With our emphasis on knowing God’s Word in 2018, we’re excited for this new series on spiritual disciplines. Each month, we’ll unpack a different spiritual discipline, defining it as well as offering some ideas for practical application! This month, we’re sharing an excerpt about hospitality and serving from Jen Schmidt’s Bible study, Just Open the Door.
We passed in the hallway and I spontaneously offered, “Let’s get coffee sometime.” A few weeks later, she sat in my family room clutching her coffee cup like a life preserver.
“No one knows all that’s happening with me. I took a leave of absence from work due to severe panic attacks, and I haven’t left my house in weeks. Even when I woke up this morning, my heart battled at the thought of coming to your house since I don’t really know you. I needed and wanted to come, but I was paralyzed. My mind kept telling me not to go.”
Inside of an hour, our relationship had quickly moved from “Hi, how are you?” acquaintance status to sisters, with hearts woven into a kinship known only through a shared story of struggle.
“But it’s the first time I’ve felt a sense of joy and anticipation in a long time,” she went on as tears streamed down her face. “I need community and I want friends, but I’ve been so afraid to put myself out there because sometimes the rejection isn’t worth it. When you followed through on your invitation for coffee, I started crying.”
I sat stunned. How had I so misjudged her? She seemed to have everything together.
Mentally, the problem fixer in me started trying to figure out ways to comfort her when this was so outside my realm. What words could I say? More than that, I kept thinking, Why me? Why had she entrusted her heart with me? And how could I begin to steward her trust in a way that honored the Lord and my new friend? I was at a loss.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
The Greek root for carry in Galatians 6:2 means “to lift, literally or figuratively (endure, declare, sustain, receive, etc.):—bear, carry, take up.”1 The Greek root for burden in this verse means “weight.”2
In that moment, I knew the best I had to offer her was to simply be present. Sometimes that’s enough. In fact, sometimes it’s the perfect response, the best of all other options. Sometimes the people before us just need us to be silent and sit with them in their deepest time of need and help bear their burden.
This is not always easy. I wanted to give a quick solution, but her deep ache couldn’t be fixed through my trite words. What she felt could only be fully remedied by the master Healer.
So I sat. I listened. I grabbed her hand and looked her in the eyes. I slid over a tissue box. I refilled her coffee mug and listened some more. Every once in a while, she’d ask for my words, but I kept them few. All she really needed was the ministry of my presence. She needed listening ears, a tender heart to receive her, and the knowledge that in those moments nothing was more important to me than being fully engaged in our time together.
I approached her with my own apprehension, choosing my words carefully.
“I don’t know where to start, because I feel any of my words will sound trite. One thing I know to be true is that you are loved, and there is no one who understands your grief, your panic, or your suffering more than Christ. I can tell you, too, that I am here for you. And with you. And for as long as you’d like to stay, you are welcome. We have all afternoon.”
And that’s what we did over the next few hours. We stepped forward toward the One who modeled compassion. I canceled my afternoon plans and our coffee date extended to a simple salad lunch. Somewhere between chopping the broccoli, dicing the chicken, and mixing the salad, my bone-weary journey joined hers. We cried together. We prayed together. We shared our story of God’s goodness amidst our difficulty, and we pointed to the One who redeems these moments. We were both deeply moved.
I still don’t know how it happened—how a simple coffee invitation between two relative strangers opened the door to this authentic mingling of spirits: a sacred space created where boundaries were destroyed and defenses diffused. I only know, through the ministry of presence, the Holy Spirit swept in, opened our hearts, took hold of any preconceived agenda, and gave us a glimpse into how the early church in Acts practiced hospitality. I understood it even more intimately now, why it was so central to the biblical narrative. I sensed God’s presence in the practice of it, where both host and guest received blessings of abundance.
That afternoon marked another significant perspective shift in how I viewed living a life of welcome. It was the purest form of hospitality I’d experienced: a holy time, an act of worship, where our hours together were aimed at the glory of God.
It’s where I began to see my offering of hospitality as a sacrificial act of worship.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Romans 12:1
I want you to note the last phrase in varying versions: “your true and proper worship” (NIV), “your reasonable service” (KJV), and “your spiritual service of worship” (NASB).
Did you notice that the words for worship and service in these translations are interchangeable? It led me to explore other areas where this might be the case. As I dug into the Hebrew and Greek roots for worship, my heart recalibrated how I approached this gift of welcome that we have the opportunity to extend. The words worship, work, and serve are used interchangeably in many verses throughout Scripture.
But as for me and my house, we will serve [work, worship] the Lord. Joshua 24:15
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Exodus 8:1
Those declarations aren’t confined to a church service or Bible study. There’s such freedom in realizing that as our hearts bend low before the Lord, any chosen gospel-focused act that elevates His magnificence, any heartfelt, Spirit-led response that brings Him pleasure, encompasses worship.
If the basis and aim of all biblical worship is the glory of God, then when we choose to welcome others into our lives with this goal, that response of hospitality is worship.
Authentic worship means honoring God with more than just our words.
In 2 Corinthians 8:5, we’re reminded we are to give of ourselves “first to the Lord and then to [others] by God’s will.” Our worship, our service, our love for others communicates a lot about what we believe about the character of God—and that knowledge gets me passionate about living more intentionally.
It’s shattered my image of needing perfect lives and perfect spaces. When I witnessed how a cup of coffee offered to a distant acquaintance could overflow into worship and healing, I realized biblical hospitality is much more than our latest dinner party.
Hospitality is a deep and mighty investment, not just for those around us, but it’s an investment in our own souls.
Remember, don’t overthink it. There is no right or wrong to-do list that needs to be generated. Through worship, we must act and we must respond, but that we respond is so much more important than how we respond.
That’s the beauty of perfectly imperfect hospitality. It’s fully leaning into the truth that it isn’t about us. As contrary as it feels, since we’re doing the inviting and hosting and possible cooking, it’s simply not about us. But it does involve us and desperately needs our surrender for it all to be about Him.
When we walk this road of welcome, I can make no guarantees of its outcome, but I do know that over and over He takes our meager offering, multiplies it, and shows off His goodness for all who are ready to receive. What a unique privilege hospitality gives us to share this deep heart need for community, spread some of the joy we’ve received as a result of knowing Him, and in the process, worship the One who is worthy of all our praise.
1. James Strong, “bastazō,” Strong’s Greek Hebrew Dictionary, G4198.
2. Ibid., “baros,” G922.