A Glimmer of Light
He will guide you through your darkest storms.
By Curtis Rittenour
In January 1980 I was studying at Walla Walla University in Washington State, U.S.A. Christmas break was over. I had visited family back in Minnesota and wanted to save money on the return trip. So I hitched an airplane ride with another college student who owned an old single-engine two-seater plane.
It was an icy cold morning, and the air was calm as we climbed into his plane. I didn’t know anything about flying, but my friend confidently revved the engine and shot down the runway. Soon we were soaring over snow-covered fields. Our route was pretty simple. We would follow Interstate 90 all the way across Montana until we reached the city of Butte, then we’d fly over the mountains and into Walla Walla.
We occasionally stopped for fuel, and my friend always checked the weather ahead. In Butte I waited as he called on a pay phone and listened to the weather report. After hanging up the receiver he told me we faced a stronger head wind. “We’ll fly over the Bitterroot Range, and then go over the Blue Mountains and into Walla Walla before nightfall. We should be fine.” He sounded a little unsure.
My friend was a new pilot. He was not rated to fly at night or in clouds. If we got caught in either of these, we’d be in big trouble. But we were young and anxious to get back to college, so we decided to “go for it.”
As we soared out of Butte and began flying over the Rocky Mountains, we no longer followed the little gray ribbon of freeway. The Interstate turned northwest, and we needed to go west. With no GPS unit, my friend pulled out a paper map and began charting our course by identifying mountain peaks and watching his compass. After a while he handed me the map, and we ate sandwiches and talked about college.
Unfortunately, when we next looked at the map to check our location, the mountain peaks did not match up. My friend then tried to direct the plane toward what he thought was a radio signal reporting Walla Walla weather. Turning the plane toward the signal, he explained, would increase its strength and was a means of direction. I noticed the fear in my friend’s face. He was quiet and kept studying the map and the terrain. The further we flew, the quieter he became.
It was getting dark, and my friend quietly announced, “We are lost.” He said the mountains below us were much higher and sharper than the Blue Mountains. We had no night flying equipment on the plane. Due to the cold, ice could form on the wings that would impede flying. Finally, he said our gas was getting low!
At this point I began to pray like I had never prayed in all my life. I was afraid we would crash and die. As the plane droned through the sky I cried out to the Lord, asking Him to save us!
Have you ever been in a life-or-death situation like this? It is in these very crises that we are open to learn just how close God is.
Jesus’ disciples were in a predicament too. Jesus had just fed a multitude of people with only five loaves and a couple of fish (Matt. 14:17-21). Thousands had witnessed the miracle. They were ready to crown Christ as king. The disciples were caught up in the moment. But Jesus sent the multitudes away and told His disciples to take a boat to the other side of the lake (Matt. 14:22).
I imagine the disciples didn’t jump into the boat and start rowing. They probably stayed around, hoping their Master would join them. But finally, as it was getting late, they launched into the night. They were unhappy with Christ. They grumbled among themselves that they should have crowned Him king. As darkness fell, their complaining led them into troubled waters.
A violent thunderstorm swept down on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples weren’t ready for it. Their perfect day suddenly turned into a nightmare. The trip across the lake should have taken only a couple hours, but the storm drove them further from land (verse 24). They worked hard for hours. Crashing waves, blinding lightning, and deafening thunder pounded these experienced fishermen. Finally they gave up. They were lost—and helpless. They needed a Savior.
A Glimmer of Light
Jesus’ watchful eye never lost sight of His disciples. He could see them battling the storm. While they cried out for fear, the Master was on His way (verses 25, 26). A strange figure walked toward them on the water. They didn’t know it was Jesus, the very person they wished for. A flash of lightning revealed His familiar features. They suddenly moved from the back of the boat forward toward Him, crying out, “Please help us!”
Jesus was ready. “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (verse 27).
Getting Out of the Boat
Peter volunteered to come to Jesus—on the water (verse 28). Overjoyed with seeing His Lord, he took a tremendous step of faith. With eyes fixed on the Master, Peter walked toward Jesus. Then he made a near-fatal mistake. In self-satisfaction he turned to look back at the other disciples, as if to say, “Wow! Look at me! I’m walking on water!” But when he turned to look back at the disciples, he turned away from the Light.*
Suddenly he lost sight of Jesus and began to sink. In a moment, the proud disciple called out, “Lord, save me!” (verse 30). Instantly Christ reached out and grasped Peter’s outstretched hands. Jesus knew that Peter was blind to his own weaknesses. In the very area of life in which Peter thought he was the strongest, Christ revealed how weak he really was. Peter trusted himself too much. He needed to learn that he could go through storms only by completely distrusting himself and leaning only on Christ.
As Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat the storm died down. In the solitude following the storm the disciples bowed down and worshipped Jesus—“Truly You are the Son of God” (verse 33).
Another Glimmer of Light
As we flew over the Bitterroot Range one dark night 32 years ago I was going through my own personal storm. My friend and I flew through the night in silence. Both of us were deep in thought. I continued to pray and wonder when the plane engine would start to sputter, cough, and die.
Darkness surrounded us. As I stared out the window I saw stars twinkling everywhere. Down below we rarely saw any lights, only a few small homes spread far apart in what seemed like a remote wilderness area. There was no place we could land in these mountains.
Suddenly we both saw a glimmer of light in the distance. It was faint and far away. As we peered into the darkness ahead, it looked like a thin finger of light pointing up and circling around and around. I could hear my friend smile in the dark as he spoke two words: “An airport.”
He flew the plane directly to the light. After briefly circling the airport, we landed on a snowy runway. I was elated to climb out of the plane and wanted to kiss the ground! As my pilot friend looked at a small buildup of ice on the wings, I asked him, “Where are we?”
It was about 10:00 p.m., and the little building at the end of the runway was dark. A wooden sign hanging on its side answered our question: “Welcome to McCall, Idaho!” We were several hours south of our destination. Evidently my friend had turned the plane toward a wrong signal, taking us off course. Without realizing it, we had just flown over some of the most remote wilderness area in the United States. But we were alive! We stayed with the local pastor and his family for a couple days, and after the weather finally cleared, we made it back to college.
Look for the Light
When you pass through storms in life, a glimmer of light can give you hope and direction. If your marriage is crumbling or your finances are in shambles, look for the Light. We may not, like the disciples, immediately recognize Christ in the storm. But Jesus is there to guide us safely home. As we face the uncertainties of life, there is hope. I can see a glimmer of light on the horizon. Can you?
*See Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 381.
Curtis Rittenour has pastored for 25 years in Oregon, Nebraska, and Washington. He is currently a freelance writer and speaker conducting seminars across the North American Division.