Sunday, 25 September 2016

Fellowship, hospitality and encouragement

'Be hospitable to one another without grumbling' 1 Peter 4:9

'Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels' Hebrews 13:2

'A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed' Proverbs 11:25

Beautiful classical piano fills my home, and the scent of night jasmine filters through the window. It is slightly cooler this evening after a late afternoon thunderstorm. It has been a while since I felt so relaxed.

Recently I wrote a little about a challenging guest - and in honesty, the way I felt after that experience was that I did not want to have anybody stay for a long, long time. I knew that feeling to be wrong, but I felt exhausted, drained, criticised, stretched, frustrated, isolated and misunderstood. Anyway, we had a weekend to ourselves before our next guest arrived - and for this I am most thankful.

There have been many times in my life when I have been greatly blessed by people who have opened their lives and their homes to me. In fact, it was non-judgemental, patient hospitality which enabled me to hear the gospel in the first place when I was seventeen years old. Up to that point, I had frequently felt judged and simply never 'good enough'. I met missionaries who simply loved me, cared for me and spoke the truth gently to me, and God used that to transform my life. 

I am thankful that I have tasted true fellowship and hospitality - more than simply having 'the young people' over for a meal or providing a basic need, but rather people who have been lavish in their care, without begrudging the time and effort that has required. Recently I reflected on the time we suddenly ended up in a city in a strange country - where I did not even know where we were until I looked it up on a map. Our daughter was dying, we were far from home, and a Christian family that were friends-of-friends welcomed us into their home for six weeks. It could have been longer; none of us knew how long we would be there. It was not simply a roof over our heads, it was a family who loved and cared for us, who considered the details (thinking about what we might need, trying to smooth the way for us as much as possible, taking far greater care of us than we were taking of ourselves). Indeed, this was among the most powerful testimonies to non Christians around us; just who were these strangers who were providing for us in such a way? 

We prayerfully trust God that He will bring people to stay with us. I remember being very challenged as a young Christian reading about L'Abri fellowship in Switzerland, the ministry of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. They did not advertise their ministry, but rather prayed that God would bring the right people to them. We seek to have a similar principle in our home.

So, two weeks after having felt apprehension about another guest, we are enjoying a wonderful blessing as we host a young woman who has come here for a few months to teach music. She was homeschooled herself, the eldest of seven children, and has experienced a range of church contexts and challenges. She understands children well, knows when to be strict, is able to get down to their level and seems to know instinctively when to get more involved and when to take rest. And this evening, whilst my husband is overseas (him being the pianist in the family), we were able to enjoy a beautiful time of worship followed by the treat of her simply playing beautiful music for pleasure.

It might sound a small thing. But to me, I could see God's blessing, encouragement, provision and refreshment. It's been a tiring few months. I always find things a little harder when my husband is away and I am juggling homeschooling, professional work (squeezed into the night hours), the necessary chores of running a household and making sure that I eat and rest enough. So to have an evening like this was an unexpected treat, and a rebuke for my attitude of a few weeks ago.

How do you feel about offering hospitality? Does it fill you with fear? Do you feel drained before you even start? Or do you see it as a God-given opportunity to serve? I am reminded that the Lord does know how we feel. There were many times in His ministry where endless people with diverse needs would flock to him. He was fully man, so knew fatigue, hunger, discouragement and loneliness. And yet, there are promises in Scripture too. Through sharing, through moving beyond our comfort zone can come abundant blessing.

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