I grew up in a family that went to church every single week, no matter what holiday landed on the weekend. We would arrive early to mingle in the hallways and grab hot coffee and fresh donuts on the way in. I can distinctly remember shaking hands with friends and church members who felt like family, all the way until we made it to ‘our seat.’ Growing up, our church had long wooden pews covered in a dark blue fabric to match the carpet. Every Sunday, my grandfather would walk into the sanctuary, place his Bible in ‘our seat,’ and quickly find a place to serve or find a new face to welcome. It was known and understood by those who attended our church that the six of us would sit in that exact pew each and every Sunday. It was “our seat.” Humans are creatures of habit, and when given a choice, more often than not, we stick to what is known and familiar. For our family, it was a place of comfort because we knew that we would have a place to sit and a place to belong.
Fast forward to this past Sunday. I help serve each and every week with the musical portion of our worship services. More often than not, while the pastor delivers his opening illustration and final sermon points, the worship team scurries backstage, unplugging instruments and moving equipment, all part of the behind-the-scenes efforts to create the best atmosphere for the congregation. Every week my wife sits in the same seat with an extra chair on the end for me to easily slip in during the early moments of the sermon and slip out to close the service as we respond. After the opening worship set concluded, I rounded the corner to the main double doors and saw a couple with a child in their arms walk in front of me. They looked around the room, and it seemed like there were no two seats together. I tapped the mother on her shoulder, mouthed “come with me,” and they followed. My wife and I gave up ‘our seats’ so that someone else could sit comfortably and enjoy the Christmas Eve Sunday morning service. The couple’s faces lit up as they settled into ‘our seats,’ and we quickly found a new place to sit by a welcoming family that squeezed in to make room for us.
A lot of times, following Jesus is very similar to giving up “your seat.” Jesus calls us to be uncomfortable (Matthew 16:24). He calls us to be sacrificial (1 John 3:16). He calls us to put others’ needs before our own (Philippians 2:3-5). The flesh in all of us would say, “You should arrive earlier” or “Try again next week,” but it’s the love and grace of God that enable us to extend compassion and care to everyone we meet. As we begin the new year, I’m challenging myself to find and seek opportunities to “give up my seat.” Sometimes those opportunities come on Sunday, and other times they arise in the grocery store or at the gas station. With all that we’ve seen God do in and through our church, I’m praying that we would continue to have a mindset that puts loving Jesus and loving people at the center of everything we do. Sometimes the smallest temporary gesture can make the biggest eternal impact.
Take a moment to pray and ask God that He would give you the opportunity this week to ‘give up your seat.’
When you study this chapter, it becomes abundantly clear that our relationship with God and with people is connected. It is impossible to love God and hate those made in His image.
This is a story about authority, healing and compassion. But mostly it’s a story that will illustrate for us the proper approach to Jesus.