Pause for thought
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“A man, a plan, a canal, Panama” is probably the longest palindrome I know. Try it — it reads the same backwards as forwards!

That fact popped into my head because I was remembering a trip across Gatun Lake in Panama. You might not have been aware that Gatun Lake did not exist before 1914 when President Theodore Roosevelt pressed a switch that blew up the Culebra Dyke which allowed the newly constructed Panama Canal to flood up to its current height.

I have included a map of the lake above to illustrate that getting from the entrance to the exit of the Panama Canal (Gatun to Gamboa) is no simple matter.

If you have been privileged to visit or transit the canal, you will know that apart from the relatively straight passages that contain the locks (Colon and Panama City), the majority of the passage is spent on the lake. It’s a very confusing place. To get from the Atlantic to the Pacific you have to travel from Northwest to Southeast which seems totally backward!

The lake itself was formed by flooding the existing landscape and this left “islands” poking above the waterline, but it also left reefs and shoals lurking below the waterline — a definite hazard to boats and ships of all shapes and sizes!

To get through this maze of hazards, ships’ captains rely on experienced pilots and some ingenious navigation aids. You will realize that opening in 1914, this was before radio navigation or satellites or GPS, so the engineers of that time came up with a simple, reliable, low-maintenance, foolproof solution for all the twists and turns that is still the primary means of navigation today.

I was privileged to be an observer on the bridge of a cruise ship that made such a passage and had the procedure explained to me as we progressed. Every part of the maneuver was accomplished with the utmost calm and assurance that we were perfectly safe and our destination would be reached in time.

The transit is divided into a number of segments where the helmsman will “aim” for a “beacon” — visible in daylight and lit by night — somewhere on the shore. The ship will progress toward that beacon until the next beacon ( and there will only ever be one “next” beacon) comes into view. At that point the ship will turn and aim for the next beacon. This procedure keeps the ship in safe waters and avoids collisions between vessels going in opposite directions. Pure genius!

This is the same system I was taught when learning to fly an airplane. It is very easy to get disoriented and “turned around” when you don’t have the discipline of a road to make you go where you need to. So after sloppily flying all over the sky, my instructor taught me the foolproof method of getting from A to B: pick a feature (a “beacon”) in the distance which lies in the direction you want to go and keep that beacon fixed in your sightline. No turning until you get to your destination or waypoint and another “beacon” is set. Works every time.

Sometimes our journey in life feels like crossing Lake Gatun! There are hazards everywhere, and not just the ones we can see. Lurking beneath the surface are hidden reefs and shoals threatening to rip the bottom out of our life and world.

It would be nice to think we came up with these methods recently and by sheer genius, but of course, the Holy Spirit writing in the Scriptures has us beat by thousands of years!

Look at these quotations:

“Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.” Proverbs 4:25 NLT

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3 NLT

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8 NLT

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:2 NLT

The Hymn writers get in on the secret too:

“My hope is fixed on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.” — Edward Mote

“O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” — Helen H. Lemmel

Whether flying, crossing Lake Gatun, or navigating life, the message is clear: to reach your destination safely you have to shut out distractions and concentrate on reliable beacons to guide you. These beacons will be found in God’s Word and in the person of Jesus Christ, who promised he would always be with us, even to the end of the world!

Of course, for some of my readers none of this may be news to you. If that is the case may I point out that you most certainly have a neighbor who has no clue and would benefit immensely if you shared this secret with them.

Bon voyage!

Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black

P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at