Hope at 30,000 Feet

Sometimes the fish jump in the boat. It’s in these moments that I know the Holy Spirit is planting my steps. This is my favorite talk-to-random-stranger-on-plane-story yet and I share it because I want God to get the glory.

In a strange way I like long red eye flights. The take off rush where your bodyweight pulls into the seat and your eyes are tempted to close. Then, its either a book I’d rarely have time to read, or a film I’d probably never watch. Except on a plane that is, stuck with nothing to do. And of course, ginger ale. For some reason, cruising at 30,000 ft is the only time I crave this drink. Weird. And for the best part, drifting off to sleep after a long gaze out the window at the sunset afterglow melding with the stars. Yep, red eye flights have become my friend. What I don’t usually plan on doing is chatting it up with a stranger beside me. Its dark for one, and my book or movie is waiting. And who wants to interrupt the dull roar of the flight with obnoxious chitchat?  But last night, God had a different plan for my time. I love his plan.

I stepped on the Kona to LA flight ready to sleep. The past week leading worship at the YWAM base was packed full, and I definitely was spent in the very best kind of way. I sat down and was relieved to find the seat beside mine empty. “Sweet, extra leg room and no awkward small talk with my neighbor.”  This was ironic, because one, my wife wasn’t traveling with me and she would have been sitting beside me, and two, the plane was supposedly all sold out, so I had the only empty seat beside me.

Much to my surprise, a guy who looked in his late 20’s two seats over spoke up. The usual small talk ensued, and he chatted about staying at the Four Seasons Resort, which just so happens to be one of the most luxurious hotels in all of Hawaii ($1200 a night kind of prices). This surprised me, because he was dressed like me, and this is NOT like the typical high-roller vacationer.

Turns out his wealthy relative invited him out for an all-expense paid vacation, and he wisely said yes to the offer. He rambled on about the amazing resort and the surfing lessons, and honestly I was just mildly listening. I off-handily asked if he left a significant other behind to go on this trip, and he said yes, his girlfriend. “At least you bought her something, right?” He nodded in agreement.

A few moments of silence…

“I’m actually still married. I have a 2 year old, and a 3 month old.”

“…wait, what?”  I wasn’t expecting that.

All of sudden I felt the peaceful, yet hair-prickling presence of the Holy Spirit, knowing that this moment was an opportunity to listen…both to this man and to what Jesus would have to say to this man. This was no longer about my relaxing flight plan. This was my time to embody hope that I knew was missing from this man’s life, to be a touchable answer to this man’s pain, and most of all, to know that Jesus was sitting right with us with His words becoming mine.

This boldness arose in my heart, and I told him straight up that its time for him to be man and end this stupid fling and make it right with his wife. It was like I heard my words outside of myself. “Wait, am I really saying this to a perfect stranger? And he has tattoos all over him, and he’s pretty tough looking,  so he might flip out on me.”

 But he just looked at me, and then slowly nodded whispering, “I know. I can’t keep living like this.” His heart totally opened up to me, and over the next hour, he shared about his struggles in life, about growing up with a mom that was a stripper, and living on the streets, getting caught up in the drug scene and then ending up in jail. Mind you, we’re on a dead quiet night flight. I couldn’t believe this guy was opening up so much.

His story continued on with getting out of jail and wanting to make his life right. He married his girlfriend, bought a house and started having kids. This is all he knew to do. But the happiness he found didn’t last. Alcohol got in the mix, and found himself separated from his wife with nothing to hold on to. Life was back to chaos. My heart broke for this man, yet I knew God was his only hope and his way of redemption. I shared with him the power of God’s love, and how without it, we don’t know how to truly love. I shared that for his marriage to thrive, he can’t do it alone. He agreed, saying he knows he needs God in his life. And others, people to share struggles and hardships with.

I started sharing stories from the bible with him, like the parable of the prodigal son, and he didn’t know any of them. He said he tried to read the bible in prison, but all the “Thous” made it impossible to understand. He was an open slate, at the bottom looking for hope and light. I prayed for him on the plane, and I felt his hope rising for his life, for his marriage, for his kids. To be the man he wants to be, he realized he needed God.

I’m going to mail him a bible and some books for him to help him on his journey.  I’m praying for him and his family, and asking God what to do next. Meeting this man on the plane helps me understand a bit more what Peter felt like when Jesus said to cast his net to the other side of the boat. (Luke 5:4-22) The fish literally jumped in the boat. Last night, this man jumped in the boat. He was drowning, and he was looking for someone to rescue him. It was hard leaving him, so wishing I could just hang out with him longer and open up the bible with him, but we parted ways. But not the Holy Spirit…still with him.

I’m so reminded how the Spirit orchestrates our steps, divinely setting us up to cross paths with the broken and those drowning in pain, looking for air to gasp. I didn’t go looking for this man. I had my book ready to read. But Jesus did ask for me to stop for this man. Heidi Baker, one of my spiritual heroes says, “Love looks like stopping for the one in front of us.” This isn’t complicated. Messy? Yes. But complicated? No. We just have to open up our eyes and ears and look for where Jesus is at work.

You have the ability to be this rescue. You are called to this. Last night I remembered all over again. With the Holy Spirit inside your chest, you can walk with God and help pull people out of their despair with the hope of Jesus Christ. What an honor to be God’s sons and daughters, entrusted with this gospel that is for the salvation of men and women. The gospel is reality. Love is supreme. Love looks like something.