I don’t consider myself the best of cooks even under normal circumstances. But making meals for others can be a special cause of tension. We want to share our best when we cook for others, whether we’ve invited them into our home or we’re taking a meal to share.
I’ve learned the hard way not to get too ambitious under those circumstances. Experiments often go wrong the first time. So I usually make something simple, tried and true.
Several months ago, before the pandemic, I was getting ready for our church potluck dinner. I don’t even remember what I was making. But it was something I had made before for church. It should have come together easily. Yet it wasn’t, for some reason.
As I scrambled around trying to decide whether to fix it (and how) or come up with Plan B, the verse about Jesus being tempted in all points like we are crossed my mind. Irritably, I thought, “When did He ever have to make a potluck dinner?”
Then I remembered the feeding of the 5,000.
And I was pulled up short.
It wasn’t a potluck dinner, but it was one of the biggest crowds ever served, especially by one man.
Of course, Jesus could take care of a meal for such a crowd in ways that we can’t. The whole point of this incident was to show His deity by way of His supernatural ability. Jesus brought this occurrence up later in conversations with the disciples to remind them: don’t worry about your needs. I will take care of you.
One thing I notice about Jesus’s ministry is that He was never frazzled or flustered. Yes, He was God. He knew how things would turn out. But He walked in faith, knowing that His Father would meet His needs.
I’ve always empathized with Martha, “cumbered about much serving” (Luke 10:38-42). Other translations say “distracted,” a couple say “busy.” But I love the feel of that old word, cumbered. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary, who was listening to Jesus, needed to come and help her. Instead, Jesus pointed out that Martha was “careful and troubled.” (Other translations say “worried and upset.” One says “bothered.”) He told Martha, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Obviously, listening to Jesus is more important than fussing over dinner. But I’ve often wondered—what should Martha have done about dinner, then? Wait until Jesus was done teaching? Probably. Have something simple and quick like peanut butter sandwiches (or the first-century Israeli equivalent)? Maybe. But above all else, just don’t worry about it. Many times Jesus told His disciples not to worry about what they were going to eat or drink.
Does this mean it’s wrong to prepare an elaborate meal? No. Some people are gifted that way. We can enjoy their gifts without feeling we have to match them. Sometimes even those of us who aren’t as talented in the kitchen like to try to do something fancy.
But the point is to do whatever we do with a peaceful heart. I learned a long time ago that my husband would much rather have a simple meal than one that stresses me out to prepare.
On a practical level, these things help me:
- Do as much ahead of time as possible.
- If one dish takes a lot of time or labor, make the other dishes simple or store-bought.
- Enlist help, either from the family or guests. People often ask if they can bring anything. Take them up on their offer.
- If possible, don’t plan time-consuming or new meals during weeks when you have a lot of other things going on.
- Keep a few recipes or meal ideas on file that consistently turn out well for potlucks or company.
- Keep a few key ingredients for quick meals on hand for unexpected company or for a “Plan B’ when things don’t go well.
Here are some principles I’ve gleaned over the years:
Watch out for pride. It’s not wrong to want to make food other people will like. But sometimes I notice a subtle pride entering even preparation for a church potluck, a desire for my dish to be noticed, praised, and above all else, eaten. For many years I did not want to bring something store-bought to a church fellowship, until I realized that stemmed from pride. If my kitchen stress stems from wanting to protect my reputation, my emphasis is in the wrong place.
Keep first things first. As Jesus said, Mary chose the better part by listening to Him. Jesus said in another place, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). There have been times when I was so exhausted and stressed getting ready for guests that I just didn’t have anything left when they finally came. My priorities were out of kilter.
Serve God from worship, not in place of worship. The first pastor we had after we were married, Jesse Boyd, used to say:
Worship without service is a hollow farce.
Service without worship is a hectic fervor.
But worship which issues in service is a holy force.
When I am filled with “hectic fervor,” I need to do a heart check.
