The sport of rowing is one of the most challenging and demanding sports in the world. Daniel James Brown, the author of The Boys in the Boat (the story of 9 American boys who defeated the odds and won gold at the 1936 Olympics), describes its unique, extreme demands:

“Unlike most sports, which draw primarily on particular muscle groups, rowing makes heavy and repeated use of virtually every muscle in the body…. And rowing makes these muscular demands not at odd intervals but in rapid sequence, over a protracted period of time, repeatedly and without respite…. Physiologists…have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race – the Olympic standard – takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.” (loc. 738-53)

What makes this even worse is the constant pain. Brown writes,

“[M]uscles often begin to scream in agony almost from the outset of a race and continue screaming until the very end…. [P]ain is part and parcel of the deal [in rowing]. It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.” (loc. 761-69)

The young man who finally won gold in 1936 had to endure years, months, countless hours of tremendous pain. They had to persevere past great obstacles to succeed!

And so must you in your Christian life. Romans 8:13 says, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” We are not fighting for “a corruptible crown” (I Cor. 9:25) but for life itself. The non-self-denying Christian does not exist; true believers in Christ fight hard against sin in order to enjoy life with God.

To “mortify” the deeds of our sinful nature means to kill them. Even more than rowing, this is hard; this demands much Bible reading, prayer, and self denial. This demands an embracing of the pain of self denial. As in rowing, “pain is part and parcel of the deal” in Christianity (loc. 769).

But oh the joy of walking with God! Joy and happiness is also “part and parcel of the deal” in Christianity (ibid.). The sweetness of winning gold in 1936 compensated those 9 rowers for all their agony. And sanctification and holiness lead to beholding the face of God (Matt. 5:8), which is worth it! It is worth it both in the joy of daily fellowship with Christ and in gazing daily on the vistas of His grace, as well as in seeing His face in eternity (Rev. 22:4). As Paul said in II Timothy 4:7, the Christian life is a fight – and it is a good fight. Endure the pain; turn away from sinful pleasures, no matter how hard it is – and you will enjoy the sweetness of fellowship with God.

And that is worth any amount of pain to experience!