Holding Patterns

June 14th, 2011
Image © by matt.hintsa | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Years ago, my father and older brother took lessons and began flying single-engine airplanes. Occasionally when they would request clearance to land the plane at the airport, approach control would instruct them to enter a holding pattern. Aviation holding patterns are designed to keep aircraft within a specified airspace but delay their landing, usually because of traffic congestion, poor weather, or the unavailability of runways.

In spite of what the name suggests and what the maneuver means for impatient passengers, planes and their pilots are anything but idle during a holding pattern. The aircraft fly in a type of racetrack pattern, around and around. Pilots adjust the aircraft’s speed in order to conserve fuel, maintain a certain altitude, monitor gauges and instruments, guide the plane through its turns, and keep in contact with approach control until landing conditions are optimal and the tower clears them for landing.

Holding patterns sometimes characterize the life of faith as well. Rather than making any “progress,” we sometimes feel as though we are hovering within the same space. We squirm as we sit in God’s prolonged silence. Yet purposeful engagement with such seasons of the spirit can teach us the discipline of waiting for God.

“Waiting for God,” said G. Campbell Morgan, a British pastor and leading Bible scholar of the early to mid-20th century, “is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.”*

Waiting for God became a familiar posture for God’s covenant people. Fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham seemed at times impossible. Yet hope in God’s promises, faith in God’s provision, and assurance of God’s protection held the people close to each other and to their God as they waited.

The scriptures bring to life the stories of God’s faithful people whose examples teach us, as heirs of God’s promise, how to live with courage, faith, and hope, even during spiritual “holding patterns.” They remind us that though God’s plan sometimes takes years to unfold, God’s resolutions to situations that seem to be deadlocked are often surprising and always best.

comments powered by Disqus