The Federal Aviation Administration published a pamphlet detailing a phenomenon they called “Spatial Disorientation.” A pilot suffering from spatial disorientation can easily lose track of where they are, where they are headed, and often cannot even tell if the plane they are flying is right-side-up or upside-down.
As part of their study, the FAA released these statistics: “Five to ten percent of all general aviation accidents can be attributed to spatial disorientation, and 90 percent of these accidents are fatal.”
You may remember the tragic crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1999; the investigation of that fateful evening flight, shrouded in fog, concluded that Kennedy was likely suffering from spatial disorientation when his plane crashed into the ocean.
The FAA reports that the best way to combat spatial disorientation during a flight is to “have confidence in your instruments and ignore all conflicting signals your body gives you.”
For the Christian, navigating the course of life can often feel like we’re flying in the dark, producing what I like to call spiritual disorientation. When our path is foggy and dark, when it seems like God is silent or absent, our spiritual senses can become disoriented.
There was a time in King David’s life—before he was king—when he suffered from spiritual disorientation in his walk with God. Without any counsel from others and without seeking the Lord, David made a rash and foolish decision. He took the sword he used to kill Goliath and went to Gath, the capital city of Goliath’s people: the Philistines. When the Philistines tried to kill David, he pretended to be an insane person, wandering the streets drooling on his beard. The bewildered king of Gath let David go unharmed.
David lost his equilibrium; he ignored the instrument panel of God’s promises and tried to do things his own way. Without knowing it, he was spiraling downward toward a fatal crash.
So, what’s the instrument panel given to us by the Lord, which keeps us right-side-up and on course?
FIRST, GOD’S WORD GUIDES US IN TIMES OF TROUBLE.
In Psalm 56, David writes, “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid” (verse 4).
Remember, David did not have the complete Word from God as we do today. David only had at his disposal the early books of the Bible—the first five books of the law. He had no doubt memorized much of it as a boy, as part of Jewish customs.
David didn’t have all the promises of God revealed through the prophets and he certainly didn’t have the four historical accounts of the Messiah we call the Gospels. Nor did he have the completed revelation of God’s plan for eternity in the book of Revelation.
But David had enough of God’s word to stay on course. Using only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, David understood the power and grace and justice and holiness and atonement and love of God for His people; and he trusted in that.
When the lights go out and you can’t tell north from south, the revealed Word of God becomes especially critical—the lamp and the light for navigating a dark and treacherous path.
SECONDLY, GOD’S PRESENCE GUIDES US EVERY STEP OF OUR JOURNEY.
David continues, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (verse 8). Tossing can be translated “wandering” in this text. This language refers to someone who detours from the path, as you may have done while on a hiking trip. When someone is lost, we may use the saying “they wandered off the beaten path.” And that’s the idea here in this text.
But here’s the encouraging truth: even when we wander off the beaten path, God hasn’t lost track of us.
I think of Jonah, who tried to run away from God, but soon realized that no matter how far he ran, he never disappeared from God’s omniscient radar.
Let me reassure you: God knows everything about your wanderings, your distractions, and your weaknesses. Even when you disobey Him, when you wander from His commands, He never loses sight of you or removes you from His gracious plan.
Not only that, God is attentive to every tear you shed. In the ancient world, Roman citizens owned bottles for collecting their tears during times of sorrow. These little bottles would become remembrances of times of grief, a visual way to remember a lost loved one or an especially painful circumstance.
David encourages us to know that God has a tear bottle for our grief. He is so deeply interested in our trials, our sorrows, and our cares that He keeps them forever in His mind. The apostle Peter encourages the believer to “cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).
In summary, the instrument panel to guide us through dark times is God’s Word and God’s presence. When we’re confused by our own lack of spiritual discernment, God’s Word remains constant and faithful.
When you are afraid, confused, or lost, God’s faithful presence provides encouragement as we’re reminded of His personal care for us.
John Rippon paraphrased God’s promise when he wrote his famous hymn which included these verses:
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, I will still give
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my gracious omnipotent hand.
When through fiery trials, thy pathway shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design,
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
That soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, tho all Hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never – no never – no never forsake.