8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling…1 Peter 4:7-8 (ESV)
Let’s begin with an honest confession- I am a bit of a control freak. Sure, the label isn’t particularly flattering, but in my case, it’s undeniably appropriate. I like things to be the way I like things to be. I crave structure, order, and organization, and I find incredible comfort in maintaining a neatly ordered existence.
This tendency serves me well in many areas of my life- budgeting, scheduling, and keeping a well ordered home, car, and office. But when it comes to relationships, it has too frequently been not a help, but a hindrance. Why? Because unlike numbers, calendars, and inanimate objects, people don’t fit very well into my predetermined “boxes” for them. Relationships with living, breathing human beings are necessarily disruptive, by their very nature messy.
As a follower of Jesus, this is far more than just a “quality of life” issue for me- and if you’ve given your life to Him, it is for you as well. The Bible commands us in the above text to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Set aside your gaudy, Martha Stewart-ish conceptions of what “hospitality” looks like, and consider this definition instead- to invite and welcome others into your life. In short, a hospitable life is an open life.
Let’s dig in a bit here- What is a hospitable life “open” to anyway? Primarily, to the interruptions inevitable to life in community with people. Full disclosure here- I don’t like to be interrupted. At best, it frustrates me momentarily (in Peter’s terms, it leads to “grumbling”), and at worst, it makes me downright selfish- and somewhat allergic to the practice of biblical hospitality. This craving for control, an inability to graciously receive interruptions, “closes” my life off from others more quickly and firmly than almost anything else.
If you’re anything like me- and even if you’re not, because we are all by nature wired to serve ourselves- we must “just give up” the control of a closed life and embrace instead what one author calls “the ministry of interruptions.” Now I’m not saying that every interruption that comes your way needs to be taken, but I am saying that before we dismiss them out of hand as a distraction to be ignored, perhaps we should approach them from a different angle.
What if, instead of resenting others’ interruptions, we can began to view them as unexpected opportunities, divine “appointments” in which we might experience God in a fresh way, and be used of Him to share His love and truth with others? What if we recognized a craving for control as the selfish idol that it is, and instead embraced the reality that if our lives truly are surrendered to God, that He has the complete freedom to set the agenda for our days as He sees fit?
Now I know what you’re thinking- How do I do this practically, and actually manage get anything done? Here’s one idea- Organize your life for interruptions. I realize that seems contradictory at first glance, but follow me here. I see two practical ways that you can do this- One, plan the practice of hospitality into your life with regular rhythm, and two, live with enough margin (i.e. unscheduled time) to recognize and receive the opportunities that by definition you can’t plan for. Here are two “real life examples” of how I’m working to put this principle into practice…
- Invite another individual or family into your home for dinner. Plan in advance for your kitchen to end up a mess, and for your kids’ toys to be strewn from here to only God knows where. Instead of expending your energies ensuring that everything stays as close to its proper order as possible, be present with your guests. Listen and laugh a lot. Show them that they are more valuable to you than your compulsion to keep things “neat.”
- Take your daily “to do list” and immediately eliminate one thing from it. Transfer the time and energy you would have spent on that item and look instead for an opportunity to engage a friend, neighbor, or coworker in authentic conversation, to meet a need that you’ve seen but previously ignored, or to pray that God would give you eyes to see where He is at work in others’ lives, and join Him in it.
God isn’t against plans- I’d actually argue that to live with one is a wise and God honoring thing. But when we cross the line to become slaves to those plans- and thus unavailable to the opportunities and people that God might want to bring our way- we need to check our hearts, and ask God to engage us afresh in “the ministry of interruptions.” God make us a people who practice- with passion, and joy- radical biblical hospitality.