The Empty Seat

God works amazing moments in our lives where one decision that seems small turns into something we could never have imagined.

One of those moments happened for me in a South American restaurant on a rainy night in Guatemala.

We were on the last night of our trip through Compassion International.  About 40 of us had gathered from across the country, across denominations, across age groups, all to visit children we sponsored in Guatemala (or, for one couple, planning to sponsor).

We’d all come together to meet our children, and now we were getting ready to disperse back into ordinary living in the States.  The wake-up alarm for me would be 4:00 a.m. the next morning, and somehow that meant none of us were in a hurry to go to bed.

It was black outside because we were in Guatemala’s winter.  It was warm, but wet.  I don’t remember anyone having umbrellas, or anyone caring how they looked as we entered, single-file, through the separate meeting room in the restaurant.  We went through an outdoor patio, and then seated ourselves in a large, fiesta-decorated room with tables long like giraffe necks.

I was close to the front of the 40 of us.  As we filed in, I was aware of two things:

  • Ben was close behind me.
  • I had two seats to choose from:

1.  Sit next to the wall.  (My friend behind me would be the only one able to sit next to me.)

2.  Sit one seat away from the wall.  (My friend behind me and I would leave an empty seat.)

I remember praying, “God if you want something to happen between Ben and I, then have him sit in the seat next to me.”

And I chose to sit with one seat for my friend and one seat empty.

Ben came in and sat next to me.

I didn’t know much about Ben.  I knew he was quiet and didn’t eat breakfast.  I knew he was interested in me–well, he’d been pursuing me from the get-go . . but in shy ways.  He would try to sit next to me on the bus if my seat was empty.  I tried to make sure it wasn’t.

But that afternoon, an older gentleman on the trip had basically asked me, “Have you taken a look at Ben?”  At first, I’d brushed him off.  But now, I was really thinking about it.  What about Ben?  Could he possibly be the man I’d been waiting for the 10 years of my adult life?  Could he possibly be the man God had for me?

Ben slipped into the seat next to me, and, at that point, our lives together began.

I am so very thankful to God for encouraging me to leave that empty seat.

.                     .                     .                     .                     .                     .                     .

Did you know that there is someone waiting for you to leave an empty seat next to you, too?  No, I’m not talking about the love of your life, but the love of your eternity.  God.

God is waiting for you to leave an empty seat next to you.  He wants to talk to you.  He wants you to listen to Him.  And He wants to listen to you.  God wants to be not just a part of your life, but He wants to be your Life.

God is waiting for you to leave an empty seat next to you.

Asking Christ into your heart isn’t just an emotional high or some kind of one-time ticket-to-Heaven.  It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship, made to last for eternity.

The question is not whether God is waiting.  He is.  The question is, are you ready to leave Him that seat?

Jesus,

I want to know the love of my eternity.  I want to know who You are.  Please forgive me for waiting so long.  I realize now that you’ve been pursuing me my whole life.  I believe in You and what You say in Your Word.  I want you to be the romance of my life.  I want you to be my King of Kings.  You already love me more than I could ever dream.  Now I want to love you more than anything.  Please forgive me of all my sins that have separated me from You, that have taken up Your seat.  I love you.  I want you to be my Savior.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

Pursue love . . (from 1 Corinthians 14:1a, NASB)

Seeing

I now see the love of God for what it is:

Real.

The two gods and the servant

god #1 and the self-made throne

“I’m all done making the throne,” god #1 calls with great pride.

“It’s such a beautiful throne, God.  You’ll be so proud.

“Hey, where are You, anyway?  Come sit on the throne I made You.  I know You’ll like it.  I know, because I like it, and You are just like me, only a little bigger–right?

“I have to admit . . it was a little tricky the first time I went through the Bible.  I realized right away You needed some help.  Someone might misinterpret You, God!  They might think they are supposed to read the whole Bible and that everything fits together like a puzzle.  But I figured it out.  I just threw out the pieces I didn’t want and I cut the other pieces to make nice, neat squares.  Then I made the pieces I kept fit together . . . kinda like a mosaic.

