(NOTE: This is a rewrite of an earlier posting.)
While trying to absorb the preacher’s words as he extolled the power of praise in our worship, my mind wandered to a poem written in 1940 by a young spitfire pilot who died soon afterward. “High Flight” was required reading when I was in public school.
And the poem reminded me that I used to spend a lot of time around and in airplanes without engines. After earning my glider license I was quite active in one of the largest soaring clubs in Canada. My “personal bests” include a flight of some five and one-half hours duration, and on another occasion a distance flight of some three hundred plus kilometers. It is with fond memories that I recall some of the most intimate times I have spent with the Lord have been while alone in a fiberglass cocoon several thousand feet above the ground where I could figuratively “put out my hand and touch the face of God”.
A short description of the dynamics of soaring flight would probably be helpful for the analogy I want to make. The flight of ANY airplane is sustained by the lift generated by its wing surfaces as they move forward through the surrounding air. To maintain flight, the sailplane is always descending through its local block of air. If, however, that block of air happens to be rising, then the overall rate of descent of the sailplane is decreased; and if the air is rising faster than the sailplane is descending through it, then the net result is that the sailplane gains altitude. The challenge of flying modern sailplanes is not in the flying, for the Wright brothers did that a very long time ago, but in maintaining and gaining altitude which can be used to prolong the flight in time and distance.
Finding the rising air is the secret to prolonging soaring flight. Solar power heats the surface of the earth, which in turn warms the air above it. That warm air begins to rise in a bubble or column called a thermal which can rise to several thousand feet above the surface and provide good lift for sailplanes and soaring birds.
It is the maintaining and gaining of altitude in soaring flight that I thought of as I listened to that preacher. In many ways soaring in a glider or sailplane can be likened to soaring in the spirit. Some of the “dynamics” are similar. Sailplanes are like Christians in many ways.
Just as the glider needs to leave the ground and get into its preferred medium to become the sleek and graceful soaring machine that it was designed to be, Christians need to leave their earthbound restraints in order to enter the closer fellowship with Jesus that we were designed to enjoy. The surge of power from the airplane which tows the glider aloft to begin its flight could be compared to the lifting power of the pastor or the worship leader and musicians as they endeavour to assist us to commune more closely with the Trinity.
Once the glider has released from the tow-plane, it can no longer rely on that power to keep it airborne. It must find rising air that will keep it aloft. As the sun warms the earth and the air to give lift, so also the Son warms our hearts and spirits to give us lift. When the sailplane stays in that rising air, it too rises; when it leaves the lift, the inevitable descent begins. While we Christians stay in the warm glow of praise of the Son, we too are lifted to ever greater heights of worship as we approach the “Holy of Holies”; if we leave His presence, our descent is as inevitable as that of the glider. But, like the glider, our descent does not have to be terminal. As the glider can re-enter the thermal lift, we have the option of re-entering the lifting power of the son and once again we can “soar on wings like eagles” into His very throne room.
Sun powered thermal lift is dependable only as long as the sun shines. When the sun sets at night, or on cloudy overcast days, there is no lift. The glider can still fly when there is no lift available, but the flight is short lived. After release from the tow-plane, the descent begins immediately and the flight comes to its conclusion before the craft has had a chance to soar. We Christians also have our cloudy days. We are lifted by the efforts of others only to find ourselves drifting back to the clay and mud. Without the sustaining power of the Son, there is no way that we can maintain our “flight”.
Some Christians are like “self-launching” sailplanes, requiring no tow-plane (or worship leader) to get airborne. They know that if they can just get themselves off the ground then the Son will sustain them, allowing them to soar to greater spiritual heights. They have decided not to wait for others to give them their initial lift, but have learned to be “self-launching”. Rather than wait to be lifted, they lift themselves.
While the glider is either a “pure” sailplane or a “self-launching” glider, and cannot be easily converted after manufacture, Christians, on the other hand, almost always start out as un-powered “gliders” who have to rely on the lift of others to get them up to where they can enter the “untrespassed sanctity of space”. But Christians can grow, and they can be modified. With time and the help of caring fellows and the help of the Holy Spirit, they can learn to be “self-launching”. They can “slip the surly bonds of earth” whenever the Son is in evidence, perhaps even lifting themselves above their local clouds into the presence of the true Son.
So, don’t just sit there looking up in wonder, let your spirit soar.