When Prayer Flys a Plane

Over the course of three months, in the summer of 1947, as Europe picked up the rubble of World War II, Francis Schaeffer took a trip. His goal was to gather facts about the Church in Europe as the American Secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches. He visited thirteen countries, interviewed countless pastors and Christian leaders, listened to reports and lectures and sermons, and visited Europe's art museums. After a grueling three months, he began his long flight home to St. Louis. In his book, Death in the City, he tells us what happened.

As we started across the ocean, the Northern Lights stretched like a grew bow on our right. Halfway, almost to the minute, between Shannon and Gander, both motors on my side of the plane stopped at once. We fell about 3,000 feet in a very few minutes….

I had already flown a lot, and so I could feel the engines going wrong. I remember thinking, if I’m going to go down into the ocean, I’d better get my coat. When I did, I said to the hostess, “There’s something wrong with the engines.” She was a bit snappy and said, “You people always thing there’s something wrong with the engines.” So I shrugged my shoulder, but I took my coat. I had no sooner sat down that the lights came on and a very agitated copilot came out. “We’re in trouble,” he said. “Hurry and put on your life jackets.”

I fully expected to spend the night on the wing of the plane! My chief concern was my notebook, which had grown thick and heavy during the ninety days, and I was glad I had lost so much weight so that I could stuff it under my belt into my pants. I assured a woman with two children that I would take one of them.

So down we went, and we fell and fell, until in the middle of the night with no moon we could actually see the water breaking under us in the darkness. And as we were coming down, I prayed. Interestingly enough, a radio message had gone out, an SOS that was picked up and broadcast immediately all over the United States in a flash news announcement: “There is a plane falling in the middle of the Atlantic.” My wife heard about this immediately, and she gathered our three little girls together and they knelt down and began to pray. They were praying in St, Louis, Missouri, and I was praying on the plane. And we were going down and down….We could see the waves breaking beneath us and everybody was ready for the crash.

But the plane didn’t crash. Miraculously, the motors kicked on again and the plane rose back into the air. Schaeffer asked the pilot about this after landing.

“Well,” he said, “it’s a strange thing, something we can’t explain. Only rarely do two motors stop on one wing, but you can make a rule that when they do, they don’t start again. we don’t understand it.” So I turned to him and I said, “I can explain it.” He looked at me. “How?” And I said, “My Father in Heaven started it because I was praying.” That man got the strangest look on his face and he turned away. I'm sure he was the man sitting in the materialist's chair.

Schaeffer taught us that we may sit in one of two chairs. The first is the chair of the consistent materialist, where the world is comprised of nothing but mass, energy, and motion. There is nothing else to it. The other is the chair of the Christian, who lives in light of the Bible's teaching about the world.

The one in the Materialist's chair can search the world over to try and understand what is really going on but never comes to full knowledge. He learns a lot, and all of it very true and accurate, but never complete. He cannot know anything of the origin of life, or of the true working of things, or why these things work as they do because he has totally left God out.

On the other hand, the Christian, sitting under the Bible sees the whole of the world - both the seen and unseen. He is, in short, enlightened to the fullness of all that exists, and why it exists as it does. There is the physical world that can be seen and explored, as well as the spiritual world that can only be learned from God's revelation in the Scriptures.

So the Materialist, though he may spend his life looking at the world as it is, can never actually see what is really there. He sees only one part and has no patience, nor time, nor stomach for the rest. So though he may be able to explain the what, he can never explain the why. Only the Bible gives us the why.

Here Schaeffer is, on a plane with the Materialist. Sitting in a different chair, looking at the same world through a different lens. They both see the engines stop. They both see the waves of the ocean breaking beneath them. But only one knows that there are everlasting arms underneath it all.

The Materialist has no answer for the miracle of the engines, but Schaeffer is not bothered by it in the least. It is no surprise that God would work in this way. He's been doing it all along, and he'll continue to do it for eternity. The chair of the Christian factors God into all things at all times, and that makes all the difference.

The Materialist can never pray because he does not believe anyone will listen. The Christian can always pray because he believes God is there to always listen.