Filling the Empty Chair
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Maybe you’ve experienced something like this: You are talking with someone when suddenly they openly yawn and look at their watch. How did you interpret those actions? Can you remember how you felt at that moment? Were you hurt? insulted? enraged? How did you react? How do you wish you had reacted?

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Image © Lars Justinen from GoodSalt.com

What about this: You’re discussing ideas with a colleague and while you’re speaking, you think you see them just barely roll their eyes in response to something you’ve said? How do you go on from there – as co-workers?

As a teacher I know that seeing a student do something like that in class made me angry, but I usually assigned the actions to rudeness and generally poor upbringing, did my best to ignore it and move on. This week, however, I learned that it’s not just rudeness, it’s actually an expression of contempt for the other person.

Some psychologist watched the interactions of married couples as they talked to each other and then predicted the success of the marriages. The psychologists were able to make correct predictions after just three to five minutes. It turns out it had very little to do with what the couples talked about or even their tone of voice. The predictions were based on minute, seemingly incidental signs of contempt – a little, almost imperceptible eye roll, or a mostly concealed yawn, for example.

Now let’s think of our own behavior during worship and Bible study, sometimes. What kind of prognosis would those psychologists be able to make about the health of our relationship with God? Have we forgotten why we come to church? What does it mean if we’re bored in church or if we keep putting off Bible study?

How can we excuse those behaviors, especially when the Bible tells us to “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water”? (Revelation 14:7)

OK, we know that none of the behaviors we’ve talked about so far demonstrate fearing or glorifying God, so what would fearing and glorifying God look like? I found what I think is an excellent picture:

“To live in fear of God means that we live before God and the rest of reality in such a way that there is never contempt within us. We take nothing for granted, everything as a gift. We have respect. We are always poised for surprise before the mystery of God, others, and ourselves.

“All boredom and contempt is an infallible sign that we have fallen out of a healthy fear of God.”1

What do you think? Is living in fear of God a good thing? Is it the same as being afraid of God? I don’t believe it is.

Jerry Bridges, in his book The Joy of Fearing God, describes the healthy tension between loving and fearing God:

“In the physical realm there are two opposing forces called ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal.’ Centrifugal force tends to pull away from a center of rotation, while centripetal force pulls toward the center.

“A stone whirled about on the end of a string exerts centrifugal force on the string, while the string exerts centripetal force on the stone. Take away one and the other immediately disappears.

“These two opposing forces can help us understand something of the fear of God. The centrifugal force represents the attributes of God such as his holiness and sovereignty that cause us to bow in awe and self-abasement before him. They hold us reverently distant from the one who, by the simple power of his word, created the universe out of nothing. The centripetal force represents the love of God. It surrounds us with grace and mercy and draws us with cords of love into the Father’s warm embrace. To exercise a proper fear of God we must understand and respond to both these forces.”2

How do those opposing forces play out in our relationship to God?

“To grow in wisdom and love is not to lose all fear of God; it is to change our fear of God. It is to pass from the servile fear of the slave, the fear of punishment, to the loving reverence of the son, fearing to offend his father, and in the end to the purely selfless fear of the lover, the fear of hurting what you love.”3

Most of us will agree that God is always with us, but sometimes I believe this becomes more of a theory than a reality. Our picture of God becomes skewed by our interactions with the world around us. We begin to see God as distant and uninvolved with the everyday details of our lives. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. God wants to be included and involved in every aspect of our lives.

So, with that in mind, let’s do an experiment for at least a week: Try to do things that will help you imagine Jesus’ physical presence with you. Can you think of concrete things you can do to help?

If you eat around the dinner table, maybe you could set a place for Jesus. When you sit down to watch TV or use the computer, maybe you could pull a chair near where you are sitting. If you’re reading something, maybe you could read it out loud and imagine that Jesus is right there listening. Is there something you could do at work to help you imagine that Jesus is right there with you?

How do you think your actions will change during this experiment? Would you feel comfortable watching some of the things you watch on TV if Jesus was sitting next to you? Would you visit the same websites if Jesus was looking over your shoulder? Would your reading material change if Jesus was listening to you read? If you imagined Jesus working beside you, would your behavior at work be the same? Would you treat the people with whom you work any differently? Would your conversations be any different?

Remember the song we learned in Cradle Roll and Kindergarten

Oh be careful little hands what you do …
Oh be careful little feet where you go …
Oh be careful little ears what you hear …
Oh be careful little eyes what you see …
Oh be careful little lips what you say …
For our Father up above is looking down in love
So be careful little hands what you do.

God isn’t distant or disinterested. He wants to eat with us, sit with us while we’re relaxing, be included in our work, our play, and our relationships, our laughter and crying, our heartbreaks and joys.

In the new year, let’s make sure we make room for Jesus in our lives.


 

  1. Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004), p. 117
  2. Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God (Waterbrook Press, 1997)
  3. Gerald Vann, The Divine Pity (Scepter Publishers, 2007)
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Comments

Filling the Empty Chair — 4 Comments

  1. I think Lilliane has a valuable overall message for all of us. “In the new year, let’s make sure we make room for Jesus in our lives,” that is, we need to be more attentive to Heavenly realities. The war going on all around us is real and we have only a very short time to decide which side we stand on.

    Whether we realize it or not everything we do is either for Jesus or against Him (Mat 12:30, 6:24) – we are either betrothed to Him as His bride or we are an adulteress, a prostitute attached to someone else other than our creator.

    Like(1)
  2. It seems to me that Lilliane's message is meant to make us examine ourselves to see whether we are still in love with Jesus. Or are we merely going through the motions?

    I'd like to join her in encouraging us all to try this experiment:

    let’s do an experiment for at least a week: Try to do things that will help you imagine Jesus’ physical presence with you. Can you think of concrete things you can do to help?

    If you eat around the dinner table, maybe you could set a place for Jesus. When you sit down to watch TV or use the computer, maybe you could pull a chair near where you are sitting. If you’re reading something, maybe you could read it out loud and imagine that Jesus is right there listening. Is there something you could do at work to help you imagine that Jesus is right there with you?

    That was the meaning of "filling the empty chair" - i.e. setting a chair (real or figurative) and actively imagining Him sitting in it. Or, when we are walking, imagining Jesus walking with us. When we are driving, imagining Jesus sitting beside us.

    I want to join Lilliane in this "experiment." How about you?

    Like(4)
  3. Thanks for the thought Lilliane. We certainly need to have a sense of God's presence at all times. Not just in the sense of a spy/big brother to keep us on our toes but as a companion to walk and talk with. As someone to give us courage during difficult times and to inspire us with hope when there may not appear to be any reason for hope.

    Like(1)
  4. Practising the presence of Jesus has two aspects for me.

    1) It means that in my interactions with others it helps to remind myself that there is a little bit of Jesus in each person. For example, when I am about to shoot my mouth off at someone who has crossed me, I remind myself how would I talk to Jesus if he was standing there. (That even applies when grandchildren are running through the house at top speed with grandad's iPad!)

    2) I am also mindful of the fact that I wear the label "Christian" around my neck. For many people that means that I am acting like Jesus. For some people, their only contact with Jesus is their interaction with Christians like me. That is a mind-blowing responsibility when you really think about it.

    Like(1)

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