Please do not put your airbrakes on over the vicarage in Aughton. Our vicar likes to sleep in.


Well, this time next week – if all goes to plan – I will be some 35975 feet over the Amazonian rainforest.

And even stranger, this time in three weeks – as we return from Buenos Aires – we will be flying over the Saharan desert.

I know this because I have just consulted flightradar24 on my Mac.

It all started when I wanted to know which plane woke me up each morning as it applied its airbrakes right over our house.   Couldn’t they wait just two minutes when they were over Bickerstaffe?  They’re all farmers there and will driving their tractors with their ear-plugs in.

So I bought the app.  This shows the flight movements along with info about each plane in real time.  At least for those planes using an ADS-B transponder.

And I discovered my early-morning culprit.  It was invariably a Thomas Cook flight from the Caribbean, sometimes Orlando, making its final approach to Manchester International.   Like many of the planes flying over our house it is guided by the beacon in Wigan near the end of the M58.

As it happens many of us at church know two pilots who fly Thomas Cook.  This gave me an unexpected opportunity.  So I suggested that they pin a notice on their staff notice board. “Please do not put your airbrakes on over the vicarage in Aughton.  Our vicar likes to sleep in.”

Actually, as I write this, I now realize I didn’t hear the plane this morning – and so maybe, just maybe, my plan is working.

But we like to know what is happening around us, and in this case, above us.  To discover where that road leads, to know what is happening over there.

God has made us inquisitive.

It was Victorian educationalist Frank Moore Colby who wrote:  “Every man ought to be inquisitive through every hour of his great adventure down to the day when he shall no longer cast a shadow in the sun. For if he dies without a question in his heart, what excuse is there for his continuance?”

For when we stop asking questions, something important has died within us.  We need to discover, to understand what is happening. Just like young children.

This was certainly the case for Moses as he was tending the flock of his father-in-law.   As a shepherd he needs to keep his wits about him.  And then he sees something which he doesn’t understand – a bush is on fire and it does not burn up.

Clearly he must have been looking at those flames for some time before realising something strange was taking place.  It didn’t make sense.

Now Moses could have simply shrugged his shoulders and thought “Well, that’s strange!” and carried on moving.  But he didn’t.

“So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.’” (Exodus 3:3).  As he does so he encounters God.  And history changes direction.

So this story of the Exodus begins, very much the template of how God works in our world to bring deliverance and lead us to the Promised Land.  And it begins with Moses’ curiosity, his questioning.  Maybe God was checking him out.

So we need to be alert to God, to the ways he works in his world and in our lives.  Often things happen, out-of-the-ordinary, to attract our attention, for us to stop and think “What’s happening here?”

This is certainly the case for many people in how they become Christians.  They see something happening in the life of their friend or family member – and it seems odd, even out-of-character.

It doesn’t have to be that they are becoming better people – more patient, less demanding.  Just that they are different in some unexpected way.  For what they are seeing is God at work.

Now I think about it a key priority of my ministry as vicar is to discover those places where God at work.  It’s not always obvious;  sometimes in the most unexpected locations with the most unlikely people.

You look for the tell-tale signs, sometimes barely perceptible.  Always the more visible, however, when seen in human weakness.

You look for God at work and then work with him. For this seems to be how Jesus operated.  So he explains to his opponents.  “I’m telling you this straight. The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does.”  (John 5:19)

And in this we need the spiritual equivalent of flightradar24 – what the apostle Paul calls the gift of discernment.  For we need to see God at work, and we do so by being inquisitive, by looking beyond appearances and like Moses, be prepared to meet up with God himself.

So next time you see a vapour trail, don’t forget to wonder.