I’ve Been Thinking …Three Green Lights
We don’t need as much confirmation as we think we do.
I spend a lot of time on planes. I mean, a lot. People are everywhere, and I like to be with people, so planes are just a part of my life. Last year I flew almost a half million miles. They call me “Mr. G” at the local airport. I’ve helped ticket agents with adoptions. I’ve celebrated high school graduations and mourned tremendous losses with the people who work at the airport. Sometimes I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal. I had always wondered who in the world would shop for clothes in one of the airport stores. I’m a little embarrassed to admit to you— I’m that guy.
I’m a pilot, which means sometimes I fly myself to places too. I usually do this when the place I’m going is close by air and I don’t want to take a long drive. Once, I had just come off an intense stretch of cross-country trips. I think I flew over Kansas at least six times in one week. I’m pretty sure I saw a farmer wave to me as I passed overhead. When I realized the next place I needed to be was a long way by car but there was a shortcut over some mountains by flying, I decided to save myself from California traffic and take a small airplane instead. I called a friend who was a member of a flying club, and he got me a deal— I could rent a plane for a hundred dollars an hour. That was just a few bucks more than Hertz. Granted, it was kind of a junky plane, but hey, it flew. So I took it. I got a chart before I left for the airfield and threw together a quick flight plan. When I first started flying, I wasn’t sure what a flight plan was. I figured mine was pretty simple— to get there and get back without hitting anything. It turns out whenever you’re going to take to the skies, the first thing you do is figure out the tallest obstacle in your flight path. This is mainly so you don’t die. On the way to Palm Springs the tallest thing was a six- thousand-foot mountain, so I flew over at eight thousand feet to be safe.
Just after I landed and taxied to the hangar, two guys flying an F-16 landed their fighter jet and taxied to a stop next to me. They got out wearing olive green Top Gun suits covered with oxygen hoses, flare guns, and cool patches. The sunlight hitting the pilots created a halo effect, making them look that much cooler. Meanwhile, I got out of my airplane wearing torn jeans, an old T- shirt, and a Mickey Mouse watch. I try not to compare myself with other people, but it couldn’t be avoided. I glanced back at my pitiful airplane with duct tape hanging from the wings, parked next to their F-16 with missiles hanging from theirs. I felt so inadequate. I struck up a conversation with the fighter pilots, kind o hoping I’d get to shoot one of their flare guns. I learned they had flown two thousand miles to Palm Springs so they could practice flying through the nearby valleys. They said flying through the valleys made them better pilots. It tests their skill and their teamwork. It sharpens their reaction time. I thought back to how I had made my flight plan. I had flown two thousand feet over the highest mountaintops because I wanted to be safe; these pilots flew through the valleys because they wanted to get better.
What I’ve come to learn so far about my faith is Jesus never asked anyone to play it safe. We were born to be brave. There’s a difference between playing it safe and being safe. A lot of people think playing it safe and waiting for all the answers before they move forward is the opposite of dangerous. I disagree. If our life and our identity are found in Jesus, I think we can redefine safe as staying close to Him. Don’t get me wrong. Playing it safe and waiting for assurances in our lives isn’t necessarily bad; it just isn’t faith anymore.
Playing it safe doesn’t move us forward or help us grow; it just finds us where we are and leaves us in the same condition it found us in. God wants something different for us. His goal is never that we’ll come back the same. He’s hoping we’ll return more dependent on Him. I’m not saying everything needs to be risky in our lives, but we’d be well served if a few more things were riskier in our faith. Loving people we don’t understand or agree with is just the kind of beautiful, counterintuitive, risky stuff people who are becoming love do.
Every day we get to decide if we’ll take it easy and fly over the mountaintops in our relationships or make ourselves better and find our way through the valleys. Heaven and a world full of hurting people are hoping we will. The Bible talks about this. It says when our faith gets tested, we have the chance to grow. This makes sense to me. Stated differently, if we want our faith to get stronger, we need to navigate some deep places.
It sounds simple on paper, but in real life it’s a lot tougher than it looks. I’m a pretty upbeat guy, and while I’m willing to go through a valley or two, I don’t aim for them the way those fighter pilots did. The truth is, I only reluctantly go through difficult times or deal with difficult people. When I do, I’m quick to complain to myself about what a raw deal I got and how unfair it is for such a nice guy like me to have such hard things happen or have to deal with such difficult people. People who are becoming love understand God guides us into uncomfortable places because He knows most of us are too afraid to seek them out ourselves. It happens to me all the time, and I usually only recognize in hindsight that the hard places I’ve navigated helped me steer a more purposeful course forward. This has been God’s idea for us all along.
“Three Green Lights” is an excerpt from “Everybody, Always,” Copyright © 2018 Bob Goff, Thomas Nelson Books
Bob Goff is the founder of Love Does, a nonprofit organization that operates schools and pursues justice for children in conflict areas such as Uganda, Somalia, and Iraq. Bob is a lawyer and serves as the honorary consul for the Republic of Uganda to the United States. He is an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Law School and Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with Sweet Maria, their kids, and extended family.
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