We Cannot Repay You

There is absolutely nothing we can do to repay God for His goodness and love for us, but there is certainly something we must do, and He expects us to.

“What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”

–Psalm 116:12–14 (NLT)

Growing up in a poor country and raised in a middle-class pastor’s family, money was always a topic of conversation. I remember many occasions where my parents prayed for God to provide something, not only for us, but for others. There was always a friend, a neighbor, or a brother or sister in Christ who was in great need.

Our church, though poor, was full of loving and faithful people. The church building was under construction for most of my childhood and teen years. It seemed that our needs were always much greater than the resources in hand, but this taught me a great deal. It taught me about God’s providence, love, and generosity.

Our dinner table always had extra space for people who arrived at our home just before dinner time to discuss “important matters” with my father. On more than one occasion, it was my father who invited a new friend that he just met to eat with us. We never expected to be repaid.

There is a saying in Mexico for when there is not a lot of food and an unexpected guest arrives: “Hechale mas agua al caldo de frijoles,” which translates to: “Add more water to the bean soup.”  I am so grateful that our home was an open place for many to come, not just for food and good conversation, but also to hear about Jesus, His love, and His salvation. If you ask me why I love hosting now, I would tell you it’s simply because I grew up in a house that didn’t have a door—metaphorically speaking.

Looking back to where everything started, I’m overwhelmed when I see how God always met our needs. Our prayers were answered, many in an even greater way than we expected. We experienced the truth of Philippians 4:19, which says,“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

My heart is filled with joy! There is no way we can repay God for all His goodness to us, but we can do what the psalmist declares in the verses cited above. Today, I invite you to fill your cup with Jesus’ blessings and to vow, along with me, to be a living testimony of thanksgiving and gratitude for who God is and what He has done for us!

A Hospitable Heart

Fall season has arrived, and I have decorated my house with touches of autumn colors. The house is filled with the sweet smell of pumpkin spice. To celebrate the start of the season, I have invited friends for dinner, and I want to make sure they feel welcomed and loved. The house is spotless, and the food is going to be delicious. I am looking forward to the conversations and the laughter that I’m pretty sure many of them will cause.

Opening the doors of our homes to others can bring so much joy into our lives. We get to open our hearts and show the love of Christ by serving others. But as much as we might love and treasure these moments, I can’t help but wonder how many times we may have missed extending the invitation to our homes to a stranger. Now, a stranger doesn’t necessarily have to be someone we do not know. That stranger could be someone who we may not have a close relationship with such as a coworker, a neighbor, or even someone from our own church. Those people are not usually the ones found on our guests lists. The reality is, we might become exclusive instead of inclusive and may not necessarily put into practice loving on those who might need it the most. By doing this, we limit ourselves from showing others what it truly means to have a heart like Jesus. He loves the stranger. We must embrace what has been commanded in Leviticus 19:18, which is that we must “Love [our] neighbor and the stranger as [ourselves].” But the reality is that many times we are not necessarily willing to do so.

Welcoming a stranger into our homes could take many forms—making a genuine effort to lend an ear to someone who needs prayer and/or words of encouragement, making them feel loved and accepted is a good example. A few months ago, I had the privilege of ministering at a retreat to a group of about 40 women in Guadalajara, Mexico. They were all strangers to me as well as I was to them. Standing in front of them and sharing the hope found in Jesus was a beautiful experience. I could’ve easily retreated to my room after each session, but I could sense that a few of them wanted to have some one-on-one time with me. I know of many instances in which I have purposedly come up with excuses to avoid these encounters with people I do not know. I thank the Holy Spirit for not letting me pull these women away from me. Instead, He allowed me to open my heart and invite these ladies in. The opportunity to share a spiritual meal with them filled both their hearts and mine. 

We have been created and designed to love and to leave footprints in the lives of those we encounter at one point or another in our lives. This calls for a willingness to welcome those who may be different than us or who we don’t have a close relationship with into our circle. It means opening the doors of our hearts to allow others in. In Matthew 25:35, Jesus puts Himself at the level of those who we might consider strangers. His desire is for us not to limit that for what we’ve been called to do within a certain demographic, but rather, to get out of our comfort zone, follow His example of love and acceptance of those who we think are strangers to us. If we take that to heart, it will become second nature to show kindness and God’s love when welcoming not only our own, but those who we will encounter in our path.  

