36,000 feet and climbing

 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John 5:30

This statement is powerful because of what it says, but amazing to me because of who said it. It was spoken by Jesus, the Son of God. He can do nothing on His own? Really? Him? Nothing at all?

If this is true, and He is perfect in His omnipotence, what does that mean for me, an imperfect man, mortally vulnerable and finite? What is the teaching here? This lesson started for me several years ago on a trip to the East Coast.

As a rule, I really enjoy flying. The freedom of being unlimited by roads, traffic, geography . . . the lightening-fast speed of moving from one spot to another . . . the “free” peanuts . . .

“Would you like more? They’re free!”

“Yes, please.”

I love it.

But I recall one flight that almost ruined this passion in me forever.

The flight wasn’t unusual in any way. We had taken off on a crystal clear, sunny afternoon, climbed effortlessly into the atmosphere where, from my window seat, I could see that the earth had transformed into an amazing checkerboard of brown, gray and green squares below. We were floating, speeding, resting . . . flying level at 36,000 feet.

But for some reason, this altitude wasn’t high enough for the pilot, and so for a bit of sport, he suddenly began to take the plane sharply higher. My head tipped back, my body pressed deeper into my seat. The angle and speed of our ascent caused me to feel about twice my normal weight. My seat, the seats around me, in fact, the whole plane creaked and cracked as it fought against gravity.

That’s when it happened.

In that moment, I became intensely curious about the thickness of the fuselage. I realized that very little was keeping me and my now double-normal weight from being drawn into the quickly blurring checkerboard below. I imagined the plane’s hull as gray tissue paper. I saw my seat abruptly tearing through it and me buckled securely into it (the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign was illuminated . . . so helpful.) I responded with a rising sense of unfamiliar panic, so much so that I attempted to make myself lighter in my seat so as to avoid the coming episode of tearing through the tissue paper.

Eventually, as the plane leveled off again, my terror began to subside; my hands loosened their grips from the arm rests; my weight returned to normal, and I began to breathe more calmly.

And I laughed.

Make myself lighter? Even now, this makes me smile. I thought I could make myself lighter in that plane and avoid a disaster in the sky.

But that is how, too often, I try to live my life. I try to counteract the pull of life’s questions with my own power and wisdom. I try to bail my way out of flooding circumstances in my own devices: like a plastic teaspoon as my only tool. I try to do it all on my own.

But in His words above, I see that Jesus lived differently than this.

He relied on His Father for everything. He was dependent on Him for not just some things, not just heavenly things . . . every thing: wisdom, strength, direction, sense of purpose, power, sense of identity, mission, provision of daily needs.

And His Father didn’t fail Him. He was faithful and true to His Son, His one and only, dearly beloved Son.

This is the teaching for us, too. We aren’t designed for an independent life apart from God.

That’s what Hell is.

We are designed for a relationship of dependence upon Him: a life of trust, reliance and relationship, one of looking to Him for all. He will always be there for us, with us, in us.

We can do nothing on our own: we aren’t meant to.

To live any other way is like believing we can help the pilot of a creaking 747 at 36,000 feet by lifting ourselves lightly in our seats. We don’t need to help. We need to listen.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was teaching about this, and by His Spirit He is still teaching today:

“Repeat after me: ‘I can do nothing on my own.'”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

SMOOTHSTONE: We aren’t designed for an independent life apart from God.

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