Winter has begun, and for many comes the long, weary waiting for sunny skies, warm weather and green grass. Though seasonal depressions are a reality for many, even more folks find great delight in the winter sports. Snowshoeing, skiing, snowmobileing and ice fishing top the list of winter activities. A few very hardy souls take winter sports to another level. These folks are ice climbers. The day I took the above picture the temperatures were in the single digits, with a biting north wind blowing in off Lake Superior. The cold did not deter amateur and professional ice climbers, though. Many of them stayed out in the bitter weather for hours that day, just for the privilege of shinnying up some icecicles. The task of the ice climber is arduous, digging the toes of his cleats into the ice to push himself up to drive the tip of the climbing pick into ice so he can pull himself a little higher and take another step. Some of these sheets of ice are massive, stretching hundreds of feet along the face of the cliffs and at some points climbing up over a hundred feet tall. In watching the ice climbers I was struck by their tenacity and endurance. Quite a number of them would miss a strike with the ice pick or lose a toe hold to slide down the safety rope to the bottom, only to get back on the ice and try it again. I didn’t see a single one give up and walk off decrying the task as too difficult. Despite the harsh weather and great difficulty of the task, these ice climbers kept pushing on.
The endurance of these climbers causes me to think of the endurance necessary in the Christian life. Clearly we are in a life which demands we push on, despite times of great hardship and adversity. Our American culture is adamently opposed to anything that resembles a sold out steadfast Christian. This opposition is frequently very subtle. The opposition takes place in the form of discouragement to any sacrifice or suffering, through immersing us in the idea that we are destined for wealth and comfort and through many other methods. All the opposition of our culture seeks to drive the same point home to us- we should not have to suffer, sacrifice or endure great difficulties as Americans and Christians. All of us would mentally acknowledge the error of this. Christian history reveals the error of this thinking. The current experiences of Godly believers around the world show this thinking to be wrong. On the practical level, though, most of us buy into the error of ease. When we come to times of adversity we back off and step away, rather than press onward. We need the tenacity to say with Paul, no matter what the circumstance, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
As I think back through the history of Christianity, I can’t help but remember how many great things were done by people that were willing just to stick it out. We know the names of David Brainerd, William Carey, Adoniram Judson and a dozen others. We know these names because someone has taken the time to right out their stories for us. Hundreds and thousands more, of whom we have never heard, have had an incalculable impact on the progress of the gospel. These men and women possessed nothing different from the “average” Christian. What made them stand out was their willingness to press forward, no matter the difficulty or opposition. An outstanding Christian is defined by endurance, steadfastness and perserverance. If someone can endure below freezing temperatures, great stress and fatique just to climb a big icicle, what can we endure to scale the heights of eternal rewards?