The Lord’s presence turned a frightening experience into a peaceful one
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).
In last week’s column I described a fairly close call I had in 1985 as I was flying back to our home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where I was attending school. My flight was just ninety minutes behind Delta Flight 191, which crashed at the airport in a thunderstorm, killing many passengers. My flight originated in Miami, the Delta flight in Fort Lauderdale.
Although I have always enjoyed air travel, always savored the moment upon takeoff when the city below is suddenly transformed into a toy world, and never ceased to marvel at clouds below and sunny blue sky above, the Flight 191 incident had naturally left me skittish about flying again anytime soon. Therefore, I was a little concerned when an occasion arose barely a year later.
By that time we had relocated to the Fort Lauderdale area where Florida Baptist workers had encouraged me to try to plant a new church. I was working a fulltime job and leading a Bible study in a community that had no church whatsoever. But a family matter required my presence back in Nashville for a day or so, and a relative had graciously offered to buy me a plane ticket. With butterflies in my stomach, I humbly accepted it.
Never have I actually been afraid to fly, although I’ll admit to having had a few nervous moments along the way. But I can sympathize with the lady caller to a national radio talk show a few years ago. The popular show host was an avid aviator on the side, and this woman had called him for reassurance. She would make a commercial flight soon, and she was terrified.
Now the talk show host was certainly not a down home Bible Belt Baptist. But he surprised me with the spiritual insight in his answer. Beginning from a purely practical, physical standpoint, he explained the principles of aerodynamics. “So you see, Sabrina,” he assured the caller, “once those engines are powered up, the plane has no choice but to fly.”
What he said next, however, etched the whole segment into my memory. “Now Sabrina, do you believe in God? Do you believe He will one day call you into His presence and you will give an account of your life?” Sabrina answered both questions in the affirmative.
“Then,” he quickly responded, “are you foolish enough to think that if you stay on the ground, God cannot get you but if you are up in the air in a plane, He can?” The logic was flawless. I think even Sabrina was convinced.
Back in 1986, without the benefit of the radio host’s reassuring words, I had to swallow hard and get on that plane. It was a Delta, leaving from Fort Lauderdale, in the midst of a thunderstorm no less. However, I knew the Lord’s reassuring words. “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5).
The Delta jet was a wide-bodied carrier, capable of seating over two hundred passengers. But that night there could not have been more than twenty-five of us aboard. The flight attendants gave us more personal attention than usual simply out of boredom. And once we were actually airborne, and out of the thunderstorm, the flight became remarkably smooth and quiet. In the peaceful stillness of the deep blue night outside my window, I could look down and see the lights of Okeechobee, Orlando, Lake City.
We did hit turbulence as we entered Georgia airspace. A flight attendant buckled herself in a passenger seat in front of me and began fingering a rosary. Was she frightened by the turbulence? Perhaps she was just devout, but her bosses probably would have frowned on her action as poor public relations. That incident, however, did not dampen my spirit of peace. Inexplicably, all nervousness had passed. I was in the Lord’s hands, and He had calmed my fears.
I believe it was the most enjoyable flight I’ve ever experienced.