Recently, I was in bed and had just closed my eyes to go to sleep when I received a call from my nephew in Guam. He doesn’t regularly call me, so I knew this was important. Frantic, he let me know that one of his best friends, Sean, had recently traveled from Guam to the States to start school. This friend had been scammed by a false apartment advertisement, and he’d lost most of his money. Now he was alone in the city — my city — and needed a place to stay. There was no question; we needed to pick him up right away.
I met Sean around midnight at a closed coffee shop on the other side of Seattle where he and all his luggage were waiting for me. To my surprise, his optimism and gratitude outweighed his circumstances. We packed up my car, and we headed back home to get some sleep.
Over the next few days, our family helped Sean get settled into this big, new city. Moving is a stressful experience for everyone. That’s even more the case when you’ve been scammed. I’m so grateful for how my wife, Amy, showed Sean hospitality. I, on the other hand, had a busy to-do list that weighed on the back of my mind. Try as I might to be present and lean into the opportunity God had put before me, I couldn’t shake the anxiety I had about the tasks and projects that I couldn’t make time for.
Even though I genuinely wanted to be present and knew that Sean was more important, I struggled internally with the tension between God’s timing and my priorities.
Leveraging ordinary moments for extraordinary purposes
I’m convinced that Christ followers are called to leverage ordinary moments for extraordinary purposes. I believe that Jesus graciously gives us opportunities to be his hands and feet on earth. And yet serving Sean was one part conviction and two parts guilt. I think that’s because I wanted my opportunities for hospitality to come on my own terms and not on God’s terms.
In 1 Samuel 30, a surprising act of hospitality is on display during a pivotal moment in Israel’s history. After hiding from Saul for 16 months, God brought David and his men home to their camp in Ziklag. But when they arrived there, the men’s hope of reunion with their families was met with a scene of destruction. David and his army discovered that the Amalekites had raided their camp. All of their supplies, as well as their wives and children, were gone (1 Sam. 30:3–4).
David immediately redirected his men back toward battle. They headed out, ready to go to war in search of their families, when they discovered a traveling wayfarer. The Bible describes it this way:
David’s men found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. They gave him some bread to eat and water to drink. Then they gave him some pressed figs and two clusters of raisins. After he ate he revived, for he hadn’t eaten food or drunk water for three days and three nights. Then David said to him, “Who do you belong to? Where are you from?” (1 Sam. 30:11–13a) CSB
It is fair to say David had a lot going on when they found the Egyptian. His family had been kidnapped. His men were disappointed by his leadership (at this point, the band blamed him for leaving the camp unguarded). As Israel’s future king, he was under enormous pressure. But during it all, David paused and showed hospitality to a stranger.
It was only after the man had been revived that David was able to ask who he was. There was no initial benefit in helping the Egyptian. At first, it seemed as if this surprising act of hospitality would inconvenience David’s mission. But then the man reported, “I’m an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite” What an extraordinary turn of events from a surprising act of hospitality! This stranger would be the providential hinge that would lead David and his army to rescue their kidnapped families.
David’s story shows us the value of showing hospitality even when it’s uncomfortable — even when it seems to inhibit our priorities. David didn’t let his agenda, however important, hinder an opportunity to discover God’s purpose in someone else’s need. The result was a rescued Israel, and a faith-revived king.
Whenever we must delay our plans for the sake of someone else, we feel uncomfortable. And yet the beauty of the gospel is ours to experience if we trust God’s timing. Christ’s beauty is there in the late-night car ride, the clinking of dinner plates, and the dining-room small talk. His holy love is experienced at the table — perhaps more than in life’s demands and my to-do list. In fact, part of the beauty is in the act of forfeiting the task and forgetting the to-do list.
On the receiving end of hospitality
Recently our church celebrated its first gathering in a newly purchased building. If there was an example of the church valuing service over personal to-do’s, this was it. The outpouring of love and service our people demonstrated was immense. It was in the thick of preparing for the grand opening that I was encouraged in my faith and reminded of the many people in our community who — despite their schedules — prioritized the opportunity to be hospitable and serve.
So many church members valued serving one another over their to-do lists, and it bore fruit as the building was readied and the family gathered for corporate worship. Just as Sean was encouraged by our family’s hospitality and service to him, I was encouraged by my faith family. Now I was the recipient of the priority of hospitality put into action. I was the one who now experienced the kind of grace that I’d recently found it so difficult to give.
On the other side of the equation, I didn’t feel guilt or anxiety, I felt gratitude. Instead of being scolded by my conscience, I was brought to the table and lifted up in service. I experienced God’s grace leveraged through the church who set aside their priorities for one extraordinary moment.
In the busyness of our lives — and the holiday season — may we be a people of gracious hospitality. May our hearts and homes be open to share the love of Christ through a warm meal, a loving embrace, or a word of encouragement. And through it all, may we come to treasure the God who went to the uttermost lengths to welcome us in.