Many years ago, on an international flight, our landing gear on one side failed to lock down. The emergency detection equipment shrieked a warning in the cockpit, and the pilot pulled up calmly and aborted the landing. After flying around many times, working to loosen the landing gear from being stuck, the pilot decided that we had to land and told us so in a steady voice.
I’ll long remember that landing. As we approached the point of no return over the runway, we were instructed to brace ourselves in a forward position. I looked out my window and saw firetrucks lining the sides of the runway, ready to leap into action. In that moment the seriousness of our situation became very real to me.
By God’s grace, a miraculous thing took place. Just as we approached the ground, a strong crosswind blew up, lifting the wing on the side of the plane where the landing gear wasn’t working as if an unseen hand were holding it up. The plane bounced once, bounced again, and then again. Everyone was praying. No one was speaking. The pilot had the engines reversed and roaring, and the plane shuddered to a stop just as the wind died down. We came to rest tilted to one side, but safe.
It wasn’t until the moment when everyone began to cheer and applaud the pilot’s heroism that I noticed that I had been grasping the armrests so tightly that my hands and arms ached from the effort. I didn’t notice the color of my hands, to be honest, but that had been for me the epitome of a “white-knuckled landing.”
Here’s the thing: My vice-like grip on the armrests did nothing whatsoever to improve our situation. It didn’t keep us in the air, it didn’t make the landing gear come down, and it didn’t get us safely onto the ground.
It was the provision of God and the professionalism of the pilot that brought us to a safe landing, not my aching forearms and fingers.
I have flown hundreds of thousands of miles since that day, and it has not been all “smooth air,” but that lesson has never faded from my mind. Clutching the armrests until my fingers cramp does nothing to change the situation, and so I don’t do it! The plane is in the pilot’s hands, and the pilot is in the Lord’s hands, and the Lord is all-wise and all-powerful.
Have you had some white-knuckle moments in your own life?
This reminds me of my driver’s training classes so many years ago. (Do you remember the first time you drove out on the open road?) The driving instructor had to say to me several times, “Just relax. Don’t hold the wheel so tightly! Let the car do the work!”
And when I would look down? Sure enough, my white knuckles and sweaty palms gave me away.
Honestly, my knuckles were white when the other students were taking their turns as well! And they didn’t relax until the instructor would take the wheel at the end of the hour and drive us safely home. The relief was obvious in my feelings and visible in my muscles.
Some of us have been going through some challenging turbulence in the last few months. I personally know of …
- Adult children burying parents.
- Good people losing ministry positions to budget cuts.
- Marriages unraveling unexpectedly.
- Church conflicts continuing to reignite.
- And more people with COVID-19 right now than during the height of the pandemic last year.
The list is long. For others there have been medical tests that didn’t turn out the way that they wanted. Or unbearable tension at family get-togethers.
As leaders, we often don’t even realize when we have begun “white-knuckling” our way through these things until our bodies tell us. The neck aches and back pains that signal muscle tightness, the colds that just keep hanging on, or the complete lack of energy after a good night’s rest are signals to us.
What are they signaling? These symptoms are often a sign that we have been trying to fly the plane from the passenger section.
The truth is this: you may fight to get through this, or white-knuckle your way past that, but the illusion that we are the ones keeping the plane in the air causes really negative (and unnecessary!) effects.
There is a Pilot in your cockpit, and you are not Him. He is winding His way through the storms in your life with relaxed confidence and infinite skill.
May I be blunt with you, dear friends? The notion that we personally have anything to do with getting through this season in one piece … is really a thinking error. And that thinking error can cause exhaustion, or discouragement, or high blood pressure.
The Word of God helps us to correct our thinking errors and transforms us by renewing our minds.
The LORD is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble. HE is a shield to all those who take refuge in Him. HE is our good shepherd, who cheers us by His presence. The government is upon HIS shoulders, and He is rightly called, “Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”
He speaks to the raging sea and says, “This far and no farther.” He walks atop our waves, and He shushes our storms. JESUS is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to HIM, and He has promised, “NEVER will I leave you! NEVER will I forsake you!” Nothing can separate you from His love!
“This is the will of God, that Jesus shall lose NONE of all those God has given Him, and that He should raise them up at the last day!”
We can stand and see the salvation of the Lord. We will declare His works to the generation that comes after us. Even if the righteous fall seven times, they will get back up; but when trouble strikes the wicked, that’s the end of them.
These light and momentary afflictions are creating in us a weight of eternal glory.
Those who fear the Lord talk with each other, and the Lord pays attention and listens to them, and a book of remembrance is written before Him of those who fear the Lord and honor His name.
He is coming soon, and His reward is with Him. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Whatever you are facing, our Storm-stiller is in the driver’s chair and his calm eyes are on the path ahead. You can relax in your seat … and get some rest.