food?

I recently taught a class on spiritual practices for a Christian university. My students were all in their thirties or forties. In the online discussion about hospitality, two of my students wrote about how they are perfectly comfortable hosting their kids' friends. However, when the parents or other adults show up, these two students said they often feel like a failure because their house isn’t tidy enough.

I wonder how much guilt or self-criticism you experience when you hear the word “hospitality.” I wonder if you feel you don’t offer hospitality in your home often enough. Perhaps the guilt or self-criticism comes from feeling your home is messy or doesn’t reflect well on you, so you are reluctant to invite people over.

Here’s what I wrote about hospitality in Joy Together, my book on communal spiritual practices. I am curious how scriptures like the ones I mention here make you feel. Encouraged? Motivated? Guilty?

“Hospitality plays a role in the Bible from beginning to end. The Jewish sacrificial system involved contributions of food that were consumed in festivals in the Temple. Some of Jesus’ most memorable encounters with individuals occur in the context of hospitality in people’s homes. Two examples are his discussion with Mary and Martha about the “one needful thing” while Martha was preparing a meal (Luke 10:38–42) and Jesus’ extension of loving grace to an outcast woman who washed his feet with her tears in the middle of dinner (Luke 7:36–50). Several of Jesus’ parables present vivid pictures of feasts; one example is the parable of the great wedding feast in Matthew 22:1–14. Furthermore, in his last meal with his disciples, Jesus invited them to adopt a celebration of remembrance and presence that involves bread and wine.

“New Testament believers viewed hospitality as an essential component of ministry. In 1 Timothy, the good works attributed to bishops and widows above reproach include hospitality (1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:10). Being hospitable also occurs throughout the epistles in lists of recommended behavior (see Rom. 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Peter 4:9).”

When I thought about writing this post focused on connections between hospitality and prayer, the first thing that came to mind was praying for wisdom from God about when and how to host people in our homes, and also praying that we would host in a welcoming way. After that online discussion a few weeks ago, I think perhaps the place to start in praying about hospitality is to ask God to forgive us for the times we haven’t extended hospitality and to ask God that we can truly receive God’s abundant forgiveness. And then to pray that the Holy Spirit would take away the self-criticism that often clogs up our ability to show love in concrete ways. After that, we might be ready to pray for the Spirit's guidance about how and when to offer hospitality.

Another way to look at hospitality in the Bible is to think about God as hospitable. From the beginning, God invited humans to live on this beautiful planet God created. The picture at the end of Revelation of the new Jerusalem includes our welcome to live in the presence of God, who lights up the holy city so strongly that the sun is unnecessary (Revelation 21-22). Seminary professor Christine Pohl’s book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, helped me see that our specific acts of hospitality – offering meals or lodging or practical help – are grounded in God’s hospitality to us. I read her book around the turn of the millennium when I was an associate pastor at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Seattle. I began to see all of ministry as grounded in hospitality. I began to try to be welcoming to everyone I met. I don’t always succeed of course, but I have been changed by believing that one of my central callings as a Jesus follower is to express the kind of welcome in every conversation that mirrors God’s generous welcome to us.

Hospitality is a spiritual gift, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in specific individuals, as I have. Because God is welcoming, and because the Holy Spirit is transforming us into the image of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18), all Christians are called to express welcome. Whether or not hospitality is a spiritual gift for us, all of us can nurture skills that help us to be more welcoming in all the settings of our lives. Christine Pohl expresses the personal growth aspect of hospitality: “Hospitality is a skill and a gift, but it is also a practice which flourishes as multiple skills are developed, as particular commitments and values are nurtured, and as certain settings are cultivated.” [1]

We can pray that God would lead us to opportunities to develop our hospitality skills, whether those skills relate to cooking, feeling peaceful when people come into our homes, or listening attentively. We can pray that our communities of faith will be welcoming places, and we can pray for our involvement in communal welcome events.

Generous and welcoming God, we pray that we would experience your welcome so deeply that we would be motivated and empowered to extend that welcome to others. Help us pray for your guidance, and help us hear and follow that guidance so that we would know when and how to offer hospitality and where and how to grow in the skills related to hospitality. Open our ears to hear your voice calling us “Beloved” so that we can let go of our shortcomings in the area of hospitality and communicate to others that they are Beloved, too.

(This is the third post in a series on spiritual practices and prayer. If you’d like to read about how I define spiritual practices and see a list of all the posts in the series, the first post of the series is here. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below.)

My book on communal spiritual practices, Joy Together, has a chapter on hospitality.

Previous posts and articles about hospitality:

[1] Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 9.

Next post »« Previous post