If you have ever read the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's effort to cross the Antarctic Ocean on the ship called Endurance, you would have to agree that it is one of the most amazing adventure stories ever told. It is one of the best illustrations of leadership that I have come across and is a great parallel of what pastors must do to keep their flocks together. Early in the story, we get an interesting insight into Shackleton’s leadership style. Seeking recruits for his 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition, he placed this advertisement in a London newspaper:
"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. Sir Ernest Shackleton."
Who would ever answer such an ad? Plenty of people! In fact, they lined up to sign on and many people were turned away, including a group of women.
You would think that if you laid out the reality of such risks and spelled out the personal costs this plainly, men would stay away; but they didn’t. I think of this when I hear someone “soft-selling” becoming a Christian. They seem to say, “If you become a believer, your life will become easier, all your problems will go away, and you will become healthy, wealthy and wise.”
That was not my experience. Becoming a disciple greatly complicated my life. I only changed one set of problems for another - one old struggle for many new ones - not just because I became a believer, but because I became a disciple of Jesus Christ. As a result, I lost all my friends. Some of my family didn’t speak to me for years. Becoming a disciple required real endurance.
Discipleship is not for wimps. You will have to endure many hardships to fully follow Jesus. Notice how He Himself presented the call to discipleship. He laid out the costs up front using such “inviting terms”, as…
“We have no place to lay our heads at night…”
“We have no place called home…”
“Once you start, you can never turn back…”
“Whoever loses his home, his country, his family for my sake…”
“You must hate your family…”
“Let the dead bury the dead…”
“Men will kill you for my sake…”
“Whatever they do to me, they will also do to you…”
The harder He made it, the more people signed up to follow Him.
I have noticed that whenever we begin putting together a mission team to go on a trip, the more realistic we make it, the better. There is nothing comfortable about these trips. If we soft-sell them to get more people to come, we only end up with the kind who expect to be catered to, those who are looking for a “vacation for the Lord” and some who are only interested in getting another stamp in their passport. These are usually the kind who quit when things get rough; and things usually get rough. The trip got rough for Shackleton and his men too.
Within a hundred miles of their destination, the ice in the Weddell Sea closed in around the ship, locking them in. They lived on board in darkness for months before the ice finally crushed the ship completely. They took the life boats and all the supplies they could carry and lived in the open, on an ice flow for many months. When the ice finally broke up, they made their way across the arctic seas in open boats, landing on an island that man had never stepped foot on before. From there, Shackleton took two men with him for one of the most amazing journeys across 800 miles of the world’s roughest seas, in an attempt to reach another island where a whaling station was located. It was here that their journey had begun almost two years before.
When they arrived on South Georgia Island, they found that they were on the wrong side of the island and had to cross the interior of the island on foot. They were weakened and hungry and had unsuitable clothing and equipment. They faced blizzard conditions and near hurricane winds as they crossed mountains that no one had ever climbed before.
Shackleton's diary notes an interesting experience during this part of the journey: “I know that during that long and racking march of 36 hours over the unnamed mountains of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that there were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions, but afterwards Worsley said to me, "Boss, I had a curious feeling that there was another person with us."
Their heroic efforts paid off and they not only made it to safety themselves, but were able to arrange for another ship to go back to Elephant Island and rescue all the men who had been living under a couple of overturned boats for the past four months. After two years of one of the greatest feats of survival, kept together by strong, decisive, leadership, all 28 men made it back to England alive, minus a few frost-bitten toes. Interestingly enough, many of the same men signed on to be crew for Shackleton’s next trip to the Antarctic.
In recent years, some mountain climbers with all their modern climbing equipment tried to replicate Shackleton’s journey across this island and they could not do it. Shackleton’s team did it with light clothing, nails hammered into the bottom of their boots, one ice-axe between three men, and a small gas stove. For food they ate snow and drank powered milk. They were also praying as they went.
I suspect that part of the reason the recent team may have failed is because they did not have the same desperation. They had better equipment, but lacked the right mind-set. Shackleton’s motives sprung from his desire for fame and fortune. While he can be used as an example of endurance and leadership, there is not much else from his life that we draw from. For real motivation, we have to look to men like Jesus and Paul.
