The most important way to get ready for hospitality is to prepare your heart. This is sometimes harder than preparing your home. Washington Irving said that, “There is an emanation from the heart in genuine hospitality, which cannot be described, but is immediately felt, and puts the stranger at once at his ease.” And the way to develop this emanation is to have a Christ-like love for your guests. It does not come naturally; it’s something we need to work at, some of us more than others.
Usually, when we invite people over, we expect to put some work into it, but get a nice meal and a friendly visit out of it. Sometimes, that is what happens, but other times, visiting children reject your food and mess up the entire house; believers are critical of the church or other believers, or unbelieving guests are ungrateful, use crude language and even pocket your silver spoons (which has happened to a friend of mine).
When things like this happen, we feel somehow cheated; our hospitality didn’t make us feel the way that we wanted it to. But when guests leave and we feel cheated or down, it is almost always because our hearts were not right before God when the guests walked in the door. A twentieth century Canadian missionary to China had this motto: “seek to give much; expect nothing in return.” And that is how we need to prepare ourselves for hospitality. God has given us everything, including our guests, and if the visit does not bless us, then it will sanctify us. Feeling that all that work was wasted on people who don’t deserve it or appreciate it reveals that my heart was not ready to serve unconditionally, as the Lord calls me to.
My sister called me one morning after she had a terrible experience with guests. On a tight budget and pregnant, she still tries to make hospitality a priority. Usually, she is tired but happy after a visit, but this one left her very frustrated: the guests would not converse, everything went poorly, and she was left with a huge pile of dishes to wash before the evening service.
When my sister called me the next morning, she said that after initial feelings of being cheated, she felt convicted; she realized that she had invited these people expecting thanks, encouragement, and maybe a little help. She had invited them partly to get something out of it for her. Once she realized and confessed her sin, she had a renewed sense of the purpose of hospitality. She told me, “I can’t do it for me, I can’t even do it just for other people; I have to do it for Christ. That’s the only kind of hospitality that God really loves.”
Preparing your heart before your guests come will enable you to practice hospitality for Jesus’ sake – to love your guests because Christ loved you first, to minister to them because the people who are least appealing are the ones who most need gospel care. This kind of hospitality might leave you tired and emotionally worn at the end of an evening (you might even be missing a few silver spoons), but it is the kind of hospitality that will not be consumed with the straw and stubble of this world – it is the kind of hospitality that God values and rewards.