Guided Gliding

Against the majestic backdrop of Colorado’s lush Front Range Foothills, USAFA single engine Piper Cubs hummed over my head.  An early morning errand found me on the Air Force Academy at the north end of Colorado Springs.  After several chilly overcast June days causing me to debate whether or not to turn the heat back on, sun-kissed blue skies were a welcomed relief.

The familiar sight of small aircraft each towing a glider greets me often on the Academy.  Yet today I was particularly captivated by the exercise. 

I recalled a recent conversation with a dear friend who earnestly longs to be in the center of God’s will but who, like many Christ followers…myself included…often wonders if he is on the right path.   Questions were posed, “How do we ever know for sure which way God is leading?  What if we mess it up?” 

In this moment of pondering these questions anew, God directed my eyes to the aerial display.  I watched in fascination as the planes pulled gliders attached by a very strong but lightweight cable, almost invisible from below, across the Colorado sky.

USAFA gliders are structurally identical to Piper Cubs  with one distinct exception—gliders have no engine.  Only the Piper Cub has power. To become airborne, a glider is totally dependent upon the airplane.  Whether a glider rises or falls is within the careful control of the plane’s pilot.  Fortunately, because of extensive training completed by the Piper pilot, he is skilled to know precisely what he is doing.  A glider pilot may have complete confidence in his instructor’s watchful eye. 

The two travel in sync together, aided by constant radio contact back & forth.  The plane leads, rises, then levels off while the glider pilot is tasked simply with following and learning.   The ultimate goal is to teach new pilots the most basic fundamentals of flight in the most pure and simple method possible.  Zoomies, as these cadets will be referred to upon graduation, are learning to maximize the ability to fly without a power source of their own.

The glider pilot may position his hands on his steering yoke or stick, but he accepts that while he is in tow the controls are not significantly at his command.  He can steer left or right to some degree but primarily he is there to follow at a designated distance on a predetermined path, trusting in the power and wisdom of the one who leads.  He is where he is, high above a mundane concrete runway, soaring to new heights only because he accepts his position of attachment and followership.  In submission and following, he is secure. 

As soon as a glider detaches from the airplane, it will begin to fall to the earth.  Powerless to regain altitude all the pilot can do is glide, trying to keep his vessel steady as he descends.  As it moves closer and closer to earth, prevalent winds determine where the glider lands.  Typically at USAFA it is to the South.

As followers of Christ we must accept that our power to live a life honoring to Him comes from a source other than self.  At the moment of conversion to Jesus, we are gifted with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” Acts 1:8

 The Spirit alone, dwelling in us lifts us to new heights and causes us to follow on the right path.

 “Know you not you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  I Co 6:19

 “I will put my Spirit in you and cause you to walk in my statutes and you shall keep my commandments and live by them.” Ezekiel 36:27

The connection, much like the cable between aircraft, is intensely strong to hold us but not heavy to weigh us down.  It never becomes a burden.  In our attachment to the Spirit we are given freedom to make adjustments in our positions.  Some decisions to dip to the left or curve right are within our purview but they will not significantly alter the course we travel.

More importantly, in a posture of submission under His watchful eye we cannot mess up the journey. 

 “I will teach you and guide you in the way in which you should go.  I will keep you under my eye.”  Psalm 32:8 NEB

Only when we detach from the power source do we begin to lose altitude and struggle to keep our lives steady on our own.  This is when we risk veering off course and possibly landing South of God’s path for us or worse, we could crash and burn.

When our connection is tight and communication channels are open to hear from our Instructor, we may relax and be at peace.  We don’t fret over which way to turn but instead we trust fully in the wisdom of the One who leads.  The more we look straight ahead keeping our hands off the controls, the more we are pulled in the right direction. 

“You gave your Spirit to instruct them…” Ne. 9:20

We are not abandoned, at the mercy of every wind blowing our way.  Rather, we are securely tied by the bonds of transformation as the Spirit moves in our lives to make us more like the One we follow.  Whether we rise or whether we fall depends entirely upon our willingness to remain firmly attached to our power source.  He leads.  He guides.  We share in the thrill of the adventure, hanging on for the ride.   In so doing, we ascend to heights we could never have accomplished on our own.

In Dry Places

Miles of beach with no ocean, mountains with no trees.  Sounds like the worst of both worlds.  I mean, I love the mountains and living in the Colorado Rockies I regularly spend time hiking and/or driving admiring the beauty of the mountainous terrain, trees and wildlife.  And at least once or twice a year I run away from home to get an “ocean fix” somewhere to listen to crashing waves, gather sea shells and wade into the coolness of the sea.  So it was strange to find myself in the Great Sand Dunes Wilderness with nothing but mountains of sand. No waves, no water, not even a single sea shell.  No trees, no wildlife, no vegetation.  Just sand. 

