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Pilot’s Devotional

Inspired by Chesley Sullenberger, a pilot reflects on the challenges and beauty of flying an airplane.

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“So get to work, and may the Lord be with you!”—I Chronicles 22:16 (tlb)

After Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed his commercial jet safely in the Hudson River a couple of years ago, he was interviewed by several reporters. One of them asked, “When you realized you were going down, did you pray?”

He hesitated. “I thought of nothing else but flying the plane.”

At first I was surprised by his answer, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated his honesty. As a pilot myself, I understand how much concentration it takes to fly a plane, even when there’s no emergency. When things go wrong, it’s time for action, not conversation.

Action is a kind of physical prayer, I think, and the airplane itself is a good example of how it works. On the ground, an airplane is the slowest and most awkward of creatures, hard to steer. But when it picks up speed and the wind hits the control surfaces, it suddenly becomes the most agile of all transports. You can steer it with the merest touch. Not until it gets into action can it be guided well.

Many kinds of prayer exist, all of them useful. There’s a place for the all-nighter, with tears. There’s a place for table graces and a time for the “flare prayer,” when you cry out, “Dear God, help me!” But there’s also a time for the wordless prayer, when you get up off your knees and get to work. When I do that, I can feel His wind beneath my wings.

Forgive me, Lord, but I can’t talk right now. I have a plane to fly.

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