Hospitality To Strangers
Written August 2009, Published in Above Rubies February 2010
How wonderful it is to open my home for an evening of feasting and fellowship amongst my circle of friends and family members! I also enjoy hosting a monthly Bible study with friends to study God’s Word. Everyone enjoys these times to eat together, share our hearts and discuss all the important details of our lives, but what about the idea of showing hospitality to strangers? Am I as a believer in the Lord still expected to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, or open my home at a moment’s notice to the traveler? Jesus said in Matt. 25- “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Job acknowledged that “The alien has not lodged outside, for I have opened my doors to the traveler”- Job 31:32.
My husband and I recently have had our hearts opened to this type of service. The Lord has been orchestrating one confirmation after another to soften our hearts and open our eyes to the ministry of ‘stranger’ hospitality. We have begun praying for opportunities to serve the needy, the traveler, the stranger, the widow, the sick and the orphan. I could easily rationalize that by having a Bible study in my home or having other Christian events with friends who are in the same social group as I am is “enough”, but there is a huge difference between fellowshipping among like-minded believers and fellowshipping with the down-trodden of this world. Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”-Luke 14:12-13. Am I supposed to do these things out of guilt? No. Am I supposed to do these things to earn my salvation? No. I am told to do these things out of my sheer love for the Lord and out of my desire to honor Him. Because of the compassion, mercy and kindness that Jesus has shown to me- a most undeserving sinner- I must show compassion, mercy and kindness to those who may seem undeserving or unworthy as well.
I was recently on the way home from my appointment with the midwife feeling very tired with a van full of cranky children. My mind was already thinking ahead to being at home, taking a long nap and allowing my husband to cook dinner again. I had been battling morning sickness for a few weeks and my sweet husband had taken over a lot of the chores at home. I almost could feel the soft pillow at naptime- that is until I pulled off the Interstate and saw an elderly lady standing on the side of the road with a bag in one hand. She looked so lost and vacant. Immediately my 17-year-old son said, “Mom, pick her up!” Thoughts were racing through my head- “What do I say to her? What would my husband say? I’ve never done this before! Help, Lord!” I pulled off into the gas station to call my husband and ask his permission to bring her home, but he was not answering! I then recalled the conversations we had been having about how we would be open to having someone over who needed help. I drove up to the lady, rolled the window down and asked where she was going. She said that she was going to the next state and needed a ride. I said, “I am not going that way. I’m heading home. I live right down the road. Would you like to come home with us and have dinner with my family tonight and take a shower?” She looked completely flabbergasted, but seeing that I had several children in the van, she kind of shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, o.k.”
On the drive home, I found out that she shared the same birthday as my mom, which meant that she was only 54, not in her late 60’s like I had thought. My husband opened the door and I saw the look on his face when he saw this down-trodden lady. Before she even got out of the van with her bag, I whispered to him, “Is it all right that she’s here for dinner?” He said, “That’s perfectly fine”. Instead of focusing on my exhaustion and morning sickness, I got right to work in the kitchen preparing dinner. I completely forgot about the nap I was going to take or that I was going to ask my husband to be in charge of dinner again! I learned that when I focus on the needs of others, the troubles and cares of my life melt away almost instantly. We were able to find new clothes for Catherine in a bag of hand-me-downs that someone had just given me the day before. Catherine was very quiet throughout the night she was visiting with our family, but her presence at our dining table was much needed and will never be forgotten.
What if something bad happened to me upon picking her up? What if something bad had happened to my children while opening my home to a stranger? What if I was taken completely advantage of? Oswald Chambers says in his devotional ‘My Utmost For His Highest’: Don’t plan with a concern for evil in mind. Does God really mean for us to plan without taking the evil around us into account? “Love…thinks no evil” (1 Cor. 13:4-5). Love is not ignorant of the existence of evil, but it does not take it into account as a factor in planning.’ I may be stolen from. I may have things taken from my home. I might not be shown gratefulness. But Jesus says that we should “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.”- Luke 6:30. And in Isaiah: “…Divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him.”- Is. 58:7.
Of course, there are many different avenues to help the needy besides bringing a stranger into your home if you are uncomfortable with that idea. Carrying extra bottles of water and packaged snacks in the back of your van for those times when you see someone in need is one way of feeding the hungry. We can minister to the sick by bringing meals to someone who is unable to prepare them for themselves. What about visiting those in prison? How can we do that with our children? Are we even supposed to? There are different types of ‘prisons’ and for some elderly, living in a nursing home against their will is a daily prison. While grown men and women can conduct Bible studies with inmates in a penitentiary, a mother and her children can “adopt” a grandparent in a nursing home. When I have done this with my children, I can see fresh new life in the eyes of someone who previously felt like they were forgotten and alone. Bringing special treats, a hand-written card or reading books are all different ideas of showing hospitality and encouragement to someone who feels imprisoned.
I believe we will be given the discernment to know when to act on the Holy Spirit’s leading. But there might be times when we don’t hear a specific ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from the Lord when we see someone in need. What should we do then? I believe that we should try to not overanalyze the situation, but simply to act with compassion. Even unbelievers (shall I say even atheists?) practice ‘random acts of kindness’ for their fellow man, how much more should a child of God help the helpless! If we are feeling unsure or hesitant in any way, then this might be the Lord’s way of saying that now is not the time, but we still need to be open in the future for areas that we can minister to the needs of others. Again, the key is listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit who promises to lead and direct us.
Oswald Chambers also states in his Feb. 5 devotional that we are called to be doormats- “Are you willing to sacrifice yourself for the work of another believer- to pour out your life sacrificially for the ministry and faith of others? Or do you say, ‘I am not willing to be poured out right now, and I don’t want God to tell me how to serve Him. I want to choose the place of my own sacrifice. And I want to have certain people watching me and saying, “Well done”.’ It is one thing to follow God’s way of service if you are regarded as a hero, but quite another thing if the road marked out for you by God requires becoming a “doormat” under other people’s feet…Some saints cannot do menial work while maintaining a saintly attitude, because they feel such service is beneath their dignity.’
During the time when the New Testament was being written, a wife was expected to bring up godly children, but she would not be allowed on the widow’s list unless she had also shown hospitality to strangers and devoted herself to every good work and had assisted those in distress, among other qualities (1 Tim. 5:10). The idea is to make it a lifestyle of charity, not one of legalism or a set standard of rules that are forced and fake. I am not supposed to be like the Pharisees who did “all their deeds to be noticed by men” (Matt. 23:5), but I am supposed to let my “light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven”- Matt. 5:16.
The lifestyle of ‘stranger’ hospitality should be all-encompassing with my children being given ample opportunities to humbly serve alongside their mother. The idea of this type of radical hospitality is foreign to me; I was not taught it while growing up. I do not desire for my children to grow up living in an isolated Christian bubble when there are plenty of chances to be serving here and today.
As I am writing this, my husband just called while shopping in town and told me he stopped to help a man on the side of the Interstate who needed a ride to Texas. My husband got out of the car, went over and sat next to the man and began talking to him, “friend to friend”. He offered for the man to come to our home for dinner, but the man wanted to stay near the road in case he was able to catch a ride, but my husband was able to buy him some food at the store so he wouldn’t be hungry tonight. I am reminded of what Job said, “If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not shared it, if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or that the needy had no covering…let my shoulder fall from the socket and my arm be broken off at the elbow.” (Job 31:16-22).
We are told that we should ‘not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it’ (Heb. 13:2). Up until this point of my life, I have not given myself many opportunities to entertain angels. That is a pity! I’d love to find out one day in Heaven that I served angels in my home!