Be prepared. In a passage about counting the cost of discipleship, Jesus speaks of a man planning to build a tower or a king planning to go to war (Luke 14:25-33). First they sit down, assess what they have, and make plans. Some of my most frustrating meal preparations have been when I didn’t plan well. I forgot a key ingredient or a step in the process or didn’t plan for the time needed for part of the process.
Trust His sufficiency. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Sometimes I shorten that to “all grace, all sufficiency, all things, all times.” In another area of domestic need, I have sometimes prayed over buttonholes or difficult parts of sewing. When we’re getting ready for company, I pray for efficiency and peace of heart as I prepare.
Remember the point of fellowship and hospitality. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Though providing food is important, the main purpose for a meal with others is to fellowship with them and minister to them, to meet their needs rather than show off my skills.
The last stanza of a poem “The Kitchen Prayer” expresses my heart and reminds me to do everything I do—even prepare meals for others—as unto Him.
Warm all the kitchen with Thy love
And light it with Thy peace;
Forgive me all my worrying,
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food,
In room or by the sea,
Accept this service that I do–
I do it unto Thee.
What are some of your tips for serving others?
(I often link up with some of these bloggers)
With all the guys in my crew, I tend to focus more on quantity than quality. And I also tend to stick.with the well known and we’ll loved.
I hear you on the quantity needed with growing boys in the house–and their friends, sometimes. I tend toward the well-known and loved when making food for company, too. Even that goes wrong sometimes, but at least it’s less likely.
Thankful for the Grace from God.
I’m with you! So thankful 🙏🏼
A fascinating yet immensely practical post, Barbara!
Thanks, Linda. 🙂
This is so good! Sometimes I struggle getting dinner ready for our big family – and I so want them to enjoy! (Mom of 5 sons doesn’t mean a lot of help in the kitchen LOL). I’ve often wondered about what Martha should have done, too – instead of PB&J – I’ve thought grilled cheese (LOL). I admit – I have an open kitchen concept, and I like the idea of maybe rolling out pepperoni rolls and listening to Jesus (I can concentrate better keeping my hands busy). I’m learning how to make things easier since I don’t have extended family to make dishes so that when we sit down to the table, I can enjoy, too! Thanks for this encouraging article! I’m always trying to figure out how to balance between enjoying baking and loving!
I listen better when doing something with my hands as well. I most often listen to Christian radio when working in the kitchen.
It’s been helpful, now that my kids are grown, that we can divide up bigger meals like for holidays. Otherwise I tend towards the simple, too.
I grew up in a household where my mom did the school lunch program and some catering on the side. When I got married, I had a hard time cooking for just two ;). My favorite way to be prepared is to make a double (or triple) batch of everything and freeze the extra dishes for later. That way when unexpected guests show up or I suddenly remember a potluck, I can just defrost and bake something in a hurry.
Oh, that’s a great idea to keep an entree or dessert in the freezer for unexpected company or a time crunch for a potluck.
I’m not a fan of cooking. So often I view it with a little bit of dread. After all, didn’t I just do this yesterday? However, serving my family is also an act of love, so I cook even if I don’t want to. I really love what you said about watching out for pride. While I don’t become prideful with my cooking, I did feel like God was using this post to speak about pride in other areas of my life.
Cooking is not my favorite thing, either–but I like eating. 🙂 And remembering it’s a ministry to my family helps. But it is a little daunting to think this is my area of responsibility for the rest of my life. Now that I have a daughter-in-law, we trade off or help each other. And I enjoy nights completely off when we get take-out.
I like this post a lot! Years ago in a MOPS meeting, our leader said that she liked to invite people over, but she didn’t worry a lot about making everything perfect. She said that was because she felt intimidated when she went to someone’s house where everything was just right, and she didn’t want her guests to feel that way. She wanted them to feel comfortable. I have kind of adopted that philosophy and it really saves me a lot of stress! I agree with you totally that I’d rather have a simple meal than one that causes lots of stress to prepare.
That’s something I had to learn, too. I love to ooh and aah when people put on a spread, but I am more comfortable when everything’s not so perfect.
A lot less pressure 🙂 love the post!
