“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” – December 1901
So it is said the advertisement placed in the Times of London read in promotion of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic at the turn of the 20th century. Numerous men showed up to join him, spurred by the promise of risk and the faint possibility of success. On the third expedition, his ship, The Endurance, was crushed by the ice and, for 22 months, the crew found themselves braving the elements and clinging to meager hopes. This is where risk took them; it carried them to an unexplored land. The chances of survival were small, but their lives were not “small.” They lived “big.” All the men survived.
These men lived boldly and pressed ahead, despite the risks. Perhaps you have been having conversations lately or find yourself in situations that have threads of risk and uncertainty stitched throughout them. We may ask ourselves “What if?” again and again. More and more I’ve come to realize that when we direct all our attention to the uncertainty, we tend to lead “small lives.” We reduce our scope and function in our hope for safety and self-preservation. Because of fear, often we refuse to step out into the adventure that Christ has for each one of us. “If I don’t step out, then I’ll never be hurt, rejected, or disappointed.” Or so we think. And, instead of the boldness and focus given by the Holy Spirit, we shrink into ourselves and content ourselves with less. Living this “small life” as opposed to living a “big life” reminded me of the words of the famous English preacher John H. Jowett:
If you want to get through the world with the smallest trouble, you must reduce yourself to the smallest compass. Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side. As soon as a man begins to enlarge his life, his resistances are multiplied. Let a man remove his petty selfish purposes and enthrone Christ, and his sufferings will be increased on every side.
If we truly intend to live a “big life,” we must remember that we risk discomfort by stepping out and living for Him, but we also must remember the most important fact when facing the unknown: When we step out in faith, He has already gone before us. When the children of Israel were commanded to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they faced a seemingly impossible obstacle because, at the time, the Jordan was overflowing at flood stage. How on earth were they to cross over? Joshua reminded the people that they were to follow God by telling them that the ark of the covenant (a concrete representation of God’s presence being with them) must go first so “that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before” (Josh. 3:4).
Like the children of Israel, when we face a flooded river, we must remember that He goes before us and respond with obedience. We find that, as promised by God, the waters of the river did not dry until “the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water” (Josh. 3:15). It was only after that movement that they passed over on dry ground. Notice that God did not dry up the waters before the priests stepped into the water. He waited for them to act in faith to His command. So often, we want to enter the Promised Land without having to depend upon His promises.
God promised, and they responded in faith. In that moment, they lived a “big life.” God met them in action. When God is involved, the gain is always worth the venture.
Where has God been leading you to step out on faith?
Where might God be telling you that “you have not passed this way before?”
Will you live a “small life” or a “big life” for Him?