Breaking Through the Barrier

Every spiritual reality has its analogy in the physical domain. What we experience physically often parallels what we’re grappling with in the unseen, spiritual domain, which we inhabit as well.

* * *

In the 1940s the evolution of jet propulsion brought flight at the speed of sound within the range of possibility. But given the difficulty pilots were experiencing as they approached the speed of sound, many experts believed the so-called “sound barrier” to be impenetrable. [1]

But this wasn’t going to keep American engineers and test pilots from trying.  The X-1 program, secretly operating out of Muroc Field,  focused on developing an aircraft capable of breaking through that sound barrier.  Everyone involved in the program was committed to finding and correcting every aerodynamic flaw keeping the X-1  from flying at the speed of sound. This effort resulted in stress and pressure, and cost more than one pilot his life.

As aviation approached its new frontier, pilots discovered a field of violent turbulence awaiting them.  When aircraft drew near to the speed of sound, they entered uncharted territory, where it felt as if the sonic buffeting would rip their plane apart. The body of the jet would shudder and heave, swinging wildly from side to side, shaking so hard that rivets were known to pop out of the seams. In this stretch of fierce buffeting — just short of the sound barrier — the control surfaces of the aircraft ceased functioning. Even the best pilots lost control as their planes wheeled over and plunged into nosedives. Unable to recover or eject in time, some crashed and burned.

Every time we approach a “new frontier” —  every time we seek to break through a barrier that stands between where we are and where we are meant-to-be — we are going to encounter a field of fierce buffeting. The domain may be different, but the dynamic will be the same: in the prelude to breakthrough, you are going to experience loss of control and it will feel like your “aircraft” is being torn apart from around you.

The X-1 trials, in which the pilots pushed their experimental aircraft faster and farther than they had ever flown before, serve as a picture of the testing that is taking place in each of our lives as we push further than we’ve ever gone before . . . spiritually.

Why press?

Pilots had to leave the comfort zone of what they had always been able to do in the past, in order to achieve what they had never done before. If you have never heard God, if you have never seen Him clearly in your circumstances, if you have never clearly been led by Him — that is your comfort zone in the past. Will you press forward, giving your utmost for His highest?

They pushed their aircraft to their limit, because they were committed to finding and correcting every aerodynamic flaw that would keep the X-1  from fulfilling the program’s goal of man’s flight at the speed of sound.

Spiritually, God is pushing our aircraft to its limit — committed to finding and correcting every flaw that keeps our faith  (our view of God, our state-of-being, our mind-set, our grasp of the truth) from fulfilling His goal of our flying gloriously true.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,  knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

The  X-1 was tested at each stage of its evolution to correct its deficiencies, constantly modified until it could handle the stress imposed upon it as it approached the speed of sound. In the unseen, God runs us through test after test to correct the deficiencies in our faith that are keeping us from being able to handle the spiritual rigor of flying gloriously true.

Testing always works toward perfecting the craft for the mission it’s designed for. The more closely its design complies with the demands being placed upon it, the more easily it will handle the rigor of breaking through to accomplish its purpose.

The purpose of our faith is to bear us out of our oblivion to God, through the barrier, into the full realization of all that He is and wants to be for us.

Our testing is always working toward the perfection of our faith, so that it can handle the rigor of the mission for which it is designed . . . breaking through to God, taking us to that place where our lack of understanding God falls away and, with ease, we realize what He has been saying to us all along.

The barrier is the face of the truth. To get through, our faith must become compliant with truth.

The speed of truth, like the speed of sound,

is the point of breakthrough

— where there ceases to be any “barrier” at all.

 * * *

We are comparing two different barriers, each belonging to a dimension of its own.

  • One is physical: defining the difference between subsonic and supersonic fight.
  • The other is spiritual: defining the difference between carnal thinking and a spiritual mind. Carnal thinking is sub-truth “flight”; a spiritual mind is supernatural “flight” conforming to the truth of what God has said.  It plunges us into the radical experience of hearing and understanding what God is saying to us.

At any given moment, each of us has got a dozen planes in the air, each “test flight” being an area in our life where God is calling us into compliance with the truth, to a new breakthrough in believing Him, where we have yet to fully believe Him.

* * *

Breaking through the physical barrier

 In June, 1947, Chuck Yeager, one of the most junior test pilots, was chosen to attempt the American record of breaking the speed of sound in the rocket-powered Bell X-1. Yeager was not as well educated as many of the other pilots, but no one else had his instinctiveness or his extraordinary capacity to remain calm and focused in stressful situations. [2]

With each test flight, Yeager increased his speed, reporting back to Bell engineers how the aircraft handled. From the speed of 0.85 Mach upward (Mach 1 is the speed of sound), he encountered severe buffeting and sudden nose-up and nose-down trim changes that threatened his control of the plane.

On his seventh powered flight, at the speed of .94 Mach, all of Yeager’s controls suddenly stopped working. Shock waves on the plane’s control surfaces made operation impossible. Cool-headed, Yeager turned off the rockets to slow down, jettisoning the remaining fuel.

Gliding back to the lakebed, he explained what had happened.  Neither he nor the engineers knew what to do about this total loss of control. Many would have been ready to scrap the project, leave or start over again.

But a possible solution surfaced: he might be able to keep the aircraft from going into a nosedive by using the horizontal stabilizer. Yeager took another flight up to .96 Mach, and by using the horizontal stabilizer he was able to maintain ragged control of the XS-1, preventing a nosedive. The plan was now to take his plane to .98 Mach.