“Here’s what I came up with, God.

  • You’re a God of love, so You can’t have wrath.
  • You’re my Father, so You’re not my Master.
  • You’re my Servant, so You’re not my King.
  • You came to earth just for me, so I’m not supposed to live my life just for You.
  • You’re a God of peace, not of war.
  • You have compassion on humanity, so You wouldn’t speak out against sin.
  • You don’t want us to be hypocrites when we judge, so we’re not supposed to judge at all.
  • Your Kingdom is full of riches, so You wouldn’t want me to be poor right now.
  • You told the story of the Prodigal Son, so You didn’t tell the story of the man who went into the banquet hall without the proper clothes and was cast out into Hell.
  • You’re the Good Shepherd, so You couldn’t be the Great Divider who separates the saved and lost at the end of the age.
  • You made Heaven, so You didn’t make Hell.
  • You want us to treat others as we want to be treated, so You wouldn’t ever say “I never knew you” to anybody on the Day of Judgment.
  • You’re the God of the New Testament, so You can’t be the God of the Old Testament.
  • You taught us the greatest things about love we’ve ever learned, so You couldn’t be the one who said all that embarrassing stuff about prostitution and adultery and homosexuality.
  • You loved us so much You came to die for us, so we couldn’t be an abomination to You if we reject You.
  • You’re the God of good, so You can’t be the God of things I think are bad . . like those cities that got destroyed in the Old Testament where people–even children!–died.  That’s really embarrassing, God.  I’m so glad I can chalk that up to textual misunderstandings, symbolism, and, uh, well I’m sure there really is a way to explain it away . . .
  • You gave us freedom in Your sacrifice, so You couldn’t be the one who gives us rules.
  • You give us freedom to choose You or not choose You, so You couldn’t force everyone to bow down before You at the end of the world.

“Did You hear me when I said I made a throne for You?  When are You coming to see it?  I know You’ll like it.  I’m even giving You full reign of it.  (Of course, You can’t modify it.  It’s really special to me, God.  I made it.)  I know You must be proud of me, God.  After all, I’m not like god #2 . . I mean, do You know what god #2 believes?  Why, it’s a distortion of everything about You.”

_______________________________________________________________

god #2 and the self-made hole

“I’ve got the hole dug for you,” god #2 says, fist shaking in the air.  “Come fall in it, God.

“After all, I know who you are.  I’ve read the Bible–or at least, the Guide to Hating the Bible I found on the Internet.  What’s the difference?  I always knew I wanted to hate You–now I’ve found reasons that sound a whole lot better than saying I just don’t want to obey You.

Here’s my list of complaints, and I don’t care whether You have an answer for them or not in Your Word, because it’s my word that I want to hear.  god #1 is such an idiot, thinking You’re our subject and we’re the kings.  I know You’re not.  I’ve read Your Word.  I know You are King, so I am going to badmouth You until You finally fall into the hole of my slander and are no more.

  • You’re a God of wrath, so You can’t have love.
  • You want to be my Master, so You’ll never be my Father.
  • You want to be my King, so I won’t believe You were a Servant when You came to earth.
  • You want me to live my life just for You, and I won’t do it.  I want to believe You never did anything for me.
  • You’re a God of war, not of peace.
  • You speak out against sin, so You can’t have compassion on humanity.
  • You’re judgmental, and You don’t care that Your followers are hypocrites.
  • Your followers only say they believe in a future Kingdom because they want to be wealthy now.
  • You told the story of the man who came into the banquet hall without the proper clothes and was cast out into Hell, so You couldn’t have told the story of the Prodigal Son.
  • You’re the Great Divider who separates the saved and lost at the end of the age, so You couldn’t be the Good Shepherd.
  • You made Hell, so You didn’t make Heaven.
  • You will cast people into Hell on the Day of Judgment, so You don’t care if we treat others the way we want to be treated.
  • You’re the God of the Old Testament, so You can’t be the God of the New Testament.
  • You spoke out against prostitution and adultery and homosexuality and otherwise limit my sexual freedom, so You couldn’t have taught us the greatest things about love we’ve ever learned.
  • Since we are an abomination to You if we reject You, You couldn’t have loved us so much that You came to die for us.
  • You are the God of things I think are bad, so You can’t be the God of good.
  • You gives us rules, so You couldn’t have given us freedom in Your sacrifice.
  • You give us freedom to choose You or not choose You, so You couldn’t force everyone to bow down before You at the end of the world.

