One of my favorite movies to watch when I was growing up was Chariots of Fire.
And one of my favorite hobbies and sports is running.
So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my hero is Eric Liddell.
Eric is best known for being an Olympic runner, specifically in the 1924 Paris Olympics. He is often referred to as the “Flying Scotsman.” (My family heritage on my mother’s side is Scottish. Yet one more reason to appreciate this incredible athlete and strong man of God.) Eric was born and raised in China by his missionary parents. After college and his Olympic running career, Eric felt God leading him back to hostile China to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Olympics. The athletes who participate from all over the world are the absolute best in their respective sports. They train constantly and seriously “beat their bodies into shape” with intense exercise regimens. I would say there are at least three major adjectives that must describe their very spirit, in order to even consider being an Olympic athlete: drive, endurance, and perseverance.
The cool thing about being an athlete is, it relates so well with the Christian life. The Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews describe the Christian life as an Olympic competition and a race.
Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. 2 Timothy 2:5
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:23-27
One of my favorite quotes from Chariots of Fire is when Eric says, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” This is so true in my life. I know running isn’t for everyone, but God sure has given me the ability to enjoy it. I hope I can use running as a way to bring glory to His name. I may never win an athletic competition. I’m okay with that. But in running the Christian life race, losing isn’t an option. I have to do what the Hebrews passage talks about. Fight sin. Run with endurance. And keep my eyes on the prize.
When I think of Eric’s life, I can’t help but think through how I would’ve handled his “fork-in-the-road” decision. Would I choose comfort, a familiar culture, the thrill of running, a positive, challenging, athletic career, being close to family and friends, and much fame and rewards over the life of a persecuted missionary, facing potential torture and even death?
Eric Liddell turned down fame and fortune to bring peace and salvation to his enemies. He used his body to bring glory to God – both as an athlete and as an ambassador for Christ. I hope the same can be said of me.