Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Attitude of Hospitality—part one

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructs us to “let our light so shine before men” that others may see our righteous deeds and, therefore, praise our Father! In 1 Timothy, Paul instructs men who desire the office of Elder to show love toward the believers—especially strangers and foreigners—and he exhorts women to actually array themselves (as one would fine jewelry), with the ornaments of good works. God is making His desire quite clear—we are to emulate His character continually. “Jesus…went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and so must we! Following this example of Christ seems to define a godly woman as well as a faithful worker!

Hospitality is a practical way for us to apply this command! To “go about doing good” is to keep our eyes wide open to those who have needs…and to keep our arms wide open to those who need care. Hospitality is ministering to the physical, the emotional, or the spiritual needs of others!

Seeing and Meeting

The first thought that pops into our heads when considering hospitality might be fixing one of our favorite meals and then inviting a friend over for dinner—the fun is abounding and the fellowship, oh, so sweet! There is something very fulfilling when we receive another in this way. It just feels good to know we have blessed someone else! Although this picture is not completely missing the point, it is definitely not conclusive! There is so much more to consider. Yes, we are to show hospitality to close friends, fellow believers, and traveling missionaries—we are to open our homes, invite to our tables, or supply specific needs. But it behooves us to look deeper into the heart and soul of this word, for we are not only asked to “do” good works but to “adorn” ourselves with them! The first requires an action…the second, an attitude!

Gaining an appropriate attitude is a duty we must never neglect when considering the ministry God has called us to! A ministry, coupled with the wrong attitude, can be very damaging. Paul states, very clearly in scripture, that not just the act but the “attitude of hospitality” is crucial to both the role of a man and of a woman in the church! Men should never lead without it! And women should never worship without it!

Attitude /n 2 a: a mental position with regard to a fact or state b: a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state 3: a position assumed for a specific purpose

Obviously, according to Webster’s definition, an attitude is setting you up to respond either correctly or incorrectly to certain people or situations! The proper attitude makes all the difference in the world. The attitude that is rooted in pride will cause you to sin—you will neglect, or unintentionally miss, valuable lessons that teach you how to meet another’s need. In contrast, an attitude taken straight from the mold of humility will produce good works in accordance to hospitality.

If hospitality is both seeing and meeting immediate needs, how does our attitude effect the way we carry it out?

Seeing the Need of Another

We must be selfless! This is the first role our attitude must play in the act of hospitality. If we are self-consumed then we will be blinded to the real needs of those around us! If seeing is required for Biblical hospitality, then it is vital to remove distractions! I'm not sure about you, but in my life, “I” am my biggest distraction!

Many years ago, God started asking me to surrender my own perspective on life and allow Him to reign in my heart and mind completely. God began taking the “me” out of everything and replacing it with “Him.” He must matter most—whether I was considering my own needs or those of another. I wasn’t always the most cooperative daughter. I still squirm at times! But I have come to learn that surrender of what is lovely produces the most beautiful reward.

Wanting to be like Christ is far from being like Christ. Being like Christ involves a lot of work—and it needs continual evaluation from someone outside of yourself. As soon as you feel you have taken a step in the right direction, you are met with a wall of your own failures (or of somebody elses)! The attitude your flesh wears wants discouragement to set in. Oh, how our flesh longs to feel sorry for itself and to think the “task” completely impossible. But our Lord, if we listen closely, is cheering us on. He is reminding us that we do not make progress in our own strength—ever. And He knows what it is like to serve those who are oblivious to our sacrifice. When we are tempted to look to ourselves, feel sorry for ourselves, pity ourselves, coddle ourselves (you get the point!), we must ask God for the ability to crucify “ourselves.”

The hymn writer, Frances Havergal, not only learned the secret behind such death—she took the time to pen its process! Verse by verse, Frances surrendered each and every part of who she was. The first stanza starts: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to Thee; take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.” She identified those things (and those body parts) that we often attach to our will—our hands, our feet, our desires, our loves—and she deliberately gave them to Christ, for His use alone. Open up a hymnal, and in your quiet time with Jesus sing and pray each line to the Lord with a willingness to be used of Him. Spend quality time surrendering the attitude of your heart! When that happens, you will not only see better, you will be given new eyes—eyes that can keenly observe someone else’s need!

Before such surrender our vision was dim and the quality of our sight depended on how we felt at the time! Not now! Now we are able to see those around us through the eyes of our Savior. And because of that, we exercise the act of hospitality more completely. We cannot meet needs unless we see them first. And we cannot see needs, unless we are looking outside of ourselves!

There will be times when we are overcome with our own trials—when our own desires are being unmet and we feel unable to meet another’s. It is hard to “go about doing good” to those around us (especially those closest to us) when we are painfully aware of our own want. But it is possible! Amy Carmichael wisely writes that the very moment we are “conscious of the shadow of self crossing our threshold, we must shut the door and keep that door shut!” It is when we neglect this forceful action that we become consumed with the lie that says: I cannot meet another’s need when I am needy myself. This thought is justified with a hundred different reasons as to why, and, just like that, we become selfish—often oblivious to the fact!

The problem is not that we desire comfort, but that we use our pain as an excuse to neglect “good works.” If we focus on what we deserve (and are not receiving) more than how we can be useful to others, we will leave off applying the principles observed in Philippians 2. And we will quit being hospitable.

When you have needs, look to Christ, not to your selfish heart. Your heart will teach you to place your expectations on others—not on the Lord (and He wants them!)—and it will feed you the bread of discontentment! Jesus excels in the area of hospitality. Let Him do what He does best—let Him serve you. Jesus took the character quality of hospitality to an amazing level by giving up His very life for yours. “Let this mind [this attitude] be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus will meet your needs and, in doing so, will free your heart so that it can perceive the needs of others!

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

To be continued...

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