Learn to Fly By the Instruments
Your Perceptions May Be Unreliable in a Spiritual Storm
“Spatial disorientation” is something that happens to an aircraft pilot when his plane enters dark storm clouds and he can no longer see the horizon or the ground. Points of reference that guide his senses disappear and he can no longer be sure which way is up or down. His perceptions are unreliable.
The only way a pilot can overcome spatial disorientation is to fully trust his cockpit instruments to tell him what is real. That’s why flight training instructors force student pilots to learn to fly planes by instruments alone.
On a spring day in May 1997, I flew into a spiritual storm. I’ve never known a darker time.
For months leading up that day I had become increasingly aware that, for all the wonderful teaching I had received and the remarkable things I had seen God do, I was not sure I could honestly say that for me to die and be with Christ would be “far better” (Phil. 1:23) than to remain with my wife and baby son. I was devoting my life to helping others make Jesus their treasure. But was I treasuring other things more? I didn’t want to. So I had been crying out to God to do whatever was necessary to help me really see that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
I wasn’t prepared for God’s answer.
On that day I entered an unexpected tempest of doubt like nothing I had ever experienced before. God suddenly became eclipsed in my spiritual sight and for the life of me I couldn’t see him anywhere. Doubts about his existence broke on me like lightning. Everything became dark in my soul. Swirling winds of fear blew with amazing force. The turbulence of hopelessness was violent.
As I experienced my own spiritual “spatial disorientation,” the thought hit me, “Fly by the instruments, Jon. Don’t trust your perceptions. Place your faith in the instrument panel of God’s Word. It’s always been reliable in the past.”
So I decided to steer by the Bible’s direction until I had enough evidence to establish that it was a faulty instrument. I also opened my heart to trusted friends and mentors and asked for counsel. I remember John Piper saying to me: “Jon, the rock of truth under your feet will not long feel like sand.” It was very hard to believe when he said it, but he was right.
I continued the spiritual disciplines of devotional Bible reading, prayer, church and small group attendance. I had been trained that abandoning these instruments of grace would result in greater disorientation. I thank God for that training.
After months of darkness, light pierced the clouds as the Holy Spirit illuminated Hebrews 12:3-11 for me. I saw that the discipline of the storm was from a loving Father who was answering my prayers. He showed me the futility of existence without him. There was no joy in anything without him; not in marriage, parenthood, or ministry. He is the Joy in all my joys. Life really is Christ, which is why death is gain.
My storm didn’t immediately stop that day, but it lost its power and dissipated over the following months. God’s Word proved a reliable instrument.
Jesus really understands what stormy darkness is like. His storms, from Gethsemane to Golgotha, were infinitely worse than anything we will ever know. And he entered them willinglyfor us, so that we would be rescued from all of our storms, especially the ultimate storm of God’s wrath against sin. That’s why he came. What a fantastic reason to celebrate and feast at Christmas!
There are some helpful things for us to learn from how Jesus battled despair. In John Piper’s message, “Battling the Unbelief of Despondency,” he offers some very practical counsel from Jesus’ example. A few other great resources on this theme would be “Job: Five Sermons on Suffering,” “Ruth: Sweet and Bitter Providence,” and the biographical messages on Charles Spurgeon, William Cowper, and David Brainerd. All of these you can listen to for free online.
If DG has been a source of strength and spiritual encouragement to you, would you consider a year-end gift to help us reach more people in 2007? We want millions more to discover that Jesus really is the Joy in all our joys. Your gift will help ensure that our outreach, delivered on the web and through extensive resources, will extend to many who find themselves in spiritual storms. By way of reminder, a tax deductible online gift in 2006 must be submitted by the 31st of December. Thank you!
At Christmas Jesus came “to give light to those who sit in darkness” (Luke 1:79). If you or a loved one is flying in a storm and despairing, remember your own perceptions, as real as they feel, are not reliable. As one who has tested them in a number of storms I can say with confidence: fly by the instruments. They will not prove faulty.
“For we walk (fly) by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7),