Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness. ~ Ecclesiastes 8:1b

There is great possibility in face-to-face encounter. ~ Jean Fleming, Pursue the Intentional Life

Have you ever thought about how much your appearance and expressions are communicating something to those around you? 

What is it that you have been saying when you haven’t been speaking?

It was Jean Fleming in her transformative work, Pursue the Intentional Life, who first scattered seed for an idea that rooted quick and deep in my heart and soul: the ministry of countenance.

Jean says it this way:

Those of us who know God, who have been saved from destruction and eternal lostness, who carry around in our bodies the treasure of knowing the gospel and the Holy Spirit Himself, should radiate something of that wonder.” (p. 84, Pursue the Intentional Life)

Our countenance reveals who we are, and a radiant countenance can reveal Whose we are. 

The difference between forcing a smile and something birthed in our interior places (when God removes our stony, stubborn hearts and replaces them with tender, responsive hearts (Ezekiel 36:26, NLT)) is ev-er-y-thing.

Those of us who know God, who have been

Our pastor once offered this simple definition for wisdom: seeing our lives, the world and circumstance through God’s eyes. How I long to gain the kind of Ecclesiastical wisdom that “puts light in my eyes and gives gentleness to my words and manners.” (Ecclesiastes 8:1 MSG)

A ministry of countenance is less about what we say or do (though these things are important) and more about how we speak and respond–

  • Active listening vs. passive or distracted listening
  • Being fully present, interested and observant
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Demonstrating kindness, love, encouragement, empathy, patience and concern with our words and body language

And it hit me that a ministry of countenance is true hospitality–when someone leaves my company feeling better about themselves than about me!

We don’t have to be entertaining guests in our home to extend hospitality; it’s demonstrated every time we offer friendly and generous treatment to others.
A ministry of countenance goes hand in hand with a hospitable spirit. Together they have the potential and power to impact everyone they touch for the better.

The opposite is true, too. An inhospitable spirit and dour countenance can crush the heart it touches.

Berliner Dom cathedral early in the evening

During the year we lived in Germany, we took advantage of our location to travel around Europe as much as we could afford. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in London, happening upon a Remembrance Day parade during an afternoon stroll. I’ll never forget a conversation I overheard while smushed among the parade-going throng–

“…speak our language…!” said a very angry man with a British accent. I turned toward the hostile man to see him speaking to a younger man of a different ethnicity. I have no idea what prompted the initial exchange, but the younger man politely replied in heavily accented but understandable English, “Excuse me?”

The Londoner replied even more hatefully, “If you’re going to be in this country, learn to speak the language!” The young man shook his head and looked down, an incredulous smile masking nerves (I think).

There was no where for anyone to go, and most people overhearing the conversation looked embarrassed or uncomfortable.

The older man was one of the most inhospitable people I’ve ever observed. His countenance was an ominous cloud.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Ute. I met her one day while shopping in our German hometown. 

“Excuse me, but are you Tad’s wife?” Her English was impeccable, fringed in a German accent.

I looked at this woman, obviously confused at how she could possibly know me (or who I was married to). Ute explained she had overheard me talking to the sales clerk about my son. She worked as a translator for my husband’s company and was aware his wife and son had accompanied him to Germany. In a small town, it wasn’t difficult for her to figure out who I was.

Ute’s friendliness and kindness changed the course of my day. Her countenance was light and joy, and soon enough we’d become fast friends. It was hardly a surprise when I discovered she was a Christian, something not nearly as common in Southern Bavaria as it is in the Bible Belt where I’ve lived all my life. 

Hospitality in its simplest form knows no bounds. It goes wherever we go (or it should). As children of the King, we are loved wholly and without reservation, and that should cause our faces to shine.

I firmly believe “there is great possibility in face-to-face encounter” and I want those possibilities to be lavished with grace and goodness and kindness and mercy and friendliness and generosity . I pray that my countenance is a conduit for what Jesus has done for me – loved me beyond understanding – so that my only response is to love others fully and well.

Your turn: Did anyone come to mind when you read the words “radiant countenance” or “hospitable spirit”? What is it about her/him that draws you to them? How have you seen hospitality expressed in other cultures or countries than your own? Don’t be shy–I’d love to hear any thoughts that come to mind!

