Amy Boucher Pye may not always get the biblical admonishment to “practise hospitality” right, but she shares how having an open home and heart can usher in God’s kingdom ...

You used the radiator water!” I said to my husband in horror. We were newly married and hosting some friends for dinner. My husband had refreshed Steve’s glass with what he thought was sparkling water, but he had inadvertently used the water that we usually kept in our battered old car.
Steve said with a twinkle, “Well, you two are certainly taking Paul’s admonishment to heart – practise hospitality!”
I looked at him blankly, not understanding.
“You know,” he said, “practising till you get it right!”

And thus began our ministry of hospitality – with a few mistakes and bumps along the way, but with nothing irredeemable (in the case above, the sparkling-water bottle housed clean tap water). As an American living in London, I have perhaps more opportunities than some to open up our home to weary travellers. But we’re all asked to practise hospitality if we love God and want to serve our neighbours. What does that look like today?

Open Hearts

We don’t have to host guests for a month or even overnight to show them hospitality. As we ask God to make our hearts pliable and open, he will show us how we can welcome people. It might be noticing the newcomer at church and engaging them in a conversation. It might be breaking out of our usual reticence and talking to the person next to us on public transportation or in the supermarket queue. It might be the impromptu coffee invitation after the school run.

Being hospitable means really seeing those around us. “Lord, take me outside of myself,” I often pray. For when I’m obsessing about my own concerns, looking down, I miss the ways in which God might want to use me to bring his light and love to another – with me looking outward. As he opens our hearts, he’ll open our eyes to the needs of others. And if my experience is anything to go by, he blesses us in the process.

A former colleague of mine practises hospitality at work. I don’t know if she’s always conscious of it, but her warm personality and care for others shine through, whether she’s asking one of the guys in the warehouse about his weekend or gently following up on the unspoken hurt she senses in one of her co-workers.

Open Homes

Our family has just come through an intense period of hospitality where, for several months, we hosted different sets of guests every weekend. I came away from the experience enriched by the times of conversation, but flat-out tired. Reflecting on it afterwards, I realised that serving is hard, for selfishness and self-centredness is my usual base, from which the Lord is transforming me.

But having an open home doesn’t mean we always have to say yes when requests come our way. We need, and should, exercise our judgement over when to say yes and when to say no. After all, sometimes our no might provide the longed-for opportunity for someone else to say yes.

Hospitality isn’t limited to inviting people into our homes, but that’s a primary way of exercising it. When doing so, perfection isn’t the goal. I find it difficult to wrap my head around this concept, coming, as I do, from my mother’s amazingly clean and well-ordered home. She has a way of keeping things tidy and welcoming, while I seem to battle clutter daily, often losing trysts with the Corner of Shame in our living room (the place where CutiePyeGirl’s toys have been shoved for too long) or that space on top of the bread bin, which seems to attract junk mail. Such corners or sticky kitchen floors or (even) grungy toilets might halt our invitations and keep the drawbridge up.

But should they? OK, you might want to give that stinky loo a quick splash of bleach before your friend comes over, but I believe that people come to see you, and not to inspect your home. They’ll be far more forgiving about the state of your living quarters than you might be.

A Cup of Water

Serving through hospitality is modelled in Scripture. And it all starts with God showering us with his love when he welcomed his people into his garden, where they could flourish and live with a wealth of good things at their disposal. Stories of welcome abound in the Old Testament and the New, such as when Abraham and Sarah asked the three visiting men to share a meal with them and they received news of the yearned-for heir (Genesis 18), or the sharing of lives and homes in the early church in Acts. Of course, Jesus received hospitality through his journeys in the Gospels, for example, in the home of Mary and Martha, although his parents were only given the manger for his birth. And as Paul said to the church in Rome, as I hint at above, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality” (Roman 12:13).

I’m only touching on the biblical mandate for us to be a welcoming people. Clearly God wants to use us as his ambassadors, to live in a countercultural manner as we reveal our Corners of Shame while opening the door to our homes. This practical outpouring of God’s love may loosen any hardened preconceptions of those who characterise Christians as crazies. As Jennifer Rees Larcombe says, God uses us as his hands. Through us, he can provide a cup of cold water to those in need.
How might you be able to practise hospitality in 2015? What transformative stories can you share about the way God worked through you when you welcomed those in need. (Do write in!) What nudges might God’s Spirit be awakening in you? 
 Tips and Hints

Ban perfectionism. You don’t have to deep-clean the house before your guests arrive. Nor do you need gourmet food to impress. Simplicity with a big smile covers many imperfections.

Develop a few tried and tested meals. Our slow cooker has transformed our hosting, helping us to make easy and healthy meals. Cooking a whole chicken in a crock pot, for example, is now painless.

Ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask your guests to pitch in on the practicalities – such as chopping vegetables or washing up. I’ve found the response has been positive and affirming.

Create a guide to your home. Tell your guests about things like the wonky shower curtain and give them the wifi code. This can also be a repository of tourist information such as leaflets about local attractions.

Treasure your guest book. Our only requirement when people come to stay is that they sign our guest book. We love looking back over the entries, which evoke memories of the gourmet meal cooked for us by one, or the Pimms we shared with another.