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?
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