One of the biggest hurdles for Christians in our pursuit of growing in Christ is the problem of pain. Most followers of Jesus want to live a pain free life and have been led to believe that God wants the same for us. The willingness to see pain as part of God’s plan in our growth as His children is vitally important if we want to mature in Christ.
Any athlete knows that pain is part of the process of achieving what every athlete dreams of achieving, but which few are willing to pay the price to realize. It takes lots of blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifices to become a champion.
Jesse Whitmer had won a state title at 103 lbs while he was at Eagle Grove High School, but wrestling for Dan Gable and the storied Iowa Hawkeyes was an altogether different challenge. As a freshman, he asked his coach, “What do I need to do to be a national champion?” Coach said, “I tell you what, you meet me at Carver Hawkeye Arena tomorrow morning at 4:00 am and I’ll show you.” There were two other guys present for the conversation, but only Jessie showed up the next morning for the 4 am workout. Even though he had the drive, the desire, and was willing to work harder than anyone…Jesse never made the “A” team, he never stepped foot on the mat, until he was a fifth year senior at Iowa University.
In Jesse’s fifth and final year he made the “A” team. At the Big 10 Championships in 1997, Jesse placed 4th and qualified for the NCAA National Championships. No one had any expectations for Jesse, but he kept showing up for each and every match. He came into the tournament seeded #6, but he knocked off the #3, #2, and #5 seeds, all of them All-Americans, during the NCAA National Tournament! In the quarterfinals, Jesse upset 3 time Big 10 Champ and 3 time All-American, David Morgan from Michigan State, even though Morgan had beaten him several times during the year. In the semi-finals, Jesse beat 3 time All-American and 1998 National Champion, Teague Moore, from Oklahoma State. In the NCAA finals, Jesse beat Lindsey Durlacher from Illinois 5-4, to become the 1997 NCAA National Champion at 118 lbs! What an amazing accomplishment!
Five years, four of which he never did anything but get beat up on in practice and prepare for the day when he might get his opportunity. Five years of grueling Dan Gable practices. Five years of getting up before the sun to punish his body, train his mind, and hope for what he had yet to experience. Five years? Why, you know as well as I do that 99 out of 100 people would have quit…and they would have missed the night that Jesse climbed on top of the podium and they raised his hand, placed a medal around his neck, and proclaimed him the National Champion!
We love stories like Jesse’s, but we don’t want to invest the time, develop the discipline, or experience the pain necessary for us to be molded and shaped into the image of our Savior, the One the Bible says, “…for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV) What are you “enduring” at this time? Is it a relationship that is frazzled and broken? Keep working towards reconciliation. Is it financial troubles that have you weighed down? Keep working, keep praying, and keep trusting God to help you make ends meet. Do persistent health issues have you in a head-lock and won’t let you up? Keep allowing the Lord to remind you that your troubles will not last forever, that He is faithful, and He will never leave nor forsake you. Don’t give up, don’t give in, keep pressing on my friend. What Jesse experienced in being crowned a National Champion can’t even begin to compare with what is awaiting you and me at the end of our journey.
2 Corinthians 4:17