Jim Lovell is best known for commanding the ill-fated Apollo 13. The ingenuity of engineers on earth is credited with returning Lovell and his crewmates safely after an onboard explosion. But Lovell’s calm, cool leadership and display of trust in those experts played no small role in the crippled spacecraft’s safe return in April 1970. It wasn’t the first time Lovell’s willingness to follow the path of others saved his life.

In 1953, dispatched to Moffett Field in California, Lovell was attempting his first nighttime landing on the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La. Lovell had improvised a light to illuminate his kneeboard. Instead, it created a short which left the cockpit dark and Lovell, already nervous about a night landing, without instrumentation. How would he find the unlighted carrier’s landing deck in the pitch dark?

Lovell found the trail of phosphorescent algae churned up by the carrier’s wake. He followed it directly to safety. Was a lighted trail in desperate darkness a coincidence? I think not:

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment. Isaiah 50:10-11 (NIV).

Like Lovell, we often try to create our own light, rather than let God light our own path. Verse 11 tells us the danger of trusting our own flaming torch. Biblical scholars don’t entirely agree on the verse’s meaning. Some argue that it means creating our own way often leads to ruin. Others see it as a reference to the fires of hell. Either way, verse 10 is clear: trusting in God’s Word provides us with the light we need to stay on his path (Psalm 119:105).

Lovell’s desire to create his own light put him in peril. Then God blessed him by leaving him no choice: the only path to safety was one provided by God’s creation. The Creator of all things literally lighted his path to safety. Lovell went on to make 107 carrier landings and go on to teach others how to fly fighter jets. He would orbit the earth in Gemini 7 and 12, and the moon in Apollo 8 before ending his career with the splashdown of Apollo 13.

In case you missed in the above paragraph just how amazing this blessing was, here it is again. Not only did God light his path, but it was also the only path available to Lovell. God gives us a choice. We can follow the lighted path of Isaiah 50:10 or light our own torch and risk the consequences of verse 11. Like Lovell, God often puts us in complete darkness, inviting us to follow the lighted path that He will show us if we trust Him. Whether we gratefully follow that path, as Lovell did, or recklessly light our own torch is entirely up to us.

This post is republished with permission from Oakbrook Church, De Pere WI.

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