Flying By Feelings

by Doug Batchelor

A few years back I was doing an evangelistic series in Anderson, California. During that time, John Lomacang, my singing evangelist; his wife Angie; and I were invited to go to Crescent City and speak in preparation for a series of meetings we would be starting there.

The problem was that Anderson and Crescent City are 235 miles apart, with a crooked, two-lane road between them. I could not drive there in the morning and get back the same evening in time to continue our meetings in Anderson.

Since I am a pilot, the best solution seemed to be to fly. So I rented a plane in Redding, and early the next morning John and Angie and I arrived at the airport. I called Crescent City to make sure the airport was open and clear. It was, so we took off.

Perhaps I should explain that John and Angie had a terrific fear of flying, especially John. He was even afraid of flying in a 747, let alone in a single-engine airplane! I persuaded them, though, that they had nothing to worry about, and with some reluctance they climbed into the plane.

As we flew along, I did everything I could to assure them. It was, after all, a beautiful day and a smooth flight. But as we approached the coast where Crescent City was supposed to be, I discovered that the fog had rolled in from the ocean, and I could not see the airport. In fact, the entire town had disappeared under a blanket of fluffy white. All we saw was hundreds of miles of mountains. Then, to my dismay, I discovered the radio instruments at the Crescent City airport were not operating.

I should add that the area between Redding and Crescent City is the largest untouched wilderness still left in California. For hundreds of square miles in any direction, there's nothing but forest and mountains.

I knew that Crescent City was at the end of a river, so I went up and down the coast, following the fog line looking for a river. However, I flew around in circles so long trying to decide what to do that I lost track of where I was. I finally found a river and thought if I could fly underneath this ceiling of fog, then I could find Crescent City and the airport. Getting out would be no problem. I would just fly straight up, and after a few hundred feet of white we would break into the open blue.

I tried to act cheerful and unconcerned as I lowered the plane under the ceiling of fog and began to follow the river with mountains on both sides. It was like flying through a tunnel.

We flew along, following the river, till we got to where Crescent City was supposed to be, but instead, there was a sea underneath us. The river had turned into the Pacific Ocean! We were on our way to Japan. Much as I would have enjoyed seeing Japan, I knew I did not have enough fuel, and besides, I was supposed to be doing something else that morning!

I wondered how John and Angie were reacting to some of these changes in plans, so I looked back and saw that Angie was sleeping peacefully. I commented to John, "I'm glad to see your wife is able to relax and sleep."

He quickly responded, "She's not relaxed. She fainted!"

At this point I didn't know where the mountains were. I thought I had better just fly straight up and break through the fog and head back toward the coast. I was not instrument rated, but to get your pilot's license you need to have some training in flying by your instruments.

When you pull up into fog, you lose all sense of bearing, because you have nothing visible by which to gauge your attitude of flight. As a matter of fact, I have heard stories of pilots who flew into a cloud, and when they came out the other side, they were flying completely upside down! When you are flying at 120 miles per hour in a cloud, it's hard for your body to judge the angle at which you are traveling.

As we flew through the clouds, I thought we were heading straight up and level, but when I looked at my instruments, they said I was going down and turning. I looked at John. He didn't look any more concerned than usual, and it didn't feel like we were going down and turning. I'll confess it was a little bit of a struggle to make the decision to follow my instruments instead of my feelings. Everything in my body told me that we were going up and level, but my instruments said we were going down and turning. I had to choose whether to follow my instruments or to follow my feelings.

One thing I learned in my flight instruction was not to go by my feelings. "Trust your instruments," the instructor said over and over. So, ignoring everything I felt, I began to turn the plane in order to level my instruments. Then I pulled back on the stick and added power so that the instruments said we were going up and level.

Now John, and Angie, who had recovered, were looking at me, wondering what I was doing. "Why are you going straight up?" John asked. I explained to them that I had to follow my instruments. And it was a good thing I did, because after a few more minutes of fighting my feelings and following the instrument panel, we broke through the fog into the blue sky, and I discovered that the instruments were correct. I also noticed a range of steep mountains just off to the left where I had been turning! If I had not followed my instruments, we certainly would have crashed into a mountain or the ocean.

So it is in the Christian life. The Bible is the only safe guide to follow. We cannot trust our feelings. It's never safe to make spiritual decisions that are based only on how you feel. Feelings can be governed by a number of variables-what you've eaten, the condition of your health, or what the weather is like. All these things can change, but the Word of God is like a rock. It's a solid anchor that never moves or changes.

Our decisions must be based on what the Word says, not what everyone around us is saying. Even the norms and traditions of the church that have been accepted for many years are not a trustworthy guide. The Bible says that many things are highly esteemed by people but are an abomination to God (see Luke 16:15). If you follow your feelings, and if you follow the crowd, you will crash. It's not even safe to follow a religious crowd. Remember, it was a religious crowd that crucified Jesus.

One query that I frequently hear from new Christians is how to know whose interpretation of the Bible to follow. Every church teaches something a little different.

I sincerely believe that the biggest battle we face in understanding God's Word is simply being willing to do what it says. If we are honestly and sincerely wanting to do whatever God says, then it is God's responsibility to help us know what He wants. We need not only a willingness to do God's will; Jesus says we also need to be willing to seek, to know His will, to ask, to knock. And we should not knock just once or twice. Sometimes we need to knock until our knuckles are numb!

The Bible says, "You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). That is probably the most important commandment in the Christian life!

Some might say, "But I still have trouble understanding the Bible."

The secret to hearing and understanding God's voice is being committed and listening. You see, when a person is a born-again Christian, when he's been cleansed, then he'll hear God's voice. He may not understand at first, but the more he listens, the more he will understand.

It's like an infant. The parents lean over the crib and talk to their baby and say things like, "Mommy and Daddy love you." "Are you hungry?" The baby at first doesn't understand what his parents are saying, but he knows that they love him. The more he listens and the more he grows, the more he understands. As baby Christians, we may not understand everything in God's Word, but we understand the basics, and the more we listen, the more we understand.

When I read the Bible I found in a cave, there was a lot I didn't understand. But after reading the Gospels, I understood that God loved me. I understood that I was a big sinner and He was a big Saviour. And that was a good starting point. From there on, as I continued reading, I understood His voice better, and I was able to understand His will better.

Sometimes we have trouble understanding what God is saying because we're not willing to listen to His voice. A young lady attended a series of meetings I was conducting in Covelo, California. Night after night I could see her eyes brighten, and she was sitting on the edge of her seat. She seemed to be taking in God's Word with enthusiasm. But about three-quarters of the way through the meetings, I noticed a sudden change. She sat back in her seat with her arms folded and her eyebrows knit together. I knew something was wrong.

So I went to visit her. When I asked how she was enjoying the meetings, she said, "For the first few weeks it was tremendous. I could hear the Lord speaking to me. I was opening the Bible, and I could understand what God was saying, but then you covered a subject that I just didn't appreciate."

As we talked I discovered that God's Word went against a practice in her life that she knew she needed to change, and she had no intention of changing. So she put on the brakes. She told me that it seemed now she was not getting anything out of the meetings, and when she read the Bible it just looked like black ink on white paper.

I said, "Could it be that God is not speaking to you because you're not listening to Him?"

Being a Christian is a series of progressive steps. As long as we're willing to listen, God is willing to speak. The Bible says that if we turn away our ear from hearing the law, then even our prayers become an abomination! (see Proverbs 28:9). If we stop listening to God, He'll stop speaking to us. If there are some areas in our life to which we're plugging our ears and turning our heads, then the Lord cannot reveal new things and direct our paths.


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