Empty Chair/Empty Net /John 21
Do you have room at your earthly table for those in need? I have observed over and over that many churched folks like to keep their dinner table just the way it is—Mom, Dad, Grandma, Uncle Bill, Aunt Sarah, the kids. If the table seats 8, then 8 is the magic number and homeostasis sets in, which means there is an internal balance to keep things just as they are. Equilibrium was the title of my last post… it seems like a positive that is achieved by negatives cancelling one another out for a sum of zero. That is control not love.
Now it is wonderful to have close family ties, to huddle up in a comfortable and secure manner every Sunday afternoon or evening. Many families do this, and God bless them.
My concern is that when your family is huddled up, is there room for another? Or is the newcomer, the stranger, the foreigner only shown your backs? Do you practice hospitality by opening your self and your home to others?
I believe that many folks hold a mistaken and sometimes pathological belief about love—that it is a finite thing. In other words, love is diminished if given to too many others. To control and conserve the love, it is parceled out to immediate family only. In-laws are treated with a watered down love that depends on the immediate family spouse. In a similar way I’ve known a few parents who chose not to have a second child because they could not conceive of sharing their parental love with another being, as if loving a second child would dilute their love for the first child. And then I knew a man who said he had all the friends he needed for life—3, and unless one died, he did not need another. In this view, love is a fixed amount like a law of physics. No expansion is permissible.
There is a difference between being content with who is in your life and barring the door against anyone else, as if someone late to the party is an intruder.
And what if you have no room at your table? Is it okay to add a leaf and grow the table?
Can you extend your table or add another table to your intimate gatherings? A good hearted brother told me once that his wife was uncomfortable with sharing their home, their table. Consequently they were not hospitable outside their family boundary line. I responded that I didn’t think Jesus called us to comfort. I know He promised to comfort us in our pain and mourning. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. The brother told me that I was stepping on his toes. I agreed that maybe his toes needed to be stepped on. God does not call us to comfort and happiness. He calls us to serve Him, to be holy, and to worship Him. Happiness and comfort may come later, but if you seek those first, you miss the point of it all.
I explain it like this. When we wanted to see dolphins in Tampa Bay, the boat captain explained that in order to see dolphins, he needed to bring the boat up to a certain speed that attracted the dolphins. Once we achieved that speed, lo and behold dolphins appeared next to our boat, jumping and winking at us. It was a magical moment I’ll never forget. My take away lesson was this: if you go directly at dolphins or happiness, i.e., take the shortcut, you’ll ram them and ruin the mission. If, on the other hand, you go forward in faith and pursue holiness, dolphins and happiness will show up. It’s not magic but miracle.
I met my buddy Dave in Honduras 12 years ago. We clicked and just enjoyed each other’s company. Once back in town, we continued to develop our friendship by meeting each other’s families and spending time together. Over the past years we have vacationed with Dave and his wife’s family on several occasions. They have room at the table and I have been blessed by their hospitality. It’s this way with most of our church family: we spend time in one another’s homes for prayer, fellowship, comfort, and material help.
Are there empty chairs at your table? Maybe you are a widower who is alone, recalling your deceased husband’s presence. Maybe you are a single guy who craves the presence of a soul mate across the table. Or you are a childless couple who desperately want a child to care for. The empty chair can be filled with grief over a divorced spouse or a broken family relationship. Whatever or whoever you believe should be in the empty chair, consider this: invite Jesus to your table. Make Him the first guest, your primary relationship. And knowing that His spirit resides in all believers, invite someone new to your table, someone in need of comfort or companionship or joy.
Once you make room for Jesus, you will find that people show up and fill that precious place.
Now let’s pause and go to John 21.
“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathaneel from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.
“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord!” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
The disciples ate breakfast with Jesus, finally recognizing Him. Then Jesus reinstated Peter, telling Peter, “Feed my sheep.”
The disciples had fished all night in futility. Not one fish did they catch. But once Jesus appeared, they brought a bounty to shore, 153 fish in all.
What do these two themes have to do with one another? Well, empty chairs and empty nets share emptiness, a void, an unmet need. In John 21 Jesus feeds his disciples and commands that they feed others. At your dinner tables you can also cast your nets in a different direction if you hear Jesus telling you to do so. If you put Jesus in that empty chair, He will bring His blessing to you. It may not be a spouse, but it could be a friend. It may not be a child, but it could be an opportunity to minister to someone else’s child.
When you invite Jesus to your table, you are inviting the source of love, the multiplier of fish and loaves. He did not conserve or control love and limit the distribution of love. Instead, He gave all He had, bled out, so that we might love as He did. Though you are tired and despondent, cast your nets once more. Though you have a void at your dinner table or you feel smugly self-sufficient, invite Jesus to your table so that He may feed you too. Finally, listen to your Lord and be reinstated as Peter was, to feed the precious flock of Jesus.