Who knew that travel could be a means of God’s grace in life? A few years ago, I discovered this truth as I was privileged to travel to Canada and the beautiful city of Toronto. For eight days, I was immersed into a familiar and yet foreign culture. I witnessed a genuine intentionality in all the people that I met, perhaps it was simply a characteristic of the individuals I met, or perhaps, as I like to believe, it says something about the national character of the Canadian people.
This authenticity of character wasn’t limited to only the Christians that I met, but every person I encountered was unencumbered by the actively distracted spirits that seem routine to those of stateside. For example, with my traveling companions and our hosts, we were honed to go to the Sikh temple where our guide Harmon enthusiastically shared with us the tenants and hospitality of his religion. I found Harmon to be a delightfully intelligent and competent representative of his religion. At one point, I watched as the older men of the temple looked admirably on him, they were obviously filled with pride at the way he articulately represented their values, beliefs, and culture. And although I find the Sikh insights to hospitality and kindness worthy of emulation, the message of their religion fails to compare to the glorious truth of the gospel of Christ. Sikhism is ultimately about what I can do for God and others to earn a better afterlife, whereas Christian faith liberates me from exhausting efforts of behavior modification with the truth that what Christ has done for me is what secures my righteousness before God. What I learned is that the Holy Spirit is always at work teaching me to discern, learn and grow, and that even in the midst of a foreign culture and religion that His truth will still shine brightly.
The Christian Scriptures give us sage advice concerning the working of the Holy Spirit in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” God, the Holy Spirit, it seems is sensitive to our responses and actions as Christians. As such, He does not seek to overtly govern our lives but rather guides our actions by gently leading us in the process of becoming more like Christ and less like ourselves. In this process, God uses all kinds of experiences to mold us into His image, to the end that we may reflect His glory in every circumstance.
Peter Marshall’s book, The Light & the Glory, records a prophecy given by Puritan Reformers around 1776 when the British Empire Loyalists turned north to settle in Canada in order to remain under British rule. When zealous Americans sought to persecute them because of this decision, the Spirit of the Lord spoke through their prophets saying: “Do not hinder these people. Let them move to Canada. Do not seek to incorporate the land of Canada into America. I am in the independence of America from Britain, and will mightily use this country. But Canada has been reserved by Me for the last days for a special work.” I believe this “special work” is being experienced by the Christians who have committed to serving the city of Toronto and nation of Canada.
We were hosted by the family of Dr. Chris Carr. Chris leads a wonderful organization called “Global Gates Canada,” and together with his wife and children they set a wonderful example for others to follow. At first, I was convinced that this family possessed the gift of hospitality, but then I discovered that it wasn’t the exercising of a gift, but rather that they were acting in obedience to the command of God and Scripture. A truth that would be brought home to me in a powerful way in Canada.
The Bible instructs us to show hospitality and for Christians this isn’t an option.
I suppose that all of us could get better at obedience, but it strikes me, that the Carr family exhibited this lifestyle very naturally and lovingly. Not once did I hear their children complain about giving up their rooms, not once was anyone upset about the disruption to their schedules. Even when the twin boy children had to walk home in the cold from school, due to the family van transporting us to another meeting, there was only a quiet resolve to do God’s will, which involved making us feel comfortable and at home in Toronto. Hospitality was a theme that we experienced all week long from everyone that we met. There was a joy in making us feel welcome.
I wonder how often we quench the Holy Spirit when we do not take advantage of the opportunities right in front of us to make others feel welcomed. Of course, this extends beyond welcoming others into our homes, it involves making us feel welcome in every aspect of our lives. Do we extend hospitality when we listen to others? Are we fully present? Are we extending to them the grace we want to receive?
Toronto taught me a great deal personally. I learned that the world is simultaneously small and large. I learned that there are people all around me in every circumstance who need to hear and understand the gospel of Christ. I learned that I am entirely too selfish when it comes to continually seeking to resolve and abolish my own problems, when at the very least, I should consider that there are many others all around me suffering and who are in need of hope.
The Holy Spirit brings hope. The Holy Spirit is within me, so the question remains to be answered, am I allowing the Holy Spirit to bring hope through me? Is the Spirit of Christ working through me to share the words and works of Christ with others?
I’m a guy from Northeast Arkansas, USA. My week in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, enlightened my heart once again to the diversity of our world. One more reflection, I was privileged to enjoy the hospitality of a couple who are dedicating, what should be their retirement years, to serving others. Witnessing their energy and passion, along with so many others I’ve met this week, I am humbled by their willingness to give so lovingly to so many who cannot reciprocate in any tangible or materialistic way. At one point, after our meal, I thanked our new friends, and complimented them on their outstanding hospitality. “You have a gift of hospitality,” I said. To which, this gracious lady of faith responded without missing a beat, “It’s not a gift, it’s a command.” What a powerful response.
Now I am contemplating how many times I’ve missed an opportunity to serve others because I’ve dismissed myself from responsibility. Simply, because I didn’t think the particular act of service was included in my gifting or skill set. The hard truth is that I often don’t serve others, not because I can’t, but because I won’t. It isn’t a matter of the skill but rather a matter of the will.
The world is changing. My contributions to a changing world will be directly linked to my willingness to serve others. My perspectives, my personal and individual goals, my desires, must be subjugated to the needs of others. In this way, I can become a lot more like my God and not simply reflecting the idolatry of self-worship. It’s not a gift. It’s a command.