We need not make the cost of wholly following Jesus higher than it is, but let’s be realistic about it; it is not for wimps or whiners. If your walk with the Lord is too cushy - too easy – without any need for risk taking, then perhaps you should ask Him if you are truly following Him as you ought.
WHIMPS AND WHINERS
Whatever happened to the kind of Christianity that was costly? The kind of Christianity that required real commitment? When we look back at Christians of the past, we can hardly relate to their zeal. We read about them riding on horseback for days, through all kinds of weather, to bring the gospel to others, or kneeling on plank floors in prayer all night, or fasting at great length. I have found this kind of endurance in other countries around the world, but it is not found here much anymore.
We don’t relate to what Paul wrote Timothy, when he said, “You must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3)
This is not just mere talk. Paul was speaking from experience, as you can see from the list of things he endured in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 as he fulfilled his call. You have to ask, “What motivated him?”
“Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—28besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
As I followed some of the apostle’s journeys through what is today the country of Turkey, I was amazed at the terrain he traveled through in order to spread the Gospel. Some of it is like a rugged moonscape. Just passing through the Tarsus Mountains caused my respect for him grew mile after mile, as I saw what he was willing to endure.
As I read the New Testament, I see a different kind of Christianity than we have created today. Discipleship was not for the faint of heart. My Bible is filled with strong words like…
“Enduring ….to receive the promises of God”…
“Having done all... stand!”
“Endure hardship… like a good soldier.”
“Casting down strong-holds…”
“Resisting the devil…”
“Count it all joy when suffering trials and temptations…”
“Not surprised when trials befall us, but rejoicing…
“…offering the sacrifice of praise…”
Instead, we have become wimps, whiners, and weaklings.
These days, the media is always speculating aloud if we are headed for another Great Depression. I don’t know about you, but I am not buying what they are saying. They are peddling fear and they know how to strum people’s anxieties until we feel depressed. Actually, if you have ever had the opportunity to sit down and listen to those who actually went through the Great Depression, you will find that they tend to talk about it with a certain sentimentality. They realize that they were better people for it. They were shaped by it, becoming more resourceful, restrained, and resilient. As bad as it was, you will not hear a whole lot of self-pity, either. What you will hear them say is how it made us a better people and that it was the turning point causing our nation to become great.
I am not sure how we got this way, but the generations since World War Two has a very low pain threshold. We have become intolerant of any inconvenience, delay, or ongoing need. We just bully or borrow right on through it. Perhaps this is the downside to prosperity. There is a God-given kind of prosperity that comes with His dealings which tempers us in a way so that prosperity does not ruin our lives. There is also a self-made kind of prosperity which actually makes people weaker. Parents should be careful not to give their kids whatever they want, but look for ways to teach them how to endure hardships. They will be better people for it.
Why is our endurance threshold so low?
WE HAVE NEED OF PATIENCE
We should ask ourselves, “Why do we quit so easily?” We quit our churches, our marriages, our relationships, our jobs, and our spiritual assignments. What is missing in our understanding of churches today, or in our teaching, that causes us to quit so easily? Whatever happened to “perseverance”?
The old English word for this is patience. The most common Greek word for patience in the New Testament is not the gritting your teeth and bearing it kind of tolerance “…until I can get through this”. It is a different kind of attitude that involves, “cheerful, hopeful, endurance while you are waiting”.
We usually overlook the “cheerful” part of endurance. This is the attitude to posses as we pray and plod on.
PATIENCE G5281 Hupomone; From G5278; cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy: — enduring, patience, patient continuance (waiting).
Here are some places it appears in scripture:
As Jesus was laying out what is going to happen in the last days, He said in Matthew 24:13, "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
The Apostle Paul outlines what a minister of God looks like in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10. Can you relate to this description? “We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. 4But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in muchpatience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 5in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; 6by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
When Paul was encouraging new believers to stand firm, he told them that their endurance spoke to the other churches: “…so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure…” (2 Thessalonians 4-7)
Enduring is the only way to inherit the promises of God: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:11,12)
Endurance is an essential part of our spiritual growth: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1: 3,4)
We can see how others endured and inspire: “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering andpatience. 11Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:10,11)
We must endure together. “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom andpatience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelations 1:9)
(There are a number of references about needing patience throughout the Book of Revelation for you to explore on your own.)
For more along this line, get my book, Making Disciples Today