 

From the parking lot, the dunes don’t appear that challenging.  But within the first several steps of walking into deep shifting sand I was struck with the thought that this is not going to be an ordinary hill climb.  It was a bit like Michael Jackson’s moonwalk…I knew my feet were moving but they didn’t seem to be taking me forward.  I pressed on looking up to the top and calculating that I should reach it within half an hour.  That was my first mistake…miscalculating the “cost” of the experience.

 

Jesus said, “Who among you that does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple; for which of you intending to build…doesn’t sit down first and count the cost to determine if he has sufficient to finish?”  Luke 14:27-28

 

It didn’t take long to determine that this hike in & out of dunes would be much more strenuous than I originally expected.  Shoes full of sand & feeling as if I was navigating with cinder blocks on my feet, there were times when I congratulated myself for going 30 steps without stopping to catch my breath.  It didn’t help that I was there at the hottest part of the day.  I’ll have to ration my water supply or I’m going to run out, I told myself.  Not being able to drink in as much as I wanted was miserable.

 

I am nothing if not determined and so I continued for a solid hour to what I perceived was the peak.  Every so often I would turn to look down the mountain of sand at the poor souls just starting out, appearing the size of gnats, and because I could see how far I’d come already I was encouraged to keep going higher to the finish.  I was within a few feet of it when I was hit with the reality of a false pinnacle.  The climb had been so steep to this point that the view beyond was obstructed.  Only when I reached the “top” did I see that I had gone barely half way through this journey…there was at least another mile ahead of me that I had not expected.  My spirit sank and then it rebelled…that’s it.  I’m done.  No more.  I sat down with my half empty bottle of water and a piddly little snack bar that wouldn’t even begin to sooth my hunger pains…I wasn’t planning on being up there through lunch so I failed to bring enough to nourish my body.  I told myself the view from here is good enough.  I’ve got nothing to prove.   I’m not going on any further.  I sat down in the hot sand & complained by text message to a friend…

 

Ever found yourself there?  Sitting down in the middle of a half-finished journey, complaining that it’s just too hard to go on?  Possessing a sense of smugness as you compare yourself to others not as far along the climb?  Experiencing the sensation of going nowhere while the sands of life’s daily challenges keep shifting?  Heat pounding you as you struggle to climb out of a pit?  Feeling beat up by false peaks of life, where every time you think you’ve conquered some mountain in your path you find a bigger one up ahead?  So overwhelmed you’re able to move only short distances at a time before you feel the wind knocked out of you again?  Hungering with only a small snack in your spiritual belly because you failed to plan for the long haul? Parched & thirsting without living water to sustain you? 

 

It’s in times of walking through the barren dry places that God speaks…

 

I give Living Water  John 4:10, 14

I am the Bread of Life.  John 6: 35, 48

They shall not hunger or thirst neither shall the heat nor sun smite them.  For he that has mercy on them shall lead them, even by springs of water shall he guide them.   Isaiah 49:10

 

The refreshment of the Holy Spirit never leaves us.  Our place is to hunger & thirst after Christ, to come to the fountain and be filled, to never stop hungering & thirsting after the righteousness of God as we trudge in & out of the valleys & peaks of this thing called life.  We can give up when faced with ominous mountains in our path, telling ourselves that this view of God is “good enough”.  But what if we miss heaven, the angels, the Hallelujah Chorus?  What if we miss Christ altogether?  Let me encourage you to read Matthew 25:1-13 and diligently study the parable of the foolish virgins & the wise virgins.  Discover for yourself what it means to have a heart of good intentions but still not be prepared for the final part of your journey.

 

Exhausted, discouraged, hungry & frustrated I wanted the hike to end.  I justified why I didn’t need to go on any further.  But the words of a friend urged me in reply to my earlier whiney text message…“Quit texting and CLIMB! You can do it, Di !”  You can do it!  Someone believed in me at my lowest point and that was enough to keep me moving.  Three more ridges of false peaks and 95 minutes later I found myself at the pinnacle flat on my back making sand angels and singing the Hallelujah Chorus.     I was having a moment.  I had finally arrived.  A short while later came a second text from my friend… “look behind you at one set of footprints…”  The symbolism of Christ carrying me brought me to tears.

 

It has taken a couple of days to get the sand out of my car and my clothes and my ears!  But the exhilaration of reaching the top remains fresh in my spirit.  And the message of hope that inspired me is not forgotten. 

 

When you find yourself in the dry desolate places, listen to the voice of hope from your truest Friend, the One who tells you that you do not have to go it alone.  He loves you so much that He cannot get you out of His thoughts! 

 

“How precious are your thoughts toward me, oh God.  How great is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they are more in number than the grains of sand…”  Psalm 139: 17-18

 

In dry places, know that it is He who carries you through the desolation and He who will deliver you from it. 

 

“I am He…I will carry you; I have made you & I will bear the burden.  I will carry you and bring you to deliverance.”  Isaiah 46: 4