I began learning to fly airplanes as a senior in high school, and while most young people that age would jump at the opportunity to learn to fly, I only started taking lessons because my grandfather (who was then and is still a high-time pilot and a lover of all things aviation) had offered to put me through flight school. He told me he believed it was a skill that I would one day need in ministry. So I trusted him, kept all my apprehensions to myself, and agreed to start flying.
The lessons began, and suffice it to say, I got off to a turbulent start. Right away I felt inadequate and intimidated, failing to really comprehend the basic concepts of flight. After about twenty hours of flight instruction, the time came for me to solo, which meant I would be in the airplane all alone for the first time. But instead of feeling excited to be in that moment, all I felt was drastically unprepared and more nervous than I’d ever been before.
Theoretically, it would be very easy. All I was required to do was two touch-and-go landings then a third landing to a full stop. But it didn’t go well. On my first pass around the pattern, I didn’t even make it all the way down to the ground. The second time around, determined to actually make contact with the runway this time, I came down so hard that when the wheels hit the ground, I ballooned back up in the air like a rubber ball. I bounced up and down the runway until I regained control, and then powered up to do it all over again. The second landing was better, but not by much. On the next go around, I looked out the cockpit window and saw a fire truck down below pulling up on the taxi way, and I figured either someone saw the first landing and thought they’d better call for help in case it got worse, or perhaps someone had called them preemptively before I ever took off. Either way, it didn’t do much to boost my confidence. I managed to complete the solo, but it wasn’t pretty, and I didn’t walk away that day feeling like a better pilot. I walked away just thankful to be walking away.
Later in my training, it was time for me to cross-country solo, which was even more nerve racking than the first. This time I would actually have to leave the airport pattern, plan a course that included one or more legs of at least fifty nautical miles, and return safely. I had so little confidence in my ability to do any of this correctly that I found an airport that was fifty-one miles away and located just off the same highway that my home airport was on. I essentially “drove” from one airport to the other, keeping a watchful eye on the highway just beneath me. After I flew that route a few times, I decided to be brave and plan a trip that would require actual navigation. Less than half an hour into that flight, I was completely and utterly lost. Unable to pull over and ask for directions, I tried to figure out on my own where I was and where I was headed, but nothing was making sense to me. By the grace of God and with some help from Air Traffic Control, I made it back home just as the sun was setting. When I walked into the lobby of the flight school, I saw my instructor waiting there for me. “How’d it go?” he asked.
“Fine,” I answered as I speed-walked past him and headed straight for my car. I never told him I got lost, and it was a very long time before I told anyone else about it either. I was embarrassed. I was rattled. But most of all, I was afraid. So, shortly after that, I quit flying, convinced that I just wasn’t cut out for it.
A couple years later, I talked myself into going back to flight school, but only to find that my time away hadn’t helped anything, and I was no better than when I had tried before. Somehow I did manage to get my private pilot’s license, and I even went on to get my multi-engine and instrument ratings, narrowly passing my check rides each time. But still, I had no confidence in the cockpit and continued to make big mistakes, which only added to my fears and the belief that I had no business flying airplanes. So in August of 2002, I quit. Again.
In November of 2009, almost a year before Sarah and I launched into our ministry, the Lord dealt with us to take a step of faith out of the commercial aviation system and to trust Him to provide us with an airplane to travel in as we ministered around the United States. Well, we did and He did. We began the ministry in September of 2010, and less than six months later, we were blessed with a beautiful twin-engine Cessna. Then, two years later, we were blessed again with yet another airplane—a Citation 500 jet. Within the first two years of this ministry, we’d been given not one but two airplanes! This was miraculous, and we were so thankful.
When we got the jet, we turned around and gave away the twin engine to a ministry that had been believing God for their airplane. A couple years later, the Lord led us to give the jet to another ministry. Of course, this meant that we would be without an airplane, but we’d already seen the Lord give us two, so we thought it would be only a short while before the next one would land in our laps. But in June of 2016, after two years or more of being on the airlines again, Sarah and I finally had an honest conversation with each other about what we believed was potentially keeping us from receiving the airplane God wanted us to have.
“Do you think that it has anything to do with Him telling you to start flying again?” she asked. As much as I didn’t want the answer to be yes, I knew that it was.
About a year prior to that conversation, I had sensed in my heart that the Holy Spirit was leading me to get back into my flight training and to finish what I had started all those years ago. But I wasn’t just reluctant to obey; I was outright obstinate and unwilling to comply. Months and months went by with this leading still in my heart while I tried my best to ignore it or wish it away. But He never left me alone about it. Finally, I got honest with God, with my wife, and with myself when I said, “Do you want to know why I don’t want to fly again? I’m afraid! I’m afraid I’m not going to be any good. I’m afraid I’m going to mess up again. I’m afraid to be the guy flying with my family in the back. I’m afraid.”
Being afraid was bad enough. But allowing that fear to stop me from obeying God was something I was unwilling to live with any longer. I decided then and there that no matter how I felt about it and regardless of my past experience, I would obey God. That day in June, Sarah and I settled in our hearts that we would do whatever it took as a family for me to fly again, believing that this simple act of obedience would give God access into our lives to provide us with the equipment we needed to get our job done. That same week, a dear friend of our family who happened to be a well-qualified flight instructor came to me and told me that he believed God wanted me to resume flying and offered to instruct me at no charge. So I took him up on his offer and made plans to fly again.
What happened in the days that followed was nothing short of a miracle. On an early August morning, I got back in the cockpit, and from the moment we fired up the single engine of that little Cessna 172, I experienced something completely different than I had previously. It was joy. I was actually enjoying it! Not only that, but my instructor was very complimentary and excited at how well I was doing, much to his surprise and much more to mine. I landed that day with a smile on my face and an excitement about going up again.
We flew together that entire month, and each time we went up, it got easier and I got better. One day we were out flying, and he had me land at the same airport I had done my first solo at all those years ago. “Take me to the hangar,” he said. “I’m going in, and you’re going solo.”
I dropped him off, and as I taxied out to the threshold of the runway, I felt the anointing to fly and the peace of God come all over me sitting in that cockpit all by myself. I was a far cry from the nerve-racked teenage boy that sat in that same spot once before. I prayed, powered up, took off, and did three beautiful landings. It was a miracle, and if you had seen my landings all those years ago, you’d say it was a miracle too!
As I’ve continued to fly over the last few months, I’ve passed my biennial flight review, received my complex and multi-engine aircraft endorsement, and what’s more, I have come to enjoy it more than I ever dreamed I would have. I’ve even had the opportunity to share this story in church services, and when I do, I find it hard to hold back the tears each time. God has so clearly gone to work in me both to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
I’ve shared this story with you for two primary reasons. First, I want my experience to inspire you to go back and face again whatever God has called you to do. If you’ve got a list of excuses for putting it off, then it’s time to get honest with Him and with yourself. If you’ve been afraid, then deal with the fear instead letting it deal with you. Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve had a bad experience with it the first time which has caused you to be reluctant to go for it again. But you must never let your experience limit your expectation. The Bible says in Psalm 27:14 that if you will be of good courage, then God will strengthen your heart; and if there is anything you’re going to need, it is a strong heart. Because I was afraid, it took courage for me to begin flying airplanes again, but when I took that first step, God came in and strengthened my heart, flushing out all that fear and filling me with peace and joy. I know He’ll do the same for you.
The second reason I’m sharing these things with you is because I believe the Lord instructed me to make the partners and friends of our ministry aware of the steps we are taking in the field of aviation and what we are presently believing God for. I am asking you to be in agreement with me as I continue my training, and to trust God to equip us with the right airplane to get the job done. I am looking forward to keeping you updated as we progress in this faith project.
My friends, there’s a unique feeling that comes with sitting in the airplane, looking down the center line of the runway, and pushing the throttle to full power. There’s nothing like that moment when the thrust moving you forward overcomes the weight holding you down. But every takeoff must first be prepared for. I believe it is the will of God for you and I to take off in the coming new year and to ascend to new heights in His plan for our lives and for this ministry. So let’s begin now fueling up on His Word, finding out from the Holy Spirit what heading we are to take, and getting rid of excess weight and drag that would hinder our lift. If you’ll make all the necessary preparations, then soon you, too, will hear the words from God that every pilot loves to hear: “You’re clear for takeoff.”