On the morning of October 14, at .94 Mach, Yeager held on for all he was worth as he flew through the field of violent buffeting. Again and again he used the horizontal stabilizer to keep from going into an uncontrolled dive. It was a wild ride.

But instead of throttling down, he fired another of the X-1’s rockets . . . pushing her even harder. Every inch of the aircraft bucked and trembled. And then at  .965 Mach, with his craft stressed to the point that it didn’t seem like it could handle the pressure, his speedometer fluctuated and went off scale.

At that moment, on the ground, his support team heard their first sonic boom . . . a sound like thunder. The moment had come . . .  the first documented breakthrough of man flying at the speed of sound.

What is utterly fascinating is that at the moment of breakthrough — at the speed of sound — the experience in the cockpit radically changed.  The wild buffeting instantaneously ceased. Everything became serenely still and smooth, as the X-1 bore its young pilot into the new realm of supersonic flight.

Breaking through the spiritual barrier

There is a moment in Abraham’s life that Scripture documents as his breakthrough.
All too often we read the story, but we are so familiar with it that we fail to recognize what is taking place beneath the surface.

Abraham first heard and began to understand what God was saying to him in Ur of the Chaldees. But he had to endure a stretch of trial and buffeting, before his faith was perfected so that it could carry him through — into the reality he was believing all that time.

Each of his failures along the way marked a “test flight” where fear, anxiety, struggle with unbelief and feelings of being abandoned or disappointed by God got the best of him, coloring his thinking, causing him to crash and burn, keeping him from flying gloriously true.

In Egypt he released his wife into another man’s harem. Too afraid for his life to protect their union, not sufficiently confident in God’s plan and purpose —  he claimed Sarah was his sister, hiding the fact she was his wife. When Pharaoh realized the truth, Abraham had to suffer the humiliation of being called to account,  “What is this you have done to me?” Abraham’s faith was not yet able to handle the stress of fully trusting God to protect him, to carry out what He had said He would do (Genesis 12).

Endlessly waiting for God to fulfill His word tries the soul greatly.  In Abraham’s time, having a son carried far more consequence than we can imagine now. It was the only means to pass on your inheritance, your legacy, the record of your existence, your worth. To have a son was just about the most important thing in his world. But with each passing year, Sarah’s bareness mocked that hope.  When we’re trying hard to hold on to what God has said, a voice often comes to taunt us with . . .  “Oh really?” [3]

In one of those moments, the adversity of waiting drove Abraham to a place of despair. He was trying to hold on to what God had said, but he was being severely buffeted by circumstances that screamed, “God is not able!”, “God is not willing.” “You’ve misunderstood.”  Abraham was deep into the field of fierce turbulence, just short of the spiritual barrier, where the control surfaces of his “aircraft” ceased functioning. But then a fresh word came to help him.

. . .  the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”

Gen 15:1-6, NASU

God told Abraham He was his shield! That his reward would be great.  But how does Abraham respond?  This is so important!

Abraham’s trial had destroyed the last shred of flattering expectation, the last of his natural enthusiasm, revealing every flaw in his initial inclination “to believe.” He had held on to God’s promise, but now he is confronting God with the crushing disappointment he is experiencing as a result of God’s failure to fulfill His promise — “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”

Nothing else God had to say mattered to him at that moment. The only promise that really mattered to him was apparently unfulfilled. Abraham, friend of God, father of our faith unloaded on God—verbalizing the intensity of his despair, his hurt and pain, his confusion, his utter absence of perfected faith.  He pointedly reminds God—You have given no offspring to me.

God has brought Abraham to this place.

For years Abraham has been believing,

but he had yet to break through in BELIEF.

Only those who have broken through the barrier know what takes place between believing and BELIEF. Everything in you dies. You give up. It is the cross where hope breathes its last. Adversity has mocked to death your best effort. You can’t make yourself try any longer.

Abraham’s heart was so broken he couldn’t even begin to respond to God’s offer of Himself as his shield and his great reward.

Abraham’s “soft accusation” hung in the air between them. Perhaps Abraham felt a slight shock at the intensity of his self-revelation, but it was out now. And lightning hadn’t struck him down.

Like the clean that follows a summer storm, Abraham felt a burden lift. His words had been honest and real. It was over. He couldn’t make himself believe any longer.

Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”

And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.


This was the moment Abraham broke through the spiritual barrier.

This was the moment in which the testing and perfecting of Abraham’s faith achieved BELIEF.

* * *

God did not take Abraham out under the stars to give him a new promise, He was giving the same promise to a new man—who no longer had to try to believe. 

For the first time, Abraham looked up and heard God, and he simply knew it was true. God was going to give him a son, no matter how old his and Sarah’s bodies were.

Faith perfected had borne him past the last of his unbelief, through the barrier, into the full realization of what God wanted to be and do for him.

In that moment of spiritual passage: the violent buffeting fell away, doubt lost its grip, anxiety no longer existed, the cockpit became instantaneously still and serene. And I suspect a sonic boom sounded somewhere in heaven as friend of God broke through.


High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds . . . and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of . . . wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.  [4]




[3] Taught to me by my friend and mentor, Sue Webster

[4] John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was born in ShanghaiChina, to an American father and a British mother who worked as Anglican missionaries.  Magee wrote the poem High Flight just months before his death, enclosing it in a letter to his parents.

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  1. John Ferguson says:

    WOW! Sorry, lost for words.
    Absolutely beautiful and inspiring.

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