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)

The New Collossus

“Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

–From Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, The New Collossus

I always loved this poem.

Until the Statue of Liberty broke its promise to me.

When I was a little girl, my heart yielded to this poem, longed for the words to come true.  The first time as a teenager I saw a refuge forcibly removed from our country to go back to an oppressive regime, my heart broke.  I could not believe my country had let me down.  The Statue of Liberty became a hoax.

I wanted the statue to be taken down and the promise removed.  The statue had failed.  The plaque was powerless.  The words of Emma Lazarus about America had not been able to do what they’d promised.

Emma Lazarus, I believe, wrote those words out of an intent of love.  She saw a beautiful promise, and she wanted her country to reach for it.  But she could not make it so, and she did not make it so.

She probably didn’t know it, but she was actually taking a promise made by one Person and trying to make it apply to others.  Her expression of the promise is catching, but the results of the promise applied to the populous of America have not been.  Time and time again, we have failed in keeping it, which makes sense because the promise really never belonged to us.  We only copied an original, whether we realize or not.

The original Promise–which was not made for the plaque of a statue–has not been broken.  The original Promise was made in the dusty fields of Israel.

About 1,800 years before The New Collossus, Jesus Christ made a Promise.  The resemblance to Emma’s poem is striking, but Jesus’ words are far sweeter.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

Unlike us, Jesus kept His Promise.  He carried it out not by constructing a grand statue to promise ideals, but by giving up His hands and feet to be nailed to a cross, His back to be beaten, His beard to be yanked out, His face to be spit upon and struck.  Scripture teaches that Jesus was so badly marred by the burden of our sin that He was unrecognizable, not just that His personal identity was unrecognizable, but that His identity as a human was unrecognizable.
(See Isaiah 52:14 and for a fuller picture of the foreshadowing of Christ’s suffering, Isaiah 52:13-15 and 53).

The Statue of Liberty cost what would be the equivalent of millions of dollars, and it was raised by two nations over about five years[1,2].  In order for the Statue of Liberty to keep its promise, it had to welcome with open arms the “huddled masses” of the world.  But it never opened its arms wide enough.  People upon people have been persecuted in America, or denied access altogether.

The death of God’s only Son is an incalculable cost.  From out of eternity, God would enter into time and die a sinner’s worst death.  In order for Jesus Christ to keep His promise to give rest to the sin-burdened, He had to take on, in one day, the sins of the world, and He had to shoulder them alone.  In one day, Jesus would carry what all of humanity could not shoulder if they had eternity to carry it.  In one day, Jesus would take away the burden of the sin of the world.

Jesus did open His arms wide enough.  He opened His hands and received the nails that were meant to be our burden.  He took the weight of our sin, our shame, our guilt, and our condemnation.  He was crushed under its burden, but He did not yield.  He bore our infinite burden, and He carried it with Him to His last breath, right down to its everlasting grave.

And then He came back.

Emma’s poem isn’t really about America.  It is really about Jesus Christ.  And that is what makes it a wonderful reflection of the real promise, given by Jesus Christ on the dusty roads of Israel nearly 2,000 years ago–and kept ever since.

Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25b-30, NIV)

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[1] “Who Paid for the Statue of Liberty?” About.com, Robert McNamara, accessed 1/26/2013

[2] “How Tall is the Statue of Liberty?” http://www.howtallisthestatueofliberty.org/, accessed 1/26/2013

[3] Ask.com question, “How long did it take to build the Statue of Liberty”, accessed 1/26/2013

Jesus is rest.

Jesus is rest.

“For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.” (Jeremiah 31:25, NASB)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

A prophesy from Jesus about Himself:

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue,

to know the word that sustains the weary.

He wakens me morning by morning,

wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears,

and I have not been rebellious;

I have not drawn back.

I offered my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;

I did not hide my face

from mocking and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,

I will not be disgraced.

Therefore have I set my face like flint,

and I know I will not be put to shame.

He who vindicates me is near.

Who then will bring charges against me?

Let us face each other!

Who is my accuser?

Let him confront me!

It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.

Who is he that will condemn me?

They will all wear out like a garment;

the moths will eat them up.

Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys the word of his servant?

Let him who walks in the dark,

who has no light,

trust in the name of the Lord

and rely on his God.

But now, all you who light fires

and provide yourselves with flaming torches,

go, walk in the light of your fires

and of the torches you have set ablaze.

This is what you shall receive from my hand:

You will lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:4-11, NIV)