I’m in the midst of a biography on Ernest Shackleton and his expedition in the Endurance. He set out in 1914 to be the first to navigate to the South Pole. It has been a fascinating read so far. Several aspects of his journey and leadership have grabbed my attention. Not only is the story remarkable but I’ve found some significant spiritual parallels along the way. I’d like to share one of those with you.
The brief back-story is that Shackleton led twenty-seven men on this expedition that ultimately ended in failure, sort of. He never made it to the South Pole. However, he did rescue his men from certain death.
The Endurance became locked in ice en route. There was no way to get out of it. Eventually they abandoned ship and let her sink. Pulling three smaller boats the men started a long trek along the ice until they could find open water on which to sail home.
I think you can imagine the fear of stepping into one of these boats and setting course in the deep ocean waters. As they moved north they often had to stop on large ice floes to rest for the night or longer.
Day after day they made their way north, at the mercy of the great deep to take them where it would. Finally they came toward Elephant Island, a small portion of land that offered a bit of respite. Seeing the island is one thing. Making it there is another.
The scene that is most in my mind was Shackleton’s leadership in making it to Elephant Island. Due to harsh winds, darkness, and rough ocean waters Shackleton lost sight of one of the other boats. It disturbed him greatly, understandably so. But what he did next inspires me.
At regular increments every few minutes he lit a match and amplified the light next to the sale as a signal to the other boat. He waited for them to return the signal but none came. Again he lit a match and waited. No signal was returned. He repeated the cycle multiple times.
That may seem like a small matter. But think about the predicament of being stranded on an island for a lengthy period of time. Matches are priceless, an unimaginable priority. Yet he burned them without delay, with zeal even. He wanted to know the whereabouts of his men. He cared deeply for them. Their safety was his sole expedition after the Endurance sank. He sought to bring all twenty-seven of them home and no expense was too high to insure it.
That begs a question: what is your watchful care for others? Is your daily expedition concern for those in your circle of relationships? What matches are you burning, so to speak, to insure the well-being of those around you?
I would like to suggest a few matches you can burn in care for others:
First, recognize the sovereign care of God and point others to him. Success and safe passage do not depend on you but on God. “…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” (Philippians 1:6). He alone insures life and our next breath.
Second, you have many metaphorical matches: time, money, possessions, words, a listening ear, etc. Do you tend to manage those resources only toward self-gain or do you expend them in an attempt to serve and love those who are around you?
Third, invest in others through prayer. Prayer is not a part of ministry. Prayer is ministry. Regularly talk with God about the people in your life whom you care deeply about.
We may not personally captain a major expedition across the ocean but God has placed people in our lives that we can care for (as they do the same for us). Do whatever it takes to help them safely through.