In a group meeting recently, I commented on my interest in the story of the 5 people who had checked in for a Malaysian Airlines flight but then failed to board, which meant that their baggage had to be removed before the flight could depart. Eventually that plane disappeared. Why did those people not board? Did they have a premonition of danger and act to avoid it? Was their failure to board unintentional, an act of providential protection? We will likely never know the story, but it intrigues me greatly.
When I mentioned my interest in this incident a group member told a story of her own. She was headed off on a flight about which she and others had premonitions of trouble ahead. But she felt strongly that she must take this trip anyway. The flight was overbooked and she ended up being bumped to a slightly later flight, though the manifest of the original flight continued to show her as on board. Naturally, this caused some consternation at the other end when she did not arrive on the plane, even though airline personnel told the people waiting for her that she had been on the plane.
During the flight on the plane that our friend was not booked to take, they encountered lightning, apparently out of nowhere, which caused turbulence and elicited from the pilot an apology, along with an expression of puzzlement about what was happening. It was a very strange incident, but the plane came through it OK and the visit at the other end continued as the woman had thought it must.
That story of this friend’s airplane trip and the various premonitions that came up along the way leaves many unanswered questions, but spiritual warfare came to my own mind as we heard the story. The next morning, as I lay in bed thinking of that incident, I thought of Paul headed for Jerusalem. Philip’s daughters and Agabus received revelation from the Lord about what would happen to Paul if he went to Jerusalem, and so they told him he should not go. But God had already told Paul what awaited him, and had let him know that he had to go anyway. Something very similar had happened previously with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. The Father had revealed to Jesus what was going to happen to him, but when he told the disciples about it, Peter and others urged him not to go. Jesus went anyway, because he knew that the Father called him to do so, whereas the disciples were working off their rational assessment of the situation, with little understanding of what God was in the process of doing for the redemption of the world.
Our friend was also convinced that the Lord wanted her to go and she kept on. In this case, it appears that the Lord protected her from evil that could have occurred, which is different from Paul’s and Jesus’ situations, but looks to me to be in similar territory. The question it raises is how we know what to do with purported revelations of impending trouble. When do we change our plans and thank God for warning us, and when do we keep moving forward because we are confident that God wants us to do so, even though trouble is either certain (Paul and Jesus) or possible (our friend)? In any event, our prior commitment has to be to obedience to the Lord’s direction, as we discern it. It is tricky, and I don’t think rules can be established ahead of time which will tell us what to do in these situations. Learning to hear the voice of God is critically important, but this is a subjective process, and we may mistake other voices for God’s. That is a risk we can’t avoid. We simply have to act according to what we discern to be God’s will in the situation. We may be wrong, but we have to leave the consequences to God. Sometimes he may protect us from harm which would otherwise have resulted from our well-intentioned error, on other occasions he may let things take their natural course but then bring good out of it in other ways.
Walking by faith not sight entails a measure of risk, but act we must, and in the long run we can’t go wrong if our consciences are clear about the actions we take. That isn’t necessarily “safe,” but it is a great deal “safer” than any alternative approach I can think of. As John Hammis’s hymn suggests: “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”