When I heard a commercial airliner was down in the Hudson River, I feared the worst. I flipped on cable news, expecting the worst. It was the kind of story that almost always includes a tragic death toll. I was stunned to learn that every passenger got out alive and largely unscathed. The difference? The man at the controls.
Central Casting couldn’t have done a better job selecting a pilot for the crisis USAir 1549 faced right after takeoff. Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s (Sully, for short) life uniquely prepared him to be at the helm when an apparent double bird hit knocked out both of his engines – over America’s largest city.
Captain Sullenberger has been a fighter pilot, a crash investigator, a veteran of years of commercial flying – and a glider pilot. Suddenly in command of a powerless plane with 155 lives in his hands, “Sully” piloted over the looming George Washington Bridge and into a textbook landing on the Hudson River.
One passenger who ended up in the same rescue raft as the pilot and his co-pilot overheard the co-pilot tell the captain why even he found the landing so amazing. “Sully,” he said, “no one has ever done a successful ditch, and you pulled it off. You’re the first one.”
I’ve never had the opportunity to pick my pilot. I probably never will. But if I could, believe me, I’d pick a Sully. When you’re flying unfriendly skies, you want someone at the helm who can bring you in safe, no matter how bad it is.
Even though I’ve never been able to pick the pilot of my plane, I’ve had the privilege of deciding who would pilot my life. But first I had to decide that I shouldn’t pilot my life. I have the disease that afflicts the whole human race – the “disease of me.” Flying our own lives has yielded all kinds of stress and hurt, for ourselves and for those close to us. And not much peace.
As it turns out, we’re not supposed to be piloting our own lives. God tells us in the Bible that “all things were created by Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). But the Bible also tells us that we haven’t lived for Him – we’ve lived pretty much for ourselves. We’ve paid lip service to God, but we’ve ignored and marginalized – and flat out disobeyed – the God of the universe. He says, “There is no one righteous, not even one…all have turned away…the way of peace they do not know…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10,12, 17, 23).
After a while, it becomes more and more obvious that the wrong person is at the controls. We aim for destinations and outcomes that we just can’t get to. We hurt the people who are flying with us on our hijacked flight. And, honestly, we’ve crashed too many times. We need Someone at the controls who can show us the Flight Plan we were made for…who can handle it when everything’s out of control … who can get us where we want to end up – heaven instead of hell.
That pilot is named Jesus. Along with millions of others, I realized He should be at the controls of the rest of my life. There’s nothing He can’t fix, He can’t handle, He can’t overcome. He proved that by beating what no man has ever beaten. He conquered death when He walked out of His grave under His own power.
But more than His power, it’s His inexpressible love that attracted me and so many others to Him. Love that took Him all the way to a cross where He gave Himself to pay the death penalty for my spiritual hijacking. In the Bible’s words: “He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins…the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53:5, 6 - NLT). One Bible writer said in amazement: “He loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
A power so great that He conquered death. A love so great that He died for me. Why would I – why would you – stay in the pilot’s seat one more day? There are turbulent skies ahead…power failures that could bring you down…so many things beyond your control. But not beyond His.
He’s waiting to take command. In the moments when so much has gone wrong, when life is at stake, the difference is the Man at the controls.