The flightpath to greatness

You might not immediately recognise the title The Flower Duet by Leo Delibes. However, if I was to say “The World’s Favourite Airline” you might just connect it with some of those iconic British Airways’ adverts of the nineties and the first decade or so of the 2000s. For many of us the catchy music caught us, even if we had little idea of its origins.

After about twenty years, BA replaced its advertising with the words on its coat of arms: To fly. To serve. A promise to get you airborne and then look after you at thirty-nine thousand feet. Not bad objectives for a company specialising in international air travel.

In Matthew 20.20-28, we find a story of a family who really wanted to “fly”. The mother of James and John tried to secure top positions for her boys in the kingdom that Jesus was bringing about. The passage indicates that James and John were quite comfortable with their mother’s ambition and, it would seem, prepared for the price tag that Jesus appeared to attach to the kind of honour they were after. Perhaps chasing a good deal and trying to improve yourself was a way of life for them. They had, after all, been in the fishing business with their father before they had begun to follow Jesus, so “go-getting” was most likely a way of life for them.

You might expect Jesus to shoot down not only their preposterous request, but also to question their motivation and morality in the first place. Whilst He does knock back their desire to sit at His right hand and left hand, He doesn’t dismiss their desire for greatness. Instead, He gathers all His disciples around Him and sets out servanthood as the path to true greatness.

I think that sometimes we make a huge mistake when we think that following Jesus means that we try to remove all of our ambition, all of our drive. Jesus wants to take our ambition, vision and drive and, like He did with James and John, channel them into servanthood.Real progress, real discipleship happens when our ideas and ambitions intersect with the way of Jesus and we begin to walk the path of servanthood.

James would later lose his life for his faith. John would experience imprisonment on the isle of Patmos. To follow Jesus to the end you need the kind of drive that these former fishing business proprietors had and you also need an enormous capacity for servanthood. In BA terms, you need to fly and to serve.

Jesus doesn’t want to remove every trace of ambition you ever had. Instead, He wants to get hold of you and channel that drive into serving others and serving His cause. Serving without flying ends up in servility. Flying without serving is spiritual kamikaze. But when you pursue both, you set yourself on the flightpath to true greatness.

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No-Fly Zones

No-fly zones first came into play in the early nineties. The objective was to protect civilians from bombing by enemy aircraft. The idea was that, if military planes came into the no-fly zone they could in theory be shot down, depending on the terms on which the no-fly zone was established.

Whatever their effectiveness, the intent of protecting a civilian population is a noble one, and a no-fly zone can at least provide some respite from belligerent military aircraft for beleaguered civilians on the ground.

In Numbers 20, Moses and Aaron set up a kind of spiritual no-fly zone, or perhaps more accurately, retreated to one. Verse 6 of that chapter records how in a time of real crisis, a crisis that was a matter of life and death, Moses and Aaron removed themselves from the clamour of the people to encounter God at the door of the tabernacle.

The Israelite community were about two years from the end of their desert wandering when once again they ran out of water. And once again they murmured and complained. And once again their leaders had to find an answer. Blame and recrimination lace the early verses of Numbers 20. If they were going to hear God, Moses and Aaron had to find a space where critical voices and confused thinking were not welcome.

No-one lives a problem free life. Even the most ordinary life has its difficulties and difficult decisions. Unfortunately those challenges often come charged with advice, some of it well intentioned, some of it not. Our world isn’t exactly in danger of running out of criticism and confusion. That’s why we need a spiritual no-fly zone. A place where we can meet with God, a place where we shut out the voices of the many and the muddled thinking that can kill faith.

Moses and Aaron met with God at the entrance to the tabernacle. They found the solution to a problem that threatened the very future of Israel. In the process, however, Moses ended up striking the rock instead of speaking to it, and at the moment he guaranteed the future of the nation he lost his own future and would never enter the Promised Land.

Perhaps, he didn’t police his no-fly zone tightly enough. Somehow he had carried into the presence of God his own pain, perhaps his frustration with the people, perhaps grief from the death of his sister Miriam, or both. And he had allowed that pain to shape his response to the Lord and to His people.

Establish your no-fly zone – the time and place where you meet with God. And as you police it, ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of the hurt or pain that might be affecting your response to the Lord and to the people around you. God wants to give you helpful solutions, but He is even more concerned that you have a healthy soul.