After we overcome what John Piper aptly calls “the natural gravity of our self-centered life,” we will usually find that there is no line of strangers beating down our door eager to gain entrance.
I was reminded of this personally just last month. Mrs. Foley had gone to Korea a week ahead of me. I stayed behind in Colorado to speak at a Voice of the Martyrs conference. Good friends of ours were motoring into town in their RV to participate in the conference. Certainly I should open our home to them, especially since this is, you know, the month we focus on the Work of Mercy of opening your home and these were, you know, our good friends. Talk about a hospitality slam dunk.
So I offered. And they declined–quite graciously, I might note.
Of course I understood. They live in their RV. Staying with our family would be fun for all but as inconvenient as us being invited to a sleepover. Routines would be disrupted. There would be little chance for rest and the ever-present flood of work. It would be hard to know what to pack and what to leave behind in the RV.
In the end, we opted to do church together Sunday and dinner together a few days later. It was enjoyable, simple, and satisfying.
Romans 12:13 phrases the command provocatively: pursue hospitality. The Greek here is funny, really. It means chase hospitality. Run swiftly after it. Trouble people about it. Or as John Piper paraphrases it:
Build a launching pad. Fill up your boosters. And blast out of your self-oriented routine. Stop neglecting hospitality.
It turns out, as is also the case with all of the other Works of Mercy, that the primary purpose of engaging in opening your home isn’t to solve the problem of homelessness in your city but to shape you just a bit more in the image of Christ.
I came to that recognition because in our .W Church we undertake an After Action Review at the end of each month on Offering Sunday. We each reflect publicly on what we learned through engaging in the Work of Mercy for the month, and how we’ll proceed with it as we move forward. I realized that I should have troubled my out of town guests much further than I did about staying with me. I should have, in other words, said something like this:
Friends, I need you to do me and the kids a big favor: Stay in our home while you’re in the Springs. I know it will be an inconvenience for you to pack a bag and park the RV, but especially with Mrs. Foley in Korea, this is the best chance I’m going to get this year to work on my hospitality skills. And believe me, my hospitality skills need work. I coast by on the fumes of Mrs. F’s nonstop hospitality motor. It’s time for me to submit to the Holy Spirit and do some growing in this area myself.
This is a hard one for me. As a Hilton Hhonors Super-Duper Hotel Club Member, I’m the last guy who wants to stay in someone else’s home when I travel. I’m literally out speaking at least a few days each week nearly every week of the year. I value the privacy and quiet of crashing at the hotel when I’m done for the day. I want to call my wife, answer my emails, work out in the hotel gym, get my frequent traveler hotel points to redeem for our annual family trip, and go to bed. Call me selfish, but I do not want to be the guinea pig as other Christians practice hospitality on me and learn how to host someone who is always traveling.
And then I remember that the Apostle Paul was the original Christian frequent traveler. And I think what it must have been like for Jesus to stay in a different home in his city-a-night whirlwind ministry tours. And I suspect there was more at issue here than logistical lodging necessity.
And so I re-read Romans 12:13 and am struck anew how much Christian growth we Christian travelers forfeit to Hilton and Marriott and Comfort Suites because of the natural gravity of our self-centered lives.