One of my favorite movies is Chariots of Fire, which focuses on the life and race of Eric Liddell, 400 meter Olympic gold medalist and missionary who saw running as a way to glorify God. He held his convictions, lived out his faith until the end, while feeling God’s pleasure through running. He is known for these words, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he made me fast. When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”
This story was such an encouraging and inspiring lesson for me, not only because I have a passion for this great sport, but also because of how Liddell held his convictions and honored God in his running. This was someone who felt that God blessed him with the ability to run and trained hard for 3 years when he made it to the Olympics. While boarding the boat to Paris, he discovered that the heat (preliminary competition) was going to be held on a Sunday. He felt that he would not be honoring God by participating, so he refused to run. He was mocked, ridiculed by his friends, his country and nearly cost them a gold medal, but he held on to his convictions to honor God.
One evening when our 5k challenge came in for class, I passed out a scripture from 1 Samuel 2:30. This same scripture was shared with Liddell by a teammate at the start of the 400 meter race. It read:
“Those who honor me, I will honor.”
This is one of God’s promises in His word. This was a race that Liddell wasn’t prepared nor qualified for, but when his teammate Lord Andrew Lindsay gave up his spot, Liddell saw another opportunity to run for God’s glory. Liddell held on to God’s promise tightly and ran to the finish.
We may seem like we are not prepared nor qualified to race, but God has promised us that if we honor Him, He will honor us. If we choose to glorify Him in our running, walking, training and in our race, He will honor us. Because Liddell honored God, he ran the race and received the world record of 47.6 seconds and the gold medal.
Liddell’s story didn’t end at the finish line. After the Olympics, he returned to China to continue his work as a missionary. Not long after, Japan invaded China and Liddell was sent to a prison camp with 1800 others. This didn’t stop Liddell from sharing the gospel of Christ. He continued to tell others about Jesus, taught children and organized sports. He had an opportunity to leave, but gave up his spot for a pregnant woman. What an example of a true sacrifice. His life appeared to end on a sad note, but because of his relationship with Jesus, his death was a victory.
The important message of this story isn’t just that Liddell finished the Olympics well, but more importantly, Liddell finished well. His life words are found in Acts 20:23-24, “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
We too, as Christians, need to make our life verse like the one of Acts 20:23-24. We know, as Jesus told us, that this race will not always be easy. In fact, this story of Eric Liddell teaches us about hard work, about putting God first, and living a gold medal life in whatever God gave us to do and that following God isn’t always going to be easy. There is going to be hurdles that trip us up and obstacles that will keep us off course, but in Hebrews 12:1, we are reminded of our faith journey, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Our faith journey does not begin when the gun fires or when we reach the finish line. Instead, it’s a continuous journey to the finish line of eternity. There is only one who can set the pace of victory in the race of life and keep us on course – Jesus Christ! He is the one that enabled us to run at all.
Eric Liddell once said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.” So I ask you this question: As you run, walk, continue your faith journey, how will others see you, me. Will they see something special and be drawn to Christ? Or will we repel them by our actions? I pray that we will find strength and wisdom in God’s word and ask for His help as we continue our faith journey and use us and our talents to further His kingdom.