What That Empty Seat Says
We’ve all done it. We shuffle down a row of chairs and, just before we arrive at a person, we stop one chair short. We leave an empty seat between us and the other person, secretly hoping an usher won’t ask us to “scoot in.” What does that empty seat say? Why are we compelled to leave that “safe seat” between us and others?
I get it. Trust me; I am the king of the buffer zone. The introvert in me sees that empty chair as an invisible wall that separates me from the other person. If I sit in it, we might touch, we might speak, they might be annoying, and I might appear to be socially inept.
But, if the Recovering Redemption series has been prodding me in one specific direction, it has been to pull back the veil that covers the motives and intentions of my heart. So, let’s look at something that is so concrete and practical it almost appears mundane. What does that empty seat say?
It says we want convenience.
When we leave that empty seat, we are preserving a ring of comfort for our convenience. If we sit next to someone, our space will be invaded. We feel really comfortable in our personal bubble. It smells like we want it to smell, it is the right temperature, and it always has the right amount of wiggle room.
Paul seems to think that “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…” his joy will be complete in seeing the believers share the “same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:1-2). If we are unwilling to literally draw “near” to one another in corporate worship, I seriously doubt the depth of our willingness to draw “near” to one another in love, participation in the spirit, affection and sympathy.
That seat is an opportunity for you to draw near to one another. Let that nearness remind you that as part of the same body of believers, you are to be of the “same mind, same love, in full accord and of one mind.” Convenience is a weak substitute for communal worship. Participate in the Spirit together.
It says we want autonomy.
Ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden, mankind has pursued autonomy from God, which has led us to pursue autonomy from one another.Their perfect unity shattered by sin, Adam and Eve begin to seek separation from God and each other—in the way they cover their bodies, in the way they hide from God, in the way they shift blame.
If you sit next to that person, you might lose your ability to maintain separation. Conversation, touch and community might emerge as two “images of God” sit shoulder to shoulder in a row of seats in a worn-out building.
Do we view the person next to us as an opportunity to be surprised by God’s grace? As C.S. Lewis reminds us, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Why not take an opportunity this Sunday to lay down your desire for autonomy and meet an immortal?
It says we want worship on our terms.
Far too often, we approach corporate worship with the hope that it will meet all our needs. You want to hear that one song you love, you want the preacher to be particularly funny without sacrificing insight, and you want to interact with people who will match your moods and delight your eyes. We want worship on our terms. But this approach is flawed.
You need to know that the seat you sit on this Sunday is not a right. You have brothers and sisters in Christ who gather in mud huts, sit in basements and listen for knocks and police shouts as they worship the Lord Jesus. Gathering together for corporate worship is costly for them, yet they know the comfort of the Spirit. They have found that Christ is no less worthy of worship when shoulders rub, babies cry, and the room is hot with the breath of a packed crowd.
When you pursue worship on your own terms, you make yourself the object of worship. Let the person next to you and behind you and in front of you remind you that individual preferences have no place in the corporate gathering of the saints.
The desire to have convenience, autonomy and worship on our own terms keeps the empty seat firmly in place, week after week. Set aside these lesser things for the joy of drawing near. Fill the empty seat. Allow the proximity of your fellow worshipers to remind you each week that we are one body made of many connected parts, for whom personal relationship with God manifests as corporate relationship with others. Brothers and sisters, scoot in.