Five Spiritual Takeaways From “The Boys In The Boat”

The best stories are those that have a theme of redemption and spiritual lessons we can apply to our lives.  One of those stories was portrayed in a recent movie release entitled, “The Boys in the Boat.”  It wasn’t a Christian movie (there is no mention of Christ or faith), but it spurred me to think of several spiritual lessons that could be applied to my life.
The movie is based on a true story that occurred in the mid 1930’s at the height of the Depression in America.  The story begins on the campus of the University of Washington in the Seattle area.  The Depression in the country is severe and times are desperate.  For students to stay in college, it required great personal sacrifice – working multiple jobs – forgoing meals – surviving on very little sleep – just to pay tuition and continue in school.
The main character in the movie is Joe Rantz.  Joe’s father decided to remarry and start a new life with a new family.  His father couldn’t afford to care for Joe, so at age 14, he told Joe he was a man and needed to make his own way in life.  Joe ended up living in an old, abandoned truck in a shanty town (similar to a homeless encampment today) and worked multiple jobs to survive.  However, he never lost sight of his dream to obtain an engineering degree from the University of Washington.  

After some time in school, there were no jobs to be found and Joe fell behind in his tuition payments.  One day a friend told him about tryouts for the Rowing Team at Washinton.  If he made the team, all of his tuition and room and board would be paid for until he graduated.  That seemed like a great opportunity.  The problem was there were only eight spots on the Rowing Team and hundreds of guys were in line to try out.  

By God’s grace, he was chosen as one of the eight guys for the Rowing Team.  I don’t want to spoil the rest of the movie for you, so I will skip to the major points and applications.  All eight guys selected for the team were from lower class families.  They were nobodies on a nobody team.  Their story is one of hard work, discipline, overcoming adversity against all odds and forming a bond together as a band of brothers.  Contrary to all human reasoning they end up winning the gold medal for the 8-man Rowing event in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.

As I reflected on this movie, a bunch of spiritual life lessons came to mind.  I narrowed my thoughts down to five takeaways that I would like to share.

1.Many Members make up One Body (1 Corinthians 12)
a.I really had no idea about all that goes into Rowing as a sport before watching this movie.  I kind of thought it boiled down to the strongest rowers win the race.

b.To be successful in a Rowing event, it takes unity, teamwork, technique, and conditioning.  Each of the guys has a unique and distinct role on the team.  Eight guys working together as one unit in perfect harmony.

c.This picture reminds me of how Paul compares the body of Christ to a human body in 1 Corinthians 12.  Each person has a specific function and purpose that is necessary for the body as a whole.  Each person must work together in unity and concert in order for the body to be effective and whole.

d.As I reflected on the boat with eight rowers, it was a great image of the body of Christ.  A boat full of people who are desperate to be on a team.  The rowers in the movie were nobodies with nothing really to offer.  Yet, they learn how to row in perfect harmony and unity.  Every person in the boat had a unique and specific responsibility.  Everyone doing their job matters to the overall success of the team.  We all matter.  If we drop an oar, it hurts the whole church.

2.We must live by faith, not by sight (Hebrews 11; 2 Corinthians 4:7)
a. Rowers never see where they’re going.  The boys in the boat gave every ounce of energy they had with their backs to the finish line.

b.The Christian life is about faith.  Everything about it is based on faith.  God wants us to give everything we have and most of the time it is through faith, not by sight.

3.The Holy Spirit is the One who directs us (John 14:25-26; Romans 8; Ephesians 1)
a. Have you ever heard of a Coxswain?  He is the coach of the boat.  He puts on a megaphone and shouts instructions to the 8-man Rowing Team.  He sets the pace and steers the boat.  He is the only one who sees the destination and the competition.  The rowers look to and listen to him.  It is his job to get the team to the finish line.  He pushes and encourages the team and all 8 rowers must put their complete trust in him.

b.For all of us who have placed our trust and faith in Jesus, we are a new creation and have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of the Triune God dwells inside of us and we have access to the power of the Living God at all times.  He is our guide, He directs our steps, He is the light unto our paths.  He provides us His wisdom, counsel and discernment and He gives us strength when we don’t feel like we can take another step.  We often can’t see ahead, but we can trust and follow His lead.

4.The Journey of life may seem impossible at times (Proverbs 3:5-6)
a.In the final race for Olympic Gold, the USA team starts slowly and falls way behind the favored German and Italian teams.  The situation looks grim and hopeless from a human perspective.  It seems completely impossible that they could cut the huge deficit and come from behind to win.

b.But, the Coxswain pushes the team to row 46 times per minute (they had never come close to that before).  They followed his lead and pulled out a miraculous victory.  

c.How many times in your life have you faced seemingly impossible situations?  Mountains that were in front of you and seemed like they would be impossible to climb.  My life has been a series of impossibilities like that.  And, Jesus, has continually asked me to row at 46 times/minute with my back sitting to the direction He was pushing me to go in.  And, unbelievably, He led me to victory.

d.I wasn’t supposed to try and figure out how to overcome the obstacles.  I was to listen to my Coxswain (the Holy Spirit), who asked me to go far beyond what I thought I could do.  I was to embrace the truths of Proverbs 3:5-6 – trusting the Lord with all my heart and letting Him direct my steps.

5.We live for Great Purpose (Matthew 28; Hebrews 12:1-3)
a. In the movie, Hitler watches his favored German team lose the race by a split second to the American team.  He was shocked and full of rage because his team lost.  The race was an important victory for the Americans with an evil dictator looking on.

b.In the same way, we are in a great race that matters to the whole world for all eternity.  We have an evil enemy who wants us to fail and lay down our oars.  We must persevere and endure and never give up.

c.As we run the race marked out for us, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus – let Him set the pace – let Him steer the boat – let Him instruct us.  And, as we fix our eyes on Jesus, let us keep rowing with confidence knowing that our victory is assured because He has already won the race for us.

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