“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
As the legend goes, that was the advertisement placed in the Times of London 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 trapped by the sea ice. For 22 months the crew found themselves braving the elements and clinging to meager hopes. This is where the love of honor 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 in this season having threads of risk and uncertainty stitched throughout them. We may ask ourselves “what if?” again and again and try to develop a contingency plan for any potential threat. We can obsess over all the things we do not know while painting ourselves into mental corners. 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, we refuse to step out into the adventure that Christ has for each one of us. We think, “If I don’t step out, then I’ll never be hurt, rejected, or disappointed.” Instead of living with 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 Christ, but we also must remember the most important fact when facing the unknown: when we step out in faith, God 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 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 and that the ark of the covenant (a concrete representation of God’s presence) must go first so “that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4).
Like the children of Israel, when we face a flooded river, we must remember that he goes before us and respond to him in obedience. We find that, as promised by God, the waters of the river did not stop until “the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water” (Joshua 3:15). 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. We sometimes want to enter the Promised Land without depending upon God’s promises. He 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; there are no odds with God.
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?
We will lead lives of power and love and self-control as we are controlled by God’s Spirit. – 2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
We will demonstrate being filled with the Holy Spirit by living for Christ and speaking truth with boldness. – Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
We will approach God with boldness, not because of our merit, but because of his mercy. – Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.