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The story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s early 20th-century expeditions to the Antarctic have gone down in history as some of the greatest feats of adventure, endurance and determination that the world has ever known. Despite three grueling attempts to conquer that great frozen land, Shackleton never did reach his ultimate goal—to become the first person to set foot at the South Pole. Yet he never gave up and he kept on going.

His first expedition with the world-famous explorer Robert Scott was a disappointment, to say the least. They had not succeeded in getting anywhere near the pole. Instead they came close to losing their very lives. Shackleton himself became very ill and had to be sent back home long before the expedition ended.

His second attempt, on the ill-fated ship Endurance, was just one disaster after another. First, Endurance became frozen in pack ice and Shackleton and his crew had to spend a cold, dark winter in total isolation. Later that year, the ship was crushed and sunk by the tremendous pressure of the ice, resulting in the crew having to spend months on end in tents and makeshift shelters on top of moving ice floes at the mercy of the unforgiving elements.

When the ice finally broke up, the men made a treacherous and dangerous open boat journey to the rugged shores of Elephant Island. Then Shackleton and five other crew members set sail across 700 miles of one of the world’s stormiest oceans and then made a dangerous overland trek across South Georgia island to get help at a whaling station.

Meanwhile, the crew left at Elephant Island had to suffer four months of unbelievable hardships until they were finally rescued by Shackleton himself.

His third expedition was an attempt to circumnavigate the entire continent of Antarctica on board the ship Quest. This, too, ended in failure as Shackleton died of a heart attack while his ship was taking on supplies at South Georgia.

Shackleton: success or failure?

When viewing Shackleton’s adventures in tangible terms, one may come to the conclusion that he was a complete failure. He never achieved the goals he set out for himself. He lived not quite 48 years and died exhausted, dispirited and in debt. Yet he always followed his dream. “I shall go on going... till one day I shall not come back,” he said near the end of his life.

Like many people whose accomplishments have won them lasting fame and admiration, Shackleton did not realize what he had accomplished. Today he is considered one of the greatest explorers of the 20th century. His name has become synonymous with bravery, grit and resiliency. Historians view Shackleton’s success not so much in achieving his goals, but in the obstacles he overcame while trying to accomplish them. He truly was the epitome of courage, willpower and grace under pressure.

The magnitude of Shackleton’s physical adventures parallels the Christian spiritual way of life. We, too, must have the willingness to endure and the resoluteness to battle against the obstacles of worldly influence. As we strap on our spiritual armor and prepare to battle against the world (Ephesians 6:10-18), we must, with God’s help, fight against the evil forces that undermine our stand for all that is right, just and good.

Christian living has always presented a challenge for those who stand for the cause of Christ. Every day of our lives we are locked in a struggle against the forces of evil. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

High adventures, like those Sir Ernest Shackleton undertook, demand a willingness to undergo great hardships and discipline. Likewise, the Christian way of life demands resolve and determination to overcome all the fiery darts of the evil one in order that we may receive the crown of life.

Spiritual high adventures and hardships

Shackleton’s incredible endurance and bravery pale in comparison with the spiritual high adventures and challenges of the early Christians whose resolve and commitment were second to none. In the book of Hebrews we get a glimpse of some of the hardships those great men and women of God were willing to endure for the cause of Christ. Some were made fun of and whipped. Others were put in chains and taken off to jail. They were stoned, sawed in two and killed by the sword. They went around in rags, poor, persecuted and mistreated (Hebrews 11:36-39). What enabled these dear saints to endure such hardships? They knew they would be raised to a better life (Hebrews 11:35).

Other great men of God had to endure similar hardships as well. Such was the case with the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 he relates some of his experiences: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three 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; in 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; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.”

What did all these challenges do to Paul? Did they make him depressed, discouraged and defeated? By no means. As we see in other scriptures, this man strove to be a positive person and excelled in difficult times with a triumphant spirit. “For I consider,” he wrote, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

We, too, can strive toward that kind of faith that Paul and other saints had in their walk with Christ. For it was our Savior Himself who challenged us, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

We must view every step in our daily Christian walk as progress. Consider every bruise and scrape of life’s storms and trials a part of the price toward our ultimate goal—to become a child of God for all eternity.

No other adventure is more challenging than to “take up our cross” and follow Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. But in the end no other reward is greater than what awaits a child of God.

Meanwhile, let’s be encouraged by the inspired words of the apostle Peter when he wrote: “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Let’s keep on going!