Have you ever been convicted by the Holy Spirit while reading a children’s book? That is exactly what happened to me recently while reading Jesus and the Very Big Surprise to my children for the very first time one night before bed. The book’s subtitle reads “A true story about Jesus, his return, and how to be ready,” and it was a surprise, indeed, with how God would use this book to challenge me.
That same day, I had finished reading a short, new book by Carolyn Lacey called Extraordinary Hospitality (For Ordinary People). It felt a bit odd to be reading a book on hospitality while we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, though small group gatherings are becoming much more acceptable. But, more than anything, it felt odd to read a book on hospitality because, even before the pandemic, with everything my family of five has going on, we just don’t have people over very often.
Lacey’s book, however, challenges the reader to reframe their idea of hospitality. She writes, “I want to show that hospitality doesn’t have to be exhausting and overwhelming. And that is because it is not so much about what we do, but why we do it” (15). Her goal is to help readers learn to welcome others like Jesus by investigating how seven characteristics of God’s welcome inform and reshape our own welcome—individually and corporately as the Church.
Along with personal stories, Lacey examines various passages throughout God’s Word that demonstrate God’s generosity, compassion, humility, persistence, awareness, inclusivity, and sacrificial actions. By reflecting God’s characteristics in our ordinary places to ordinary people, she argues that God can do extraordinary things through us.
Though I recognized the importance of reflecting God’s character to those around me, I repeatedly made excuses while reading for why welcoming others is too difficult during this season of life: there’s still a pandemic going on after all; we’re too busy with work and chores; we have three young children who are involved in sports, piano lessons, ballet, and potty training; welcoming others would interrupt our children’s bedtime routine; we just don’t have the energy for consistent, quality hospitality. . .and on and on. But Lacey’s book pointedly addresses these justifications: “Often it is a self-centered choice: a choice to worship self rather than to serve another. . .The priorities of Jesus’ kingdom conflict with the priorities of this world” (120). With just a few pages remaining in the book, I quickly leafed through them so I could stop thinking about welcoming others.
What Jesus Demonstrates About Hospitality
And then I read the book about the very big surprise. The book is a retelling of Jesus’s parable from Luke 12:35-38, in which the servants await their master’s return from the wedding feast. But instead of serving the master upon his return, there’s a surprising role reversal:
“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (v. 37).
Surprise! Although the servants had prepared to serve their master, the master serves them instead! Jesus is our example in serving others.
The book explains, “And just like the servants in his story, we have plenty to do while we wait! There are hungry people to serve, lonely people to care for, friends to share with, and enemies to forgive. And it all begins with loving Jesus, the Great Master who serves.”
God was wooing me into a deeper relationship with him, opening my eyes to see the sacrifice Jesus makes in serving me, empowering me by the Spirit to serve others with extraordinary hospitality.