A number of years ago I obtained my private pilot’s license and continued on to get my instrument rating certification. I enjoyed most all aspects of flying, but there was one exercise that I found both challenging and tedious. From time to time, when approaching an airport, air traffic control would require you to enter into a holding pattern until the runway was clear for you to land. Now, holding patterns provide pilots with an interesting challenge. A holding pattern is like a track at a high school football field. It has two long sides and curves at each end. To enter into a holding pattern, you line yourself up on the long side that is the same vector that will put you on your approach to the airport. Then, at a designated moment, you make what’s called a standard rate turn in the direction of the holding pattern to which you were assigned. A standard rate turn is one that, if you continued for 2 minutes, would bring you back to the exact same spot where you started. The idea is to make this turn for 60 seconds, which will put you on a parallel course going exactly the opposite direction, or the other side of the track. You follow this for a designated time and then repeat the turn for another 60 seconds which, all things being equal, will put you back on the right vector on headed to the airport.
Now if the air is calm this is a relatively easy process. In fact, if you’re asked to hold several times it can become quite tedious and boring. However, all things are seldom equal. In fact, most times there is some wind and often significant wind to contend with, and with wind, the entire process becomes substantially more difficult. Wind requires you to make constant adjustments, continually recalculating, checking your altitude and location so you don’t end you up far too close or much too far away from your original course. The whole exercise is to be sure that when you return you are back on the right line to the airport. There is much relief when you’re finally cleared to land and can leave the pattern.
In one way, flying a holding pattern means going nowhere successfully. That is, you’ve done a great job if you fly around for a long time and end up exactly where you started. That is actually the whole point. It doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, and it doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. One day while flying a holding pattern with my instructor I got frustrated because we were being asked to hold so many times and the wind was causing me a great deal of challenge. He responded that I should use this as a great opportunity to learn skills I might not otherwise learn. And he was right, once you’ve flown several holding patterns in a wind you are a much better pilot.
In my journey in following Jesus I find myself going through seasons where I feel much like flying a holding pattern. Despite much prayer, listening and watching, there are definitely waiting seasons in my life. During these seasons, it has helped me to reflect back on this experience of flying these holding patterns. They are always for a purpose and they provide substantial opportunities to learn, grow stronger and be even more prepared when the call is given to head to the airport.
I’ve been reflecting on how many of the great heroes of our faith were recalled out of a holding pattern when the time was right. I think of Joseph in prison all those years, yet when the opportunity came, he was ready. I think of Moses tending sheep in Midian for so long, but when God called him, he was ready, if somewhat reluctantly, to leave his holding pattern and head for Egypt. I think of Saul after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he did not go immediately into ministry but went away for a period of time in preparation for the work God would have him do. The list can go on and on.
I’m also encouraged by the significant amount of scripture that calls on God’s followers to wait on Him. Doing a quick search, I found over 50 scriptures that referred to this part of our journey with Jesus. Of course, one of the most popular is Isaiah 40:31, “They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles they will run and not be weary they will walk and not faint.”
Clearly God calls us into holding patterns to prepare us for the next destination. The question is, will we hold well? Let me put it another way which I find even more challenging, Will we be content with going nowhere successfully?
By going nowhere I don’t mean nothing happens. As I have said, these waiting times are unique opportunities for God to prune us, prepare us, call us into a deeper union with Him, all the things we need for whatever the next season may hold. These are rich opportunities that we must not miss. Instead, we must steward them carefully, submitting them back to God and asking that He does fully in us all that needs to be done before we get the call to leave our pattern and head to our next destination.
Are you in God’s holding pattern in your life right now? Some of you may already be flying headlong in a direction you know God is calling you. But I’m guessing many, if not most of us, can relate to this idea of waiting on God and wondering what this time might really be about. Picture yourself in this aerial holding pattern, with God sitting next to you, teaching and instructing, guiding and directing, helping you hone your skills and preparing you for what lies ahead.
Steward every minute of your holding pattern and don’t miss a moment of what God has to teach you. Cherish it as a God-ordained season of your life. One thing is for sure, He will call us and we want to be on the right vector, heading in the right direction, having held well. It may feel like we’ve been going nowhere, but in reality, we are being prepared lap by lap, circuit by circuit for the work He is preparing for us to do. It will be a glorious day when we get the call from our great air traffic controller to leave the pattern and head in the direction He’s prepared for us. But until then, steward this time with anticipation and be at peace.