Why Jesus Is Not Our Copilot

Psalm 51:1–6 (NIV)

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.


Growing up on the farm we were always around airplanes—air tractors to be specific, also known as “crop-dusters.” I will forever remember the day I sat in the lap of an AG pilot while he flew fertilizer on one of our fields. Talk about a roller coaster ride! I thought my mom would never forgive my dad for letting that happen. That story is for another day. 

Our cousins were all private pilots. Airplanes were like cars to them. I’ll never forget the time my cousin Chase and I were flying down from college to our home in south Arkansas for a weekend hunt. We ran into some light rain. We didn’t think it would be a problem until we realized it was thirty-one degrees at 7,000 feet. I should mention at this point there are basically two kinds of flying: VFR and IFR. VFR stands for “Visual Flight Rules,” and IFR stands for “Instrument Flight Rules.” And it all depends on the weather. And, did I mention that cousin Chase was a VFR pilot (as most small craft pilots are)? A VFR pilot trusts their eyes. An IFR pilot trusts the instruments. 

Rehearsing: At 7,000 feet, with diminishing visibility, and light rain coming in we were rapidly moving into IFR territory. And just like that, the windshield iced over. The wings would be next. Despite his lack of training and qualification to fly in these conditions, Chase is a brilliant pilot. Chase immediately turned the windshield defroster on high, put the aircraft into a dive as he and I craned our necks over the instrument panel and dashboard straining to see through the coffee cup sized spot melting on the windshield. Yes, we were desperately searching for the airport. It was a race against time and ice. Indeed, we were within minutes of crashing. Things got very quiet in the cockpit. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. Chase started praying the Lord’s Prayer, and as his faithful co-pilot, I joined him. Obviously we made it to the ground. 

So what does this story have to do with anything? Some of you have already done the translation. We are created with a supernaturally sophisticated panel of highly perceptive instruments at the core of our being: the Bible calls it our inmost being. Think of the instruments as our heart, mind, soul, and spirit. We were made to fly, to soar, and yet because of sin, these instruments have been broken and rendered unreliable if not useless. We are left to navigate as best we can by visual flight rules. We do not walk by faith but by sight. We do not move according to the will of love but of self interest. We do not walk in the light but we stumble in the darkness. We do not bear the fruit of the Spirit but the works of the flesh. 

Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.1

We are broken in our inmost being from the beginning. We cannot educate ourselves out of this condition or we would have by now. I wish it were not so, and yet the gift of God is complete restoration, deep salvation, redemption, healing and not so much being taught to fly as being lifted up on eagles’ wings. By the Word of God we are given the perspective of faith and hope and love, endowed with the very Spirit of God and the mind of Christ, and come to bear the flourishing fruit of the kingdom. This is the stuff of attunement. The psalmist can only plead for such a thing:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:10–12)2

Because of Jesus Messiah—the image of God yesterday, today, and forever—this has gone from the pleading prayer of prophets and kings to the blessed birthright of every citizen in the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is not our copilot. He must pilot the craft of our inmost being. And he will. 

Wake up, sleeper! Rise from the dead! Turn the cockpit over to Jesus. He is able to pilot you through the fiercest storms and the most perilous of conditions and always into life on life on life. 


Farmer Father God, thank you for your never ending will to teach us wisdom in the secret place; to restore our inmost being to the fullness of your image. How we thank you for Jesus who not only shows us the way but he is the way; who doesn’t just teach us new things but fulfills his teaching in us himself until we are new creations. Oh how we love Jesus. Oh how we love your Spirit. Thank you for making us to fly, to soar, to be lifted up on eagles’ wings so that we might walk and not grow weary; that we might walk and not faint. Praying in the name of Jesus, amen. 


When did you come to the realization that the instrument panel in your inmost being was corrupted and rendered unreliable? Are you growing in awareness of this most holy place at the core of your being? How do you relate to the analogy of VFR and IFR in the story today? 

P.S. I’ll be preaching in Little Rock this Sunday. You are invited. 

This coming Sunday, November 6, I will be preaching at St. James United Methodist Church—8:30, 9:30 and 11:00 am. If you come do say hello. 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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  1. I don’t love how the new NIV translates Psalm 51:6. I prefer the more literal ESV or the NASB, the latter of which says, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in secret You will make wisdom known to me.” It’s the same basic word from Psalm 139 re: innermost being. We must get beyond understanding sin at the lowest level, which is that of morality. Sin is far more devastating than immorality or moral failure. Sin disintegrates and diseases our inmost being. Think of sin like spiritual plaque clogging up the arteries of our innermost being. Think of sin like toxins injected into pure drinking water. Truth in the innermost being is the unadulterated pure love of God. It’s why the opposite of sin is not righteous behavior but the love of God. This is why God desires “truth” in the innermost being. It is the only we can flourish as human beings created in God’s image.
  2. This prayer of David is one of the most beautiful prayers for inner healing in all of Scripture. This is a prayer for the healing and restoration of the innermost being. Though I have sung this text along with Keith Green many times, I fear it still remains at the level of sentimental intention in my life. It is actually a prescription for healing. It is a medicinal prayer for the restoration of the innermost being. I am going to bring it much closer now, and apply it like a salve in this inmost place. 

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

2 Responses

  1. I used to compare my behaviors to the worst human behaviors that I knew about. By that standard I believed that I was a good person with a good inner instrument panel. Then one day I had an encounter with the living Jesus Christ, and He became a continual real presence and guide in my inner life and gave me a hunger to read the Bible. The more I read it, the more I began to see that although by my outward behaviors I considered myself to be a good person, my thoughts, desires, feelings, and opinions were full of sin.

    Then I began to see that many of my outward behaviors were also sinful. I tried to stop them, but some held me so tightly in bondage that all I could do was cry to Jesus for mercy, forgiveness, and deliverance. Gradually I began to see that my sin was deeper than my behaviors and realized that I was a sinner by nature. I began to ask God to set me free from the bondage of self. That’s when He began to show me that I need to die to self (my old man–my human nature–the faulty instrument panel in my inmost being) and I wrote these words:

    Watching your old man die
    Makes you want to cry,
    Seeing all your hopes and dreams
    Take their wings and fly,
    I know that old man
    His name is myself,
    But I can’t help him now,
    He belongs to someone else.

    Cause, Jesus, I gave myself to you,
    Said you can do’
    Whatever you want to.
    But watching him die
    Is such a painful thing
    Although, I know
    New life it will bring.

    It’s hard to say,
    “Lord, have Your way.”
    That old man sticks around
    And says He’s gonna stay.
    He moans and groans in agony
    Till I just can’t bear to see,
    Then he grabs me by the hand
    And says, “Save me boy, I’m your old man.”

    Jesus, I give myself to you.
    Go ahead and do whatever you want to
    To me.

  2. My father was an “aerial applicator” i.e. crop-duster and I can totally relate to this story. (He used to do the crop-duster plane ride “boyfriend test” to all my male suitors, but that too is a story for another day!) At times my father would have to totally rely on his instruments when sight was clouded. When God is the center of our inmost being and Truth is the rule of our heart, we can rest in any clouded uncertain situation or path knowing that He carries us. We can trust in His “instrumental” guideance. His wisdom & goodness will always prevail.

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