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Robin Dance / Posts / Blog
Southern as sugar-shocked tea and in a scandalous affair with her college sweetheart, Robin is mom to two in college with the third almost there. She believes the kitchen table is a sacred alter, first classroom, and safe refuge, where the currency is spoken in love and good food. She hates "cooking close" and shoe shopping (gasp!), loves snail mail and surcies, and finds holy communion where sand meets surf. She's also rumored to make the best apple pie in the world. In addition to writing at robindance.me, you'll find her at The Art of Simple, {in}courage and Deeper Story.
  • Karrilee Aggett

    Oh I love this Robin! You… YOU came to mind! Honestly! …and this episode of Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman… ahem… the language may be offensive, so I wouldn’t suggest it necessarily but one story she shared was about a girl whose countenance was – shall we say – less than hospitable… she always looked angry but it was just her ‘default face’. Sarah told her, “I’m about to change your life. Just put a smile on there!” The ministry of countenance! Sharing this post because – Amen!!!

    May 20th, 2015 16:50
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    • Robin Dance
      http://www.pensieve.me/

      Karrilee!!!! YOU are so kind friend! I find you to be one of the most encouraging people in this space, and I’m grateful for how you minister kindness and generosity to not only me, but so many others. Truly, that’s one of your super powers. xo (I’ve never seen that show but as a diehard Seinfeld fan, it’d probably make me laugh out loud…)

      May 24th, 2015 0:42
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  • Melanie

    I, too, lived in Germany for a few years, not Bavaria though. I’ll never forget the first few weeks we lived there. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. We lived in a hotel while we were waiting for a house to be available and there were so many new things to learn. I was determined to make the best of it and one day the kids and I were strolling the streets of Landstuhl looking for historic sites we found in a brochure. We came upon a church that was on our list, but the door was locked (rather unusual). A woman I’d never met and who only spoke German saw us there and motioned for us to wait. She walked around the building and came back with a set of keys! She let us in to see the building and then locked the doors when we left. After all the struggles we had been going through, her kindness was just the encouragement I needed – and we didn’t even need to speak her language!

    May 20th, 2015 23:34
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    • Robin Dance
      http://www.pensieve.me/

      Oh, Melanie…what a WONDERFUL story! Our first weeks in Burghausen were like drinking water from a fire hydrant. Everything was familiar and yet so different. I understand exactly how this was encouraging to you. So precious xo.

      May 24th, 2015 0:40
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  • pastordt

    This is lovely, Robin, and so very true. My mother, even in her dementia, wears a welcoming smile on her face 90% of the time. I have several friends who fairly radiate welcome with every breath – and that is a great and lovely gift to receive. Thanks for this.

    May 21st, 2015 5:36
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    • Robin Dance
      http://www.pensieve.me/

      Diana,

      Dementia can be a cruel thing, robbing expression; I’m thankful this isn’t the case for your mother :). I know you and I haven’t met, but YOUR countenance radiates from your words–I can only imagine that you’ve inherited this this very thing from your sweet mama.

      May 24th, 2015 0:36
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    • Carol
      http://www.carolstatella.com

      I, too, relate to my Ma having a radiant countenance (as much as possible) during the last years of her life. That’s so precious, even midst the dark, isn’t it?

      This is wonderful. This topic is passing across my vision a lot lately – Michael Hyatt just posted a lovely podcast on the very same thing, with his own angle.

      June 1st, 2015 22:36
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  • Gay Boston

    “It was hardly a surprise when I discovered she was a Christian,
    something not nearly as common in Southern Bavaria as it is in the Bible
    Belt where I’ve lived all my life.” Robin, where were you? I lived in Berchtesgaden for 2 years and met nothing but friendly, helpful people, almost all of whom spoke English and also were Christians (mostly Catholics and Lutherans). I would go back in a heartbeat!
    My mother came to visit, and when one of my new German friends learned that Mama had hoped to see snow on the mountains, she contacted a friend of hers who had the keys to get us past the gates to stop people who didn’t belong. Up, up we drove, to a mountain gasthaus (hotel/restaurant) which in the summer catered to tourists, but in the winter was a rest-stop for German Army units doing special training. There were only a few soldiers there at the time, and they welcomed us, fed us, and, in general, were delighted to have the American ladies on their mountain. Mama had stories to tell for many years. I also lived in Crailsheim for 2 years, but no mountains there. Still had lovely people, though.

    August 12th, 2015 2:47
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    • Robin Dance
      http://www.pensieve.me/

      We lived in Burghausen, a tiny little town with the world’s longest castle :). It straddled the Austrian/German border, 45 minutes west of Salzburg and about an hour east of Munich. It was magical :).

      What a lovely story you’ve told here! We’d go back, too, but it gets complicated where my children are concerned and stage of life. It truly was a mid-life God-gift, something I never wanted or dreamed of, and yet it was an incredibly formative, precious year.

      Thanks for asking (and commenting to this post, Gay!!)

      August 17th, 2015 21:06
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