The more I ponder on this, the more I am convinced that a hospitable heart is about making room in my heart for unexpected guests.  The connections and opportunities to be witnesses of God’s grace could be endless. 

Open the Door

In the parable of the big dinner from which this year’s verse, “there is still room,” is taken from (Luke 14:22), the host sends his servant out with an invitation a total of three times. The first invitees believe that their personal business is too important to put on hold for his dinner, and they refuse to come. Their lame excuses are taken personally, angering the host. The second group, those who were despised and outcast, respond and enter in. Finally, upon hearing that “there is still room,” the host sends the servant even further, acting on his desire to fill up his house. By the end of the parable, there doesn’t seem to be anyone within walking distance of the host’s home that he hasn’t invited. He has flung open the door—the door of “welcome.” 

Pause and reflect for a moment. Can you recall a time in your life when you felt wholeheartedly welcomed? When someone stopped what they were doing the moment you arrived and moved toward you to greet you, to talk with you, to spend time with you? How did it feel when you were invited into a place or into a conversation?

It’s close to unfathomable, but the Lord has the capacity to give personal attention to every person who has ever lived. Our God has thrown open the door of welcome and has extended an invitation to a relationship based on the finished work of Jesus Christ. There is no one that He hasn’t invited; God has the capacity to include everyone who responds. God is not limited to a physical space in a house; He earnestly desires fellowship with every person He has created.

We see God’s heart when the perspective reverses and the Lord is on the outside of the door asking to come in: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). God is both knocking and using His voice to get our attention. This demonstrates His eagerness to enter and fellowship with anyone and everyone who will open the door.

We manifest God’s heart when we are welcoming like Him. We display a piece of His character when we open the door for others, connect, and build relationships for Kingdom impact.

But what if you, like me, have blown it? What if you’ve lived somewhere a long time and haven’t been very welcoming? What if you’ve been too busy doing things at church to open your door to unbelieving neighbors? What if you’ve even become enemies with some of the people around you? Do not despair. Instead, repent!

I’m not sure where it originated, but I’ve adopted the phrase “it’s not what you do, it’s what you do next.” Be honest with people, admit to falling short, and demonstrate the sincerity of your desire to do better by issuing one invitation this month. There is still time, and there is still room. Open the door!

There is Still Room

For many of us, summer is a wonderful time for slowing down, savoring the longer days, and enjoying a relaxed ministry schedule. For others, summer is a busy season of navigating multiple opportunities for family, creative, and recreational activities. If you happen to have some extra time for reflection right now, I encourage you to make space to think about hospitality and generosity and to let that sit in your soul for as long as necessary.

The verse chosen for our second year of Belong is this: “There is still room” (Luke 14:22). This simple statement infers a desire to fill an empty space.

In response to this declaration, I find myself asking a variety of questions: Do I have room in my schedule and in my heart? Do I have a desire to extend hospitality and generosity toward others? If not, why not? Am I overscheduled? Is there something I need to stop doing in order to create space for obedience to God’s next prompting? Have I adopted a “poverty mentality” that causes me to believe I must guard and hoard precious resources such as time and agency?

Perhaps these next few weeks will provide opportunity for you to consider these same questions.

Scripture is full of imagery of abundance. The story begins with a generous and creative God filling a space that was “empty and void” with a delightful variety of plants, animals, and sources of light and life. I read commands such as, “Enlarge the place of your tent . . . do not hold back” (Isa. 54:2) and “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10). I read promises such as, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10) and “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

Do I believe it? Do I trust my generous and good Father to provide all that I need, even to an overflow for others? Will I believe that God is willing to do what He did for the widow of Zarephath in Elijah’s day when “the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry” even during famine (1 Kings 17:16)? Will I, like Jesus, receive and respond to the commission to go to other towns, to unfamiliar places, to people who have not yet seen or heard the good news of the Kingdom (see Luke 4:43–44)?

These reflections are worthy of my time and my response. For this season, I will allow my Good Shepherd to lead me to green pastures and quiet waters to refresh my soul. Then, when it is time for me to get up and be guided along the right paths for His name’s sake (see Ps. 23:2–3), I will be one who is welcoming in my demeanor and generous in my spirit.

There is still room—for His glory and the good of others. Amen.