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One Things and Airplane Wings

August 26, 2009

My wife is from the wild west. (Seriously. Her family has the remnants of a pony express station in their backyard!) Among other things, this means we load the kids up for a cross-country flight at least twice a year to go visit our “Reno family.” I’ve noticed something interesting on these flights. From about two – three years old, both Kendra and Carson would get nervous during taxi and especially on take-off. And if you’ve flown you can understand why – the whine of the engine goes up a couple of octaves, the force of the acceleration pushes you back against you seat, and outside the window things start bumping by faster and faster. It is in those moments, with their eyes glued to the window and their little hands groping to find mine, that they are experientially, consciously aware of the fact that we are really starting to move!

But just as interesting, for me, is to watch how they relax and begin to play or fall asleep (God be praised!) once we reach our cruising altitude. It is interesting because we are traveling through the air two to three times as fast (350-450 miles an hour) at 30,000 feet than we were at take-off (around 150 miles an hour)! So if they were nervous on the way up to 150 miles an hour, why aren’t they freaking out at 400 miles an hour?! Because they are no longer aware of how fast we are moving. Once we have completed the climb, if there is no turbulence, it feels more like we are hanging motionless by a string than that we are covering almost three football fields every second. Our tremendous rate of speed remains true of us for the duration of the flight, but our conscious awareness of it fades with the scenery.

One of David’s designs in Psalm 27, I think, is to help us see that our experience of the presence of the Lord can be a lot like Kendra and Carson on the airplane. In terms of our objective reality we are never outside of or away from the presence of our omnipresent God. Whether David ascends to the heavens, makes his bed in the depths, or dwells in the uttermost part of the earth, it will not be far enough to flee from His presence (Ps. 139)! Jesus states this same truth positively, as a promise, in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Indeed, the fulfillment of this incredible promise is why it is “better for us that [He] go away”, because when He ascended He poured out His Spirit through whom He now relates to each of us individually, everywhere, all the time, thus fulfilling His commitment never to leave us or forsake us (Jn. 16:7; 14:15-20; Heb. 13:5).

But as constant as our objective reality is, our subjective experience of His presence, those days when we walk with the confidence that He is with us, can vary significantly. In fact, like my kids are aware of their rate of speed for a relatively short amount time (take-off and landing) compared to the overall flight, it may be true for many of us that our conscious awareness of the presence of the Lord is relatively rare. So one of David’s reasons for beginning and ending Psalm 27 with confident, conscious assertions of the presence of God is to provoke us to pursue this same manifest presence in our current situation. We want to be able to say more than that “God is light.” We want to be able to say “the Lord is my light, and my salvation, He is the stronghold of my life.” How do we get there from here?

Verses 4 and 8 of Psalm 27 are key for teaching us how to walk as David does in verses 1 and 13-14. Namely, we continually seek the presence of the One who has promised to be with us continually (Ps. 105:4; Ps 139:7)! Note this: ours is not a seeking after His presence because it is lost. We can no more “make” God be with us than my kids can make themselves go 400 miles an hour in an airplane. It is a seeking on the subjective side, a seeking that targets our awareness of what is now and has always been true of us. It is a stepping out on the wing of an airplane going 400 miles an hour! We step out on the wing not to make it go faster, but to experientially and personally engage with what is true of us – namely, “I am traveling at an incredible rate of speed, and have been even all that time it felt like I was hanging motionless in the air!”

So we can think of the Lord’s invitation in vs. 8 to “seek my face” as our pilot’s command to his bored and despairing passengers to step out on the wing! Sitting there in your seat, late for your meeting, feeling like you aren’t even moving, we can get frustrated and impatient. But out on the wing, in touch with and thrilled by how fast we are moving, the way we think and talk about our circumstances will radically change! He knows what is true of us, and He knows what we need to do for our spirit to touch this truth. So He commands us – “seek My face!” “Step out on the wing!”

Vs. 4, then, is an unpacking of David’s “yes” from the second half of vs. 8. To seek His face so that we walk in the precious, powerful, personal presence of the Lord, looks like giving ourselves to the 5 or 6 things David celebrates in the different phrases of vs. 4. Which, for the sake of space, we will take up in a following post…For now, it would be enough for you to pause for a moment before you get back to doing all you have to do today, and thank the Lord for His gracious, unfailing presence with you and for you. He is not only with you through the circumstances of your day, as your Good Shepherd He is leading you down a perfect path (Ps. 23:3)! If it has been a while since you have felt the rush of exhilaration that comes as you are aware that you are moving with Him, if you long to walk, even today, with an increased awareness of all He is for you, tell Him! Ask Him to take you by the hand and lead you out on the wing!

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One Comment
  1. Mark permalink

    I love that description, Nathan! It reminds me of something I read from Wayne Grudem last week about the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit’s presence is always with believers, but makes that presence known to us to greater or lesser degrees depending on how much we seek him or how hungry we are for his presence. So I guess being hungry for his presence would be “stepping out on the wing”!

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