This is an Olympic year, and because of that I find myself thinking often of Eric Liddell. For many people, all they know of Liddell is that his life was part of the primary story for the Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire. It is a compelling story, as we follow Liddell, a world-class sprinter, through his preparations for running in the 1924 Paris Olympics, presenting in Hollywood-fashion Liddell’s crisis of conscience and his determination to not violate what he felt were biblical convictions. At the same time, however, Liddell was also training for an even more important race—one with eternal ramifications. Liddell was preparing to embark on a life of service as a missionary to China. Years after the gold medal he won in Paris had become an afterthought, Liddell was still fully engaged in reaching men and women for Christ—an activity that ended in Eric’s death in a Japanese detention camp in China.
Eric Liddell was both a gifted athlete and a fully engaged follower of Christ, which meant that he was running two different races. Both of these races, however, require some of the same things for success:
- Endurance—The writer to the Hebrews captured this well, writing, “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” (12:1). We are going to face myriads of challenges along the way—meaning that endurance will be required!
- Commitment—Paul compared living for Christ to a race, saying both demanded a commitment he described with the word temperate. “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Temperate implies commitment to a cause above self or selfish interests.
- Devotion—Paul also saw that we would need devotion, for it is only out of a devoted heart that we can truly face the dangers that living for Christ in a broken world may bring. “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22-24).
If we are going to run the race effectively, these values will be very helpful on the journey. We are called to endure, which demands commitment and devotion to something (or Someone) more important than ourselves. Christ, who modeled these things for us, is also the only One who can draw from us the devotion of heart to run the race well. As we run, may we run for Him.
Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain