I shared a couple of days ago about a book that has impacted me lately- GodStories by Andrew Wilson. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to check it out.
One of the things I love about the book is the way it explains theological truths using everyday examples and metaphors that are so clear and accessible, and one of the examples from the book spoke to me powerfully this week.
As a child, I vividly remember wanting to be able to fly. I believe that’s quite common, but I was the child who would repeatedly climb on top of things and jump off, flapping my arms, convinced that if I just practiced enough, one day I would manage to do it.
Of course I never succeeded.
Wilson likens this to our attempts to please God by our own good deeds. We can do our best to be good, we can put in time and effort trying to reach the standard, but no matter how hard we try, we will fail. It is an impossible goal.
On the other hand if we board an aeroplane, suddenly we have the ability to fly- not because of our efforts but because of our position. In fact, the act of boarding the plane is an admission that we can’t do it ourselves. Once we are on the plane we don’t have to sit there flapping our arms; we don’t have to do anything to make it happen. We just have to sit back and let the pilot take control and trust him to get us there.
In the same way, once we are in Christ, we are relying on his efforts, not our own. Because we are in Christ, God looks at us and sees Jesus’ righteousness. There is nothing we have to do. We just have to remain in him and trust that he will get us there.
It’s a powerful illustration of salvation by grace, but it speaks to me on another level too.
It speaks to me because, when it comes to going on a plane, I am scared of flying. The last time I was on a plane was 13 years ago, and it was not a pleasant experience. It’s not so much the flying itself that bothers me- it’s more the feeling of being trapped and of not being in control. Honestly, I’d rather flap my arms and get there in my own strength than rely on someone else!
But my word for the year is “surrender” and in September I am going to face my fear. I have the chance to go to play at a music festival along with musicians from several other European countries, and it is too good an opportunity to miss. I can’t allow fear to hold me back from doing something I so want to do, so I have committed to the trip. So far I’ve mostly avoided thinking about the flying, but when I do, I feel uneasy.
Strangely, this metaphor makes me feel better about it though. It’s almost as if it is working on me the opposite way round from how it was intended in the book.
Thinking of the plane as a picture of being “in Christ” begins to transform it in my mind from a place where I will feel trapped to a place of safety and security.
Jesus says of his sheep, of those who are in him: “No one can snatch them away from me.” (John 10:28) David writes in Psalm 139:7: “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!”
You could look at that as being trapped- once we are in Christ, there’s no way out- but why would we want a way out? We choose to come to him in the first place because we know we don’t stand a chance by ourselves. He is the only one who can get us where we want to go- he is the way, the truth and the life.
In the same way, getting on that plane is something I will choose to do because I can’t get there in my own strength. It is the only way to get where I want to go. And once I’m up there I certainly won’t be trying to get out!
Like the decision to follow Jesus, it is does mean surrender and letting go of control, and that isn’t always easy, but somehow thinking about flying in that way helps me feel a bit better about it.
And I’m also encouraged by the words of Psalm 139 that ultimately it is God I need to put my trust in, and that he will be with me wherever I go:
“You see me when I travel and when I rest at home… You go before me and follow me… If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.” (Psalm 139:3,5,9-10)