A Sermon Illustration that Has Often Saved Me from Error in Making Decisions

Years ago on a personal retreat, I read a book called The Will of God.[1] It was during a time of questioning my calling and evaluating my own walk with the Lord, and I was considering next steps. At the end of the book I found this illustration from a fighter pilot—an illustration to which I still run when I’m tested with big decisions:

For a number of reasons, most of our flying was done in formations of aircraft—three, six, twelve, or eighteen in a group. . . . The flight leader had to keep the airplanes in close formation in order to guide them through maneuvers. So, we flew very close together for effectiveness and for safety.

 Formations cannot maneuver as easily as a single aircraft, and we would sometimes be in the clouds for short distances. The visibility would be almost zero. Sometimes one could not see any part of the next plane. There was an uneasy feeling when the clouds were full of airplanes with fourteen-foot propellers turning eighteen hundred revolutions per minute.

 We trimmed the aircraft control surfaces to remain in formation with the lead plane even with “hands off” the controls. We did this while we were in the clear. Then, when we entered the clouds the planes would maintain their relative positions for a reasonably short time even if we lost sight of the other planes in the clouds. The secret was to have the airplane on course and steady before entering the clouds. Then, when visibility was lost, we kept everything just like it was. No climbing, turning, or diving. No changes! Straight ahead. The undisciplined pilot was tempted to bolt. That would have led to certain disaster. The safest course: Go right on doing what you were doing.[2]

The point is this: our responsibility is to walk with the Lord faithfully and fully. We set our sights on Him, focus our lives toward Him, direct the world to Him—and we stay committed and focused even when storm clouds gather and we can’t fully see where we’re going. That is, we set our instruments in the clear and trust them in the clouds.

When we’re not walking with the Lord in the clear, we’re already not prepared for the storms. If we are walking with the Lord, though, what we don’t do is adjust our instruments just because we’re in the storm. If we do that, we might find ourselves moving in the wrong direction once the skies have cleared up again.


[1] Morris Ashcraft, Will of God (Nashville: Broadman, 1980).

[2] Ibid., 142-143. Used with permission. 

1 Comment

  • Neil Norheim says:

    As a private pilot, I was taught during instrument training to always trust your instruments and cross-check continually. If I trusted only my kinesthetic senses, I was in trouble almost immediately. Thanks for the reminder to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

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