Last week, I boarded a flight for Miami to begin a journey to South America. But our departure time came and went, and flight attendants made numerous announcements apologizing for the delay. Finally, the pilot announced that we had a mechanical problem. He instructed everyone to get off the plane.
The mood was tense as all the passengers regrouped in the gate area. Airline representatives announced that everyone would have to be rebooked because our flight was canceled. The reason: A bird had collided with the plane and caused undetermined damage.
I was upset at first. I was supposed to arrive in Colombia that evening, and I was scheduled to speak at a conference the next day. I was grumbling in my heart. But other passengers were more vocal. I was standing in a long line to speak with an agent, but I could hear people yelling at airline personnel.
One woman near me was on the phone with the airline. She was demanding a rebooking. “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you,” she told a customer service representative. “You will get me on another flight, and you will cover the cost of my hotel in Miami and reimburse me for the $1,500 hotel room I was supposed to sleep in tonight in Aruba.”
Another customer was yelling at the innocent gate agent, as if it were her fault that a rogue bird had been allowed to fly into Atlanta’s airspace. I felt sorry for the lady at the counter, who was attempting to show courtesy while being berated.
A male passenger near the gate began using obscenities and making verbal threats toward the airline for spoiling his travel plans. A second gate agent informed him that she would call security if he didn’t stop yelling.
Watching this scene jolted me into reality. I couldn’t believe how grown adults were responding to something as trivial as a flight delay. And I was convicted because I had been on the verge of outrage myself.
So, while standing in that line, I prayed and adjusted my attitude. I said to myself: I will not act like an entitled American. I will not blame anyone for this, since airlines don’t control nature. I will smile and put my trust in the Lord—knowing that if He wants me in Colombia, He can get me there in time. Help me, Lord, to show the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Just before I got to the service counter, the passenger in front of me began throwing a classic hissy fit. The gate agent remained calm—bless her heart—and she reminded the customer that she was doing everything she could to help.
When I finally approached the desk, I smiled and spoke in a soothing tone. “I’m so sorry you have to endure this,” I said. “I know this is not your fault. Thank you for being so polite.”
She smiled back with a look of shock and relief. “Thanks so much; how can I help you?”
I explained that I was supposed to preach in Barranquilla the next afternoon. I said I hoped there might be a way that she could reroute me so that I could make it on time.
After researching different options on her computer, the gate agent asked if she could speak to me privately. She walked away from her desk and I followed her.
She smiled again. “Look, I didn’t want other customers to hear me say this,” she said. “But you’ve been so nice, I want to give you this option.” She explained that she could get me to Bogotá on another airline, and then to Barranquilla in plenty of time for my conference. I said, “Praise the Lord,” and thanked her.
My flight was rerouted, I made my connection, and I arrived in Barranquilla on Saturday morning. Fifteen people gave their hearts to Jesus at the close of the first meeting that afternoon. A canceled flight did not prevent me from fulfilling my mission.
I couldn’t help but think about all the hardships the apostle Paul endured during his journeys. He never experienced the comforts of modern air travel. He walked, rode horses or wagons, or sailed the Mediterranean Sea to reach his destinations. The Book of Acts describes his arrests, imprisonments, snakebites, beatings and the shipwreck he suffered on the way to Italy.
Paul never complained about his trials. In every case he traded his frustration, anxiety and anger for joy, praise and thanksgiving.
Right after he was stoned by an angry mob and left for dead in Lystra, he returned to the church there and told the disciples: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22, NASB). Paul would later write to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4, MEV). He penned those words from a crude Roman jail.
I don’t always respond with the right attitude when problems come, but this recent experience in the Atlanta airport taught me that my attitude determines my outcome. I hope you will also learn that it pays to respond with love, joy and kindness when our flesh begs us to grumble and complain.
J. Lee Grady is an author, award-winning journalist and ordained minister. He served as a news writer and magazine editor for many years before launching into full-time ministry.
Lee is the author of six books, including 10 Lies the Church Tells Women, 10 Lies Men Believe and Fearless Daughters of the Bible. His years at Charisma magazine also gave him a unique perspective of the Spirit-filled church and led him to write The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale and Set My Heart on Fire, which is a Bible study on the work of the Holy Spirit.