On a first date with the girl I would eventually marry, our ticketed seats to the gospel music concert in the large auditorium were located on the front row, the first two seats on the center aisle. She was impressed that I had secured the best seats in the house. It was as though we were being given an exclusive personal concert!
One pastor told me that people in his church arrive early in order to get the best seats. He explained that the sanctuary fills up quickly -- from back to front! It turned out that he was not exaggerating. Five minutes before starting time there were literally no seats occupied in the front half of the auditorium.
Over recent decades I have observed that the choice seats in an auditorium for most people are the aisle seats. I just returned from a ministry leadership conference, and there truly were no bad seats in the house. It was an excellent design with the floor slanting towards the platform, theater-type seats with removable drink holders; every seat provided quality sound and a good view of the stage.
The rows near the back had about 20 seats in them, and I found a row with only two persons sitting in it: one in each of the two aisle seats. The gentleman on the aisle I chose did not seem bothered when I asked if I could get by him to take another seat in the row. However, by the end of the session he had grown obviously weary of people climbing over him to get in or get out of the row. I wanted to remind him that he was the one who chose the end seat, but I knew he would not appreciate my helpfulness.
What is it about the end seat that makes it so valuable and popular? Is it the freedom of not being sandwiched between two persons? Is it the convenience of being able to easily get up and leave? In most cases the aisle seats are the first to be occupied, and then later arrivers must maneuver their way to the vacant spaces in the center of the row, stepping on as few feet as possible.
You may have been at an event so crowded that someone on the stage had to ask everyone to move towards the center of the row to make room for those still arriving. Yes, I am aware of the law known as squatter's rights. "I got here first. If they wanted the choice seat, they should have come early like I did. I planned ahead for this seat, and I am not moving."
I realize this is just a small, simple thing. It does, however, expose the "me-first" attitude that our society has exaggerated over recent decades. The apostle Paul wrote that being likeminded with Christ includes humbly considering others better than ourselves; that we should look not only to our own interests, but also to the interest of others.
At a dinner recently someone at our table had already visited the dessert section before starting his meal, informing us that the sweets may be gone if we waited until the end of the meal. Without thinking about it, I went on over and picked out a slice of my favorite choice, and another for a friend seated with me. Of course, I had as much right to dessert as every one else at the event. But I did wonder later if my somewhat selfish gesture kept another person from having dessert.
When we view things from a Christ-minded perspective, it is no longer about our rights, but about others. I selfishly hurried over to claim a small plate of 800 calories that I did not need in the first place, just so I would not miss out on that little treat to which I was entitled. Yet, what I experience over and over again is that I am more at peace, satisfaction, and fulfillment when I live a life that is not primarily about me. The deeper, truer joy is always in the giving.
Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.