When flying, an aircraft pilot experiences many different kinds of weather conditions. One of the worst occurs when he is unable to either see the horizon or the ground. Points of reference that have guided him disappear from sight. His perceptions become unreliable. He no longer is sure which way is up or down. He is experiencing “spatial disorientation”. Spatial disorientation can be deadly; this phenomenon is thought to have caused the death of John F. Kennedy Jr.
To overcome spatial disorientation a pilot must be trained to use his cockpit instruments. He has to trust them when he can’t see the way ahead. They will tell him what is real. Because of the likelihood that it will happen, flight instructors spend time teaching their student pilots to fly by instruments alone. They must fly on autopilot, even when it appears to be totally nonsensical. Using GPS navigation tools, the autopilot system can safely bring the plane to its destination.
The same effect can happen in our spiritual lives. There are many times we face difficulties. God may then seem very far away and distant from us. We can experience spiritual disorientation in our lives. And it can be just as deadly to our spiritual lives as spatial disorientation is for the pilot of a plane. These are the times we need to let our spiritual autopilot system, faith, take over. But too often we have not effectively listened to our flight instructor, the Holy Spirit and followed his leading. If our faith and trust in God is not actively growing, we will not be prepared for the battles ahead. Thus our faith is weakened, and may not be able to pull us through the difficult periods of our lives.
The life of the prophet Daniel illustrates the results of living on spiritual autopilot. What allowed him to function in this way? Times of spiritual preparation and discipline. His decision to refuse the king’s meat was not spontaneous; he resolved in his heart to decline the king’s food. Many times he was in situations where he had a choice as to whether he would live on faith or not. Each time his faith was increased, making it easier to run on spiritual autopilot during times of crisis. During the long desert march from Jerusalem to Babylon he never lost faith in the fact that God was with him, thus he was willing to make a stand for God in his new environment. He and his friends refused to eat of the king’s food, and he declined to take credit for the ability to interpret the king’s dream. He told one king he was going insane and another that his reign was over, never compromising his faith in the pronouncements that could have easily cost him his life.. During the ordeal over the fiery furnace, his friends went on autopilot, as did Daniel when threatened with the lion’s den. Their practice in the little things prepared them for the larger crises when they came.
A pilot must spend long hours in flight and on a simulator, pass knowledge and practical exams as well as demonstrate flight proficiency before being certified for flying by instrument. In our spiritual lives we must also spend many hours with God in study and prayer in order to be able to spontaneously switch over to spiritual autopilot when the storms of life buffet us. We must be able to trust him even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. How’s your autopilot system? During rocky times will you switch on faith or experience spiritual disorientation?