“But the point is to do whatever we do with a peaceful heart.” And for each of us, this may mean something different. Some will be tried and true. Some will venture out and try something new. Some will be elaborate. Others very simple. But may prepare and serve from a heart of love and servitude and filled with peace. A wise post, Barbara!
You summed it up so well! Some people are in their element with half a dozen things going in the kitchen. Others of us, not so much. But doing it as unto the Lord, to serve Him and others, filled with His peace and ability, makes all the difference, whatever our style is.
Excellent advice, Barb, so practical. Even though I love cooking, do well at it (my Italian grandfather, father & brother were/are professional chefs) I get flustered, and cumbered about many things! At my age I am pleased with a simpler approach served with love from a woman still in her right mind with a smile on her face!
My challenge is cooking for just one. Often times, I think ‘what’s the point?’ Of course the point is I need to eat but cooking a fancy dinner and sometimes even a simple one is just an effort. Sometimes it’s just easier to pop a frozen dinner in the oven or microwave. On those days that I feel like really tucking in and cooking, I thank Jesus for the inspiration and the energy. For those days when a bowl of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and an egg salad sandwich is perfect, I relax and enjoy it!
I like the way you did this. Jesus’ meal of bread and fish – wasn’t potluck. Good writing, Barb.
oh i love the practicality of this enveloped in the biblical call to hospitality and gracious living. thank you for sharing this!
What a great post! My talents lie in other areas besides cooking. Having the ingredients for a simple crockpot meal on hand helps immensely! When my four grandchildren pop in for a surprise visit, quesadillas or bean burritos serve up easy.
For company, I do try to make a crockpot meat with easy sides.
You are right, let’s sit at the feet of Jesus because all the other “stuff” usually works itself out – by His hand. 😉
Practical advice and an important lesson from the Scripture! I have never enjoyed cooking all the much, but I do like to bake, and I love to have people over. I’ve learned that the elegance of the entertaining is far less important than a warm welcome into our home. I want my guests to feel at home and at peace, and that works best when I am at peace before they arrive.
I love that Kitchen Prayer, and it seems familiar to me. I will be keeping my own copy of that!
Barbara, This post is a great reminder for me. Due to chronic illness/disability I’m much more limited in the kitchen than I want to be. Still, I love serving my family and others with simple meals. Maybe I’m not the only one who has to stick with simple creations? Thank you for encouraging me with a more biblical perspective.
I love your advice. I am giving a three day women’s retreat next week and the ministry team and I are the cooks as well. There have been a few sleepless nights over the meals-planning-etc. Thank you for your post. Perfect timing.
This is an insightful observation, Barbara, “The verse about Jesus being tempted in all points like we are crossed my mind. Irritably, I thought, ‘When did He ever have to make a potluck dinner?’ Then I remembered the feeding of the 5,000.”
I agree, that this is the key, “The point is to do whatever we do with a peaceful heart.” My daughter can pull off grand productions from the kitchen and is full of bubbling energy and excitement. I’m much simpler in my approach. Contentment and peace are a wonderful heart condition.
Barbara, my college roommate and her large family came through our area last weekend and I served spaghetti with my mom’s Italian sauce for supper. My mom was the most hospitable person I’ve ever known and this is what she always served when she had people over—easy easy and oh so good. I love your advice to keep it simple, recruit others to help and work ahead when possible. I enjoy being in the kitchen these day (I didn’t always) but I think time together is what people really remember. Wonderful post, my friend.
When did Jesus have to prepare for a potluck? That’s funny.
Great advice here… Especially for chronic pain warriors like me. I have to keep teaching myself that I can no longer do all the things I used to do. It’s hard because I love to entertain; but now it is very draining and takes a day or two to recover.
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Such lovely thoughts and good advice here! And the poem at the end sums things up so nicely. Isn’t it lovely to think of Jesus right beside us as we work in the kitchen?
Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!
Thanks so much, Richella!
Wow thank you so much for this blog post. Pride is so sneaky I praise God for pointing this out through you! God bless you!
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