    the servant

“God, open the eyes of my friends,” the servant says.  They do not see that we are servants, not gods.

“My friend god #1 wants to rule You, yet she must sit on the throne she made for ‘You’ if she wants anyone to sit there at all.  And my friend god #2 wants to get rid of You, but he is the only one in the hole.

“They want to change You, God, into an object of self-worship or phony wrath.  But I don’t want to change you, God.  I want to be changed to be more like You in the attributes You shared with us when you made us in Your image, like love, forgiveness, justice, grace, wisdom, and mercy.

“Since

You have the words of eternal life (from John 6:68c)

“I will give You the hammer I used to build my throne.  Lord, I act as if it’s for You, but it’s with that very same hammer I crucified You because You did not turn out to be who I really wanted to worship all along: myself.

“And I will give You the shovel I use to dig a hole only I can fall into.  I have spent my life trying to bury You under my skepticism, but You are resurrected and out of the reach of all graveyards.

“I want to be Your servant.

  • You’re a God of wrath for evil, and You have love for those who turn to Your Son for mercy.
  • You are my Master, my Father, my King, my Friend, and, on earth, You were the Servant.
  • You have given me forgiveness of a debt beyond the wildest of human imaginations.  I will do anything for You, but I need Your strength to do it, because I am incapable of courage without You.
  • You are a God of peace, and You will bring wars to draw people to Your Name, and a final war to draw an eternal line between good and evil.
  • You speak out against sin because You hate evil.  You wound our consciences to draw us to Your everlasting salvation.
  • You are Judge.  You judge Your followers now and convict them of sins and the hypocrisy we are so often guilty of practicing as we struggle with our sin nature.  But we are drawn towards Your holiness.  And You will judge those who hate You in the next life, not to correct them, but to condemn them.
  • Your Kingdom is now and in the future.  It’s not a Kingdom built on money, political power, popularity, or pop culture.  It’s a Kingdom built on Jesus Christ and His Word.
  • You are the God who gave us many parables to warn us about Hell and bring us to repentance and eternal life.
  • You are the Good Shepherd for Your people, and one day You will justly judge sin and divide those who follow You from those who don’t.
  • You made Heaven first, and You made Hell as a place for those who will not give their evil to Christ to be paid for on the cross.
  • You have treated us above and beyond any kindness we could ever imagine.  You value our souls so much that You came and died to set us free.  You love us through Your Son.  And You will also cast us into Hell on the Day of Judgment if we do not believe in Your Son and worship His Reign.
  • You are the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament.
  • Your Law is perfect.  I cannot revise them.  If I disagree on Your commands, my heart must change, not Yours.  Your limitations on sexuality are righteous.
  • You loved us so much You sent Your only Son to die for us, and we are an abomination to You if we reject Your Son.  How total our darkness, God, if we reject the greatest gift of all eternity, Jesus Christ our Lord!
  • You are the God of goodness.  There is nothing bad in You.  If I think something You do is bad, I need to change, not You.
  • You give us rules, and You give us freedom from the eternal penalty of breaking those rules through Your sacrifice.
  • You give us freedom to choose You or not choose You.  One day that choice will be over, and all will bow down before You and glorify Your most holy Name.