By Norris Burkes Feb 16,2023

There’s absolutely nothing I love to do more than travel. Like the circuit-riding preachers of old, I’ll fly anywhere to speak to a crowd.

The only way travel gets better for me is when I use frequent-flyer points for free flights.

So I was in a pretty good mood recently as I took a free seat on a Southern California flight to see my family.

My usual airline doesn’t assign seats, so I’ve developed a strategy for finding the best seat. Unfortunately, the strategy failed me this time and I took the last available spot – a middle seat over the wing.

As the plane began its ascent, the sun bounced off the wing directly into my eyes.

Squinting with a hand above my eyebrows, I asked my seatmate if she’d mind lowering her window shade.”

Without bothering to look away from her tablet, she proclaimed, “I got this seat for the view. Sorry.”

Really? I wasn’t sure how anyone might consider a wing so picturesque. I began to wonder if there might be a spiritual way to convince her that it was in her best interest to close the shade.

First, I took the biblical highroad, trying to “pray for those who spitefully use you.”

True: I wasn’t really praying. I had mixed motives. I was hoping that the sight of me praying with face in palms might guilt her into lowering the dang shade.

When that failed, I began thinking unchaplain-like things. Buckle your seat belt lady, this just might be a turbulent flight.

I remembered how sometimes bright sunlight will force me to sneeze. I plotted a glance toward the glaring wing view in hopes I might squeeze out a sneeze. Surely then she’d close the shade. I’d apologize. Hand her a towel and call it a baptism.

Alas, no sneeze. God bless me. I even thought about evoking a sneeze by pulling a nose hair.

You needn’t say it. I know I was being petty. I prayed harder. “Forgive me, Lord, for thinking such terrible things. Amen.”

But my prayer failed to restore my spiritual equilibrium – quite the opposite, really. I reached for the airsickness bag and played with it a moment, wondering if I ought to recall the famous Clint Eastwood line, “Hey, Lady, do you feel lucky?”

I leaned back and looked at the ceiling. “I’m sorry, God. I guess I can be a real jerk sometimes.”

Then I thought of another religious “jerk.” His birth name was Saul, but God struck him with a blinding light to rebuke him for preaching hate. And even after that blinding revelation in which God changed his name to Paul, he still found himself entangled with less-than-perfect attitudes.

In Romans 7:19, the renamed Paul wrote: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

My plane event tells me how easy it is to bring unholy intentions to plain events.

However, if we choose to see these irritations as moments to remember God, they can become a reality check on how we walk in this world. And that’s called “spiritual progress.”

In the end, I realized that it is not about my ability to be perfect, but my ability to confess my imperfections to a forgiving God.

The late Rev. Ray Stedman may have said it best: “Sometimes God simply folds his arms to wait and lets us go ahead and try it on that basis. And we fail, and fail miserably — until, at last, out of our failures, we cry, O wretched man that I am!”

But take heart. That just means that, like me, most of you are frequent flyers in God’s Grace.


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