Riding the Skies with God

O.K., I admit it. Riding in airplanes scares me.

It didn’t used to bother me much. But then I married my amateur-pilot husband. When we flew on commercial air flights, he would helpfully point out to me sounds, lights and air leaks in the plane that might indicate a problem. That started my tailspin into plane-ride-phobia.

Flights ruffle my feathers as I belt myself in, feel and hear the power of the engines whine and rush as we take off. I peek out the window and watch with horror as the land drops away! Then as we surge upwards, faster and faster, and finally hear the clunk (Ah! What’s that?) of the wheels pulling up, I dare to look down and see how high we are in the air and know that now I am totally out of control. Later, a little turbulence makes the plane bump, turning dips it dizzily and descending brings sickening, sinking swells.

My prayer ascends to higher heaven: Why did I ever get on this plane? Why didn’t I take a boat? Oh Lord, pleeease help me!

That’s how I felt flying to France three weeks ago. Until the plane leveled off and the ride got smooth and familiar, I practiced spiritual karate, fending off one fear after another. Cringing in my seat and holding on tight to the armrests, I even closed my eyes in a last ditch effort to forget where I was.

And here is the worst: I am a Christian, and a missionary to boot. What would others in the plane think if they knew who I was and observed my nervous behavior? My testimony embarrassed and shamed me.

But, isn’t it human to be fearful at times? Even the Apostle Paul admitted as much. In 2 Corinthians 7:5, he says, “For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.”

God knows these fears drive us to seek His help. In Psalm 34:4, David said, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” I knew that verse well. And another verse: 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.” These are great verses, but they never “cured” me of my fear of flying.

Disgusted at my cringing position, I remembered another ride in Africa. Working in the north of Togo on Bible translation, my husband and I lived in a small town. Since we were so “rich,” visitors dropped by regularly to tell us their needs.

One was a thin grandma with closely-shaved white hair, droopy eyelids and droopy earlobes to match. She would greet me with a smile and then lift up her blouse enough to show her tummy. Patting it and producing several hollow thumps, she’d say, “See, I’ve eaten nothing today,” all the while looking at me as if it were my fault.

One day, after giving her something to eat, I offered to drive her home in our car. She lived in a small village about two miles away. She agreed, unaware of the consequences, and I helped her into the passenger seat.

Since the roads were dusty and bumpy, we could travel only about fifteen miles per hour, at the most. When the car started rolling along at a faster pace she had ever known, she half-yelped and started curling up in a little ball, shooting quick glances out the window, her eyes huge with fear. I slowed to a turtle’s pace and patted her, assuring her she was safe. She continued to mumble oaths, prayers—who knows what.

Only minutes later, I stopped a few yards from her little mud house. Still bent over in her seat, she was afraid to look out the window. I said, “Grandma, we’re here. Isn’t this your house?”

She slowly turned her head, pulled her cupped hands away from her eyes, and peeped over the sill, letting out a gasp of astonishment. Yes, it was her house! In the wrinkles of her incredulous expression, I read: How could we have miraculously arrived in such a short time?

Reflecting on my behavior in the airplane, I realized I was no less fearful than this granny who did not know God. I determined then to search the Word until I found solutions to my problem. Almost 500 verses in my Bible contain the word “fear” or “afraid.” But in the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, for example, the word “God” or “the Lord” usually follows the word “fear.” Also, most of the verses with “afraid” say, “Be not afraid.”

God’s Word admonishes me to fear Him. He planned it that way. In Jeremiah 32:40, He says, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.”

Fear of God marks a genuine believer. Proverbs 14:2 affirms this, saying, “He whose walk is upright fears the LORD.” Fearing Him also provides protection as verse 27 says, “the fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.”

Even Jesus feared God, His Father. Isaiah 11:2‑3 talks about the coming Messiah, Jesus:

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

A full-of-love, respectful fear such as children show a wonderful earthly father is what our Heavenly Father expects from us too. My fear, in a sense, belongs to Him only; I “owe” it to Him. When I “give” my fear to another person, situation, or thing, I am sinning against the One who has told me over and over in His Word, “Don’t be afraid.”

When we fear people and situations, God says we are treating Him with contempt—showing Him disrespect, or even despising His authority. Some of the Israelites who scouted out the Promised Land returned with fearful accounts of unconquerable giants—despite God’s telling them not to fear.

God said, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? (Numbers 14:11)” God never let them see the land because of their fear. But one scout did see it—the one who feared God only. God said of him, “My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly.”

Following Caleb’s example, I started practicing fearing only God. Every time fear seizes me, I first ask God to forgive me for fearing a situation more than fearing Him. Then I affirm out loud, “I choose to fear you, my Heavenly Father, with a reverent and holy fear, and you only.” It amazes me how my repentance and declaration neutralize the poison of fear.

In addition to this, I found many passages about God riding on the heavens, skies and clouds. When I’m in a plane, thinking of Him riding in the air with me assures and comforts me. Here are some of those verses:
  • There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. Deuteronomy 33:26
  • Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds—his name is the LORD—and rejoice before him. Psalm 68:4
  • …to him who rides the ancient skies above, who thunders with mighty voice. Psalm 68:33
  • He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. Psalm 104:3b
  • See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. Isaiah 19:1b

(emphasis mine)
Also, I discovered a passage in 2 Samuel 22:4-19 that gives a thrilling account of how God Almighty, powerful and fearsome, descends speedily through the heavens in answer to David’s desperate cry for help. This is the God I am to fear, not an airplane ride!

I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.

The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.

The earth trembled and quaked, the foundations of the heavens shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky.

Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth. The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot arrows and scattered the enemies, bolts of lightning and routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of breath from his nostrils.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support.

The great evangelist D. L. Moody, in the days of train travel, said there are two ways to go to heaven: first class and coach (think airline economy class). Coach is Psalm 56:3: “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you.” But first class is Isaiah 12:2: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.” Writing this article in France, I await my return flight to the United States in three days. By God’s grace and fearing Him only, I plan to fly first class. My God, riding the heavens with me, on the wings of the wind, will accompany me home.