Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Filling the Empty Chair

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?
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 knew 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 in many cases it’s not just rudeness, it’s actually an expression of contempt for the other person.

These 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 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, 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 this 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.”

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.

Let’s make sure we leave room for Jesus in our lives.

[1] Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004), p. 117; submitted by Kevin Miller, vice president, Christianity Today International
[2] Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God (Waterbrook Press, 1997)
[3] Gerald Vann, The Divine Pity (Scepter Publishers, 2007)

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