The airplane cabin was almost completely quiet, except for the occasional clicking of a flight attendant’s heels, responding to a passenger’s call for hot tea or a pillow.
Night had fallen across the vast expanse of sky somewhere between London and Johannesburg—at whatever point along that trajectory we were. And as my husband, Jerry, finished the last sip from his coffee and leaned back against the headrest, I turned to gaze out the window at the thick, velvety darkness, studded everywhere with tiny sequins of starlight.
South Africa, a land I had visited only in my imagination, would be alive under my feet by morning.
But for now, I was just enjoying this—nearly 20 hours of flying time. The chance to breathe long and deeply. To not be needed. To not be reachable. Just to . . . be . . . and to not be. All at the same time.
So I was lost in the silence and beautiful darkness as our plane continued to rise toward its cruising altitude.
And then, it happened. At 3:48 a.m. We burst through a layer of thick clouds and were suddenly awash in the full, stark sunlight of daytime. What only moments before had been a black ocean of ink instantaneously erupted into a stream of sunlight on the other side of all that cloud cover, glinting off the plane’s wingtips and blinding me with its striking brilliance.
I instinctively raised a hand to cover my eyes, turning away while retinas and pupils busily calibrated their adjustments.
People—sleeping people—began audibly stirring and grimacing, flicking down their shades on their oval windows, reaching for sleep masks to shield themselves from the invasion of light.
And that’s when I noticed it: the time display on a digital clock near the front of the plane that was still set to the time zone of our departure city. The full irony of the scene playing out before me registered slowly at first and then picked up speed as the Holy Spirit did His work in me. 3:48 a.m.
The middle of the night. How backward. We were in full sunlight here . . . during some of the darkest hours of night there. And as clearly as ever, I heard the voice of God whispering in my spirit, reminding me of something that’s actually an every-night truth, as readily available on the ground as it is at 30,000 feet: “Even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:12).
Turns out, even the darkest hours of the night have a bright side, after all.
Every single night of your life contains a 3:48 a.m. A very dark one, at that. And hopefully the one that awaits you tonight could jump up and down as hard as it wanted and still not budge you from a deep sleep.
But I’d imagine the 3:48 marker on your clock has also backlit some other nights when you’ve not been sleeping at all. You counted sheep, watched a sitcom, and checked a few emails in hopes of inducing drowsiness.
But instead, you just ended up starting into the pitch-black darkness. Your problems seem heavier at that hour. Your worries won’t sit still. Regrets that often go unnoticed behind your daily routine and responsibilities come scampering out of their hiding places to remind you they’re still very much around.
But as I learned high above the Dark Continent that one unusual night, it’s not dark everywhere at 3:48 a.m. In fact, where God lives, it’s not dark . . . ever.
I guess the way you see that hour just depends on the perspective you have when taking it in.
Look to the Light
Now’s the time to know that God is able. To connect your current reality with God’s present ability. But in order to do that—in order to experience Him now, to burst through the cloud cover that’s keeping you from catching the rays of His light—you need to make a deliberate decision to change your perspective.
It’ll require some action on your part, beginning with a simple decision to pivot your attention 180 degrees away from where you’re typically accustomed to looking. Away from what’s frustrating you. Away from what’s frightening you. Away from what’s stealing your joy and confidence.
Away from the darkness, to look toward the light.
If you expect to see God’s ability in the here and now, it will require a turning. An this turning, according to Paul, is a turning to God.
People often think of turning to Jesus as being a bit too impractical in terms of spiritual advice. Turning to Jesus. Looking to Jesus. What does that really mean?
Well, see if this doesn’t clear it up in your mind a bit.
Quit staring at your problems!
Though we seem to find the concept of turning to Jesus a bit mysterious, we don’t seem to have any difficulty turning to our aches and pains and wants an lacks. They’re often all we think about.
We stare at them through the windshield when we’re driving. We paint them on the back our eyelids at night. We measure them, compare them, analyze them, dissect them. If our eye catches a headline that refers to them or a talk show that addresses them, we stop what we’re doing to watch and read and listen and commiserate.
We can’t get enough of them.
And they’ll take away our energy and attention if we let them. Because they hate being ignored. They’ll scream and squeal and pout and protest. They’ll remind us what all could go wrong if we dare to overlook them. And when they’re not pressing our anxiety buttons, they’re pushing their load of candied addictions at us, offering the cheap wares they sell for the relief we crave.
See the Light
I’ll admit, I’ve sat down during Sunday services and have found my mind wandering back to my worries and concerns—even there, even in church, even after singing His praise and exalting His name.
A friend a few rows back might notice my solemn expression, texting me to see if I’m all right. I see her message lighting up beside me. Glancing at it quickly, I put down my phone. I look over to give her a simple smile of thanks, grateful for her concern.
There I am, in the middle of God’s people and God’s presence, yet with my mind completely wrapped up in my circumstances—enough that a friend can see it all over my face, and God can certainly see it inside my heart.
Who’s really getting my worship here? What am I lifting up as the most important, most defining thing in my life? To what am I giving the bulk of my time and effort and energy and attention? Where am I turning? To Him? Ot to them? To His ability? Or to his apparent impossibility?
One of my little boys was having trouble falling asleep one night. “I’m having these bad thoughts,” he whimpered. “I don’t know what do do.”
So I hopped out of bed—like mamas do—stumbled into his room and sat down beside him. “Honey, just try to make yourself think about other things. Good things,” I said, “like . . . Disney World. We’re hoping to go there this summer as a family. Think about getting to see Mickey Mouse!”
“Nah, it’s not working, Mommy.”
“Yeah, well . . . you love ice cream. Why don’t you think about how good that bowl of chocolate ice cream was that you had today? Would that help?”
He shook his head. No. I wasn’t getting through. Just getting sleepier. Burning low on ideas, I reached over and held him close, rubbing his little shoulder and arm through his pajamas, then gently kissed him on the forehead while trying to come up with a new strategy. But he beat me to it.
“I know what, Mom,” he finally said, breaking the silence and looking up into my eyes, “I’ll just think about you.”
And with that, he laid back in my arms and went to sleep, as the Holy Spirit taught me a full-sized lesson right there in my kid’s twin-sized bed: how a mind fixed on the right thing—the right person—can change everything.
From God is Able by Priscilla Shirer. Copyright 2013, B&H Publishing.