I have been giving a lot of attention lately to the passage familiar to all of us in James 4:8 with its profound admonition for everyday living and especially during times of uncertainty; “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you…” And, a few verses later “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Over the past two and a half months a number of people have asked me what I plan to do after retirement. My answer has been consistently the same, “I don’t know.” But that answer is true of all of us isn’t it? That is in fact a very honest answer. In our case, I don’t know what I will be doing after retirement, and we don’t know where we will be living, so the inspired words of God through James speak well to us; “You do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
Not knowing what tomorrow holds, we are waiting on Him to see what He has in store for Sherry and me. In the meantime, with the uncertainties of tomorrow, I am intentionally focusing my attention on verse eight, which expresses the very best thing I can be doing at this moment, “drawing near to Him” and listening for His still small voice, knowing that our today’s and tomorrow’s are in His hands.
Some may think it strange not to have a plan set in place before making such a monumental decision, but like you I believe that our days are in the hands of our Lord, and we believe that He will direct our steps as He will direct yours.
Not knowing what’s in our future is not nearly as important to me right now as knowing what’s in your future. I have loved you with the whole heart and my desire for you is wholly fixed on what God has planned for you. I know that it is good! And, I know that He will lead you every step of the way along His paths of righteousness, if you also will “draw near to Him” and seek His will with a whole heart. We must guard our hearts.
Not knowing what’s next can be both disconcerting and discomfiting for some. When we fail to heed the lesson of the psalmist in Psalm 121 we set ourselves up for all sorts of unwelcome consequences. The simple lesson there is familiar to every one of us: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber…. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Ps 121:1-3, 8)
Keep your eyes on Him! He will provide all the help you need, and He will guard and protect your going out and our coming in throughout your life! Without our eyes, mind, and heart fixed on Him we quickly become ‘spiritually disoriented’. Up becomes down, down becomes up, forward becomes backwards, backwards becomes forward, and right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right.
Many times as I’ve considered the possibility of such things happening to Christians and to their churches, my memory brings back the lesson I learned from the tragic death of John F Kennedy Jr. in 1999. Some of you will remember the events of that night on July 16, when Kennedy, his wife and her sister died in the airplane he was piloting. The three of them were returning home to Hyannis from a wedding in New Jersey. Just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard the plane flew into the water.
The official investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Kennedy fell victim to ‘spatial disorientation’ while descending in the dark that night to the airport. The records show that Kennedy did not hold an instrument rating and was only certified to fly under visual flight rules. Together, the weather and the poor lighting conditions made visual flight extremely difficult.
‘Spatial disorientation’ cost him, his wife, and her sister, their lives that night. I remember the news reports following that tragic accident describing ‘spatial disorientation’ in an airplane as having no sense of the direction one is flying in. ‘Spatial disorientation’ caused JFK Jr. to fly his plane into the ocean thinking he was on the correct path to the airport. It was a fatal mistake.
That incident and the lesson it taught me has been drawn back from my memory bank a number of times when I have been seeking direction and recognizing, as Proverb sixteen says, “The plans of the mind belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. …A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
Psalm 121 strengthens this lesson even more strongly, not as a wise suggestion, but as an absolute necessity all the time, and especially when you don’t know where you are, what you are suppose to be doing, or where you’re going.
There is one other ‘flying lesson’ I learned (as a non-pilot) many years ago that has been valuable in my Christian life. In fact it dates back some sixty years. Our home church in Virginia Beach was located about six miles from Oceana Naval Air Base. We were often in the circular flight pattern for fighter jets practicing non-stop ‘touch and go” air craft carrier landings on the runways. Noisy is not a strong enough word for the sound of their jet engines and the rattling of windows they caused, but strangely you do become somewhat use to it after a while.
Because of our location we always had a few pilots in the congregation. I remember one sermon preached by our pastor telling us what pilots are instructed to do if they find themselves lost in the sky. Subsequently I learned that these Five Lost Procedure Steps may be asked on the licensing test for pilots of small planes. They are also very wise and applicable steps when Christians become ‘Spiritually Disoriented’.
The remedy for both lost conditions is expressed as “The 5 C’s”: Confess, Conserve, Climb, Communicate, and Comply.
CONFESS: Admit to yourself that you are lost. You’re not really sure where you are. Once you admit to yourself that you are lost and need help you are ready to be found. ‘Spiritual reorientation’ also begins at this point’. Remember James 4 above, makes it clear that you are really not in control after all, “You are but a mist”. Don’t pretend to know more than you know, or to be more than you are, and don’t downplay your need for God’s help.
CONSERVE: Conserving fuel is the pilot’s first proactive task. The rule-of-thumb for pilots is to throttle back to the best glide speed. Your flight ends when your fuel runs out. For us non-pilots applying this point, ‘spiritual reorientation’ may mean simply stopping where you are and “Wait on The Lord”, not panicking and not making any hasty or unwise ‘feeling’ decisions.
CLIMB: Gently increasing altitude a few thousand feet may give you a better perspective of features on the ground below you. It will also give you better communication and navigation range. This is my “Draw Near to God” point. Things become far clearer when you can rise above your circumstances and take another look at the big picture.
COMMUNICATE: After you’ve taken steps 1-3 get on your radio communicate with the Air Route Traffic Control Center and follow their instructions. They will assign you a transponder code and be able to quickly locate your plane. I ask, is it necessary to restate the importance of communicating with God in Prayer about every thing? ‘Spiritual reorientation’ will never happen for you if you fail to stay in communication with God when you are feeling lost (and at all other times as well!).
COMPLY: When directions are given you by Air Traffic Control to a nearby airport, do what they tell you to do! To complete your ‘spiritual reorientation’ ‘comply’ means to “obey”. If we refuse to obey The Word of God when we know what it says, we may well fly our metaphorical plane into the ocean of despair and have no one to blame but ourselves.
“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”
Pastor Ralph Wetherington.