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Flying Safely in the Friendly or Not So Friendly Skies

October 19, 2020

One of the highlights of my life was learning how to fly. It was quite a process. As a future private pilot, I had to go to flight school and learn how to fly by the book. Next, I had to pass the written test. After that, I started taking flying lessons in a real plane. That was different than just knowing the theory of flying and passing a test. Soon my experience caught up with my book learning, and off I went flying all over Arizona to places like Payson, Sedona, Tucson, and Flagstaff for work and play.

One of the biggest concerns for any pilot is flying into cloudy, low visibility, or turbulent conditions. Pilots can lose the horizon and get something called vertigo. When one has vertigo, they quickly lose their ability to know whether they are flying up or down or turning. A pilot can think they are flying level, but they are in a spin or about to stall or be in a dangerous attitude. Their feelings are not reliable because they lost the horizon when flying in clouds.

What do the pilots do to manage these types of conditions? They train to fly their airplane by instruments in the plane. That rating is called Instrument Flight Rated or IFR. IFR pilots understand their senses are not reliable when they lose the horizon. So, no matter what their senses tell them, they fly by the plane's instruments.

Instruments don’t lie. Instruments don’t care about feelings. Instruments inform the pilot about the plane's real attitude to make the right decisions and a bad situation. Flying through stormy skies and turbulent times is very manageable for someone who knows what to trust and what to do to come out alive.

There is a good lesson for us in this. Life is easy when we are in prosperous or good times. We can see clearly, and everything seems under control. However, when we get into cloudy IFR conditions, we had better not rely on our disoriented feelings. Why? Trusting disorientated feelings causes vertigo. Like many pilots who have crashed from flight and fright vertigo when flying into cloudy and tumultuous conditions, people can get spiritual, intellectual, or emotional vertigo. As a result, we make vertigo-based decisions, spin downwards and out of control, and crash hard.

What's the solution to this? Learn how to fly by the instruments in turbulent times. If you aren’t Instrument Flight Rated, the friendly skies can quickly become unfriendly skies. But to the Instrument Flight Rated flier, unfriendly skies become manageable until you get back to clear skies.

Did you know that God gave us the perfect instrument for flying in IFR conditions? It’s called the Bible. The Bible is like the instruments on an airplane. The Bible is there to guide us into all truth, giving us a godly outcome. It gives us the accurate readings we require for the life-giving decisions we will need to make during life's challenges.

Life is like flying an airplane. There will be ‘ups and downs’ and lots of turbulence. In the up times, maximize the opportunities by getting wisdom from the Bible. In the down times, focus on the instruments and don’t be influenced by vertigo-based feelings. The God of the Word speaks through the Word of God. God is saying, “Trust me, trust me, trust me! Don’t adjust me. Trust me!”

Now many of you know something about the Bible. But knowing the Bible and doing what the Bible says to do are two different things. That IFR pilot can’t just know what to do. That IFR pilot must do what he/she knows to do. The pilot needs to get a firm grasp on the plane's yoke and steer it according to the instruments.

The Bible talks about getting a firm grasp of God's word, just like a pilot firmly grasps a plane's wheel when flying in IFR conditions. How do you do that?

Let’s think conceptually for a moment. Look at your hand. You have four fingers and one thumb. Let’s say you’re that pilot grasping the yoke or steering mechanism to steer it through a storm.

Picture yourself holding the steering wheel (yoke) with your index finger. What would happen? The turbulence your encountering would rip the wheel right out of your hands. Your index finger is not strong enough to steer the plane. Let’s add your middle finger to your index finger. Now you are closer to piloting the plane. Let’s add your ring finger to the wheel. That’s better, but not enough. Now, add your pinky finger to the wheel. Better but not by much. Now add your thumb with your four fingers and firmly grasp the wheel. Now you have a firm grasp on the steering wheel so you can fly by the instruments and safely land at your destination.

The same is valid for getting a firm grasp on God’s word. Your index finger is hearing God’s word (Luke 8:15). But listening to sermons in a church is a great start but not the whole process.  Next comes your middle finger, which is reading God’s word (1 Timothy 4:13).  Then comes the ring finger, which is studying God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15).  Now you’re starting to get a grip on God’s word. Add your pinky finger. That’s meditating on God’s word (Psalm 119:15). And finally, the thumb is memorizing God’s word (Psalm 119:16). Memorizing pulls everything together and makes your knowledge ready to use at a moment's notice.

Now you have a firm grasp and can fly by the instrument of God’s word. Those unfriendly skies were friendly skies in disguise, when managed correctly by you, the informed pilot.

Remember, fellow pilots: We’re not moved by what we feel. We’re only moved by the word that’s real.

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
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