On my first ever IFR flight, only flying on instruments, during my pilot training I was approaching Schiphol airport and told by the air controller to go a certain altitude before being lined up for the runway.

It all happened now more than 30 years ago so I don’t know how much has changed over the years, but in those days there was a kind of friendly animosity between pilots and air controllers. Once during a visit to Schiphol Tower, I read the sign: ‘Pilots are fools, air controller rules’. Although the pilot controls the airplane, it is the air controller who controls where to go in controlled airspace.

Hence, obediently I brought the airplane to the given altitude by the air controller. Flying above the clouds is being in a very nice sunny environment, but the new altitude we had to go meant we entered the upper layer of these clouds. 

Being in the upper layer of a blanket of clouds is a fascinating experience, because the surroundings become a milky white environment in which it is impossible to orientate. It was the best practice environment ever for flying IFR because it was impossible to see anything outside, forcing me to focus solely on my instruments. Flying like that was called ‘follow the needle’ in those days, without the electronic screens as in modern airplanes.

Not being able to orientate in this milky environment, it also gave me the impression of going round in circles. Only closely following the instruments, much against any feelings of going in circles, helped me keeping the airplane towards its destination.

Obeying the instructions of the air controller, together with following the needles of the instruments, let us finally brake through the clouds, which had become much darker the more we had to lower our altitude. When we broke through the clouds, the lights of the runway were right in front of us, making a safe landing possible on Schiphol airport.

In the airplane it were both the instruments and the air controller which has kept us safe and brought us finally home.

When Jesus resurrected from the dead, He said He would not leave us but send the Spirit to help and guide us. Together with reading the Word of God and being open for guidance by His Spirit we will also travel safe and arrive well at our destination.

In this moment in time, when so many things are uncertain and can cause confusion, let us remember that God keeps us all safe when we stay close to Him. By doing so He can guide and protect our hearts and minds. God has given us the instruments of His word and of His Spirit to be our guide, even when we do not understand what is happening around us. But, as the pilot and air controller sometimes struggle as to who is in control, so we might have the same struggles with God in our lives when we do not understand what happens around us. However, trusting and following God’s instruments in whatever circumstance will keep us safe and be our support on our life’s journey.

Hans