At the core of every human being, there is a deep sense of longing. You've felt it before.
Longing for what, you might ask?
I believe that we are all longing to belong. Think about it. Many of the most life-transforming moments in our stories involve this longing being fulfilled in some way.
For example: acceptance into college, getting married, joining a new church, moving to a new community, accomplishing a major goal for a team or staff -- all of these moments feel so good, right?
Why? Because, in those moments, we feel like we belong. You could call it a sense of "home," or perhaps the comfort of being a part of something bigger than yourself. Ultimately, this sense of belonging points us back towards our Creator.
Every human being longs for it. I know that I certainly do. One thing I notice as I think back on some of these moments in my own life is that other people created the space for me to feel that I belonged. Without those other people, I would have never experienced that sense of belonging. I would even say that without them, I would have also missed out on feeling like I belonged to God as one of His own children.
Friends at Purdue University, my wife, my church family, neighbors in our hometown, and my fellow staff-members here at IDES -- throughout my life, these people changed the world for me, and continue to do so every day by the simplest of means: hospitality.
"Hospitality" is just a short-hand way of saying, "creating the space for others to belong."
I believe that by creating the space for other people to belong, you can change the world. Let's look at an example from Scripture.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas (and Luke) are on their second missionary journey following the resurrection of Jesus. They had recently recruited the young Timothy, whom we know became Paul's protege. The group set sail from Troas, headed through Samothrace and Neapolis, to land in the city of Philippi, which was a prominent city in the Roman colony of Macedonia (current-day Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Greece). Up to this point, the message of Jesus had not been spread further west than Asia Minor.
Generally, Paul would start his teaching and preaching at the local Jewish synagogue. However, it seems from context that there was no Jewish synagogue in Philippi at all at this point. After settling in for a few days, the men discover a group of women praying to God on the Sabbath day on the bank of a nearby river. One of the women was Lydia, who came from the city of Thyatira but had settled in Philippi.
Lydia was a relatively wealthy business-woman who sold purple dye (which was often used in the textile industry for expensive cloth items). Lydia was a worshipper of God, but had not yet heard the good news about the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Paul and his buddies sat down and began sharing the news about Jesus with the group of women, and Lydia's heart was opened to his teaching. She enthusiastically confessed her devotion to Christ and was baptized by Paul after his teaching. Then, all the rest of her household were baptized.
Moved by the Spirit within her, she energetically persuaded Paul and his buddies to stay with her in her home (which was probably pretty swanky, considering her business) for the duration of their time in Philippi (which could have been weeks). She generously fed them, gave them a warm and dry place to sleep, and met their needs as they arose during their stay. Her simple hospitality provided a place that Paul and others felt they belonged. This is clear due to the fact that immediately following a crazy few weeks that included an exorcism, a blatantly unjust trial and a severe beating with rods, a brutal prison stay, and a supernatural earthquake, Paul and his buddies went back to Lydia's house to recover, heal, and regroup.
Now here's the cool part. It says in Acts 16:40, when Paul and his buddies returned to Lydia's house, they had the opportunity to see and encourage "the brothers." Prior to their first meeting Lydia, there were no "brothers." One could conclude that Lydia and the members of her household were faithfully sharing the good news of Jesus with anyone and everyone she had the opportunity to host in her home.
Based upon Paul's opening address in his later-written letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:1-11), it is very clear that Paul had a deep affection for "all the saints in Christ Jesus" (vs. 1) who were now meeting there in the city, spreading the Gospel. This church likely would not have been planted without the integral and irreplaceable hospitality of Lydia when she first opened her home to Paul and his buddies. One last cool testimony: most scholars agree that Lydia was the first European to convert in biblical records. The church in Philippi continued to spread the Gospel throughout the European region, while also spiritually and financially supporting Paul's ministry in other parts of the world.
I am personally of European descent. It might be a bit far-fetched, but I like to think to myself that the reason my family ever heard the Gospel years ago in our ancestry was directly due to Lydia's hospitality and the way God used her and empowered her.
All Lydia did, after hearing the good news of Jesus, was open her home and insist on creating a place for people to belong. Her simple hospitality changed the world.
So, let's get practical. How do you change the world through hospitality? How do you create a place for others to belong?
Here are some basic ideas to get you started:
A friendly word, a table with food, a pillow at night -- these are tools for someone who wants to change the world and truly share the Gospel. Are you ready?
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director at IDES