Monday, August 17, 2020

Riding Along with ‘Chariots of Fire’

The famous beach running scene from "Chariots of Fire"
A newsletter from Alistair Begg, a Scottish preacher with a wonderful radio ministry, recently prompted me to again watch the movie, “Chariots of Fire.” It was the first time I’d watched it in years, but as with other classic films, I never tire of viewing it.

In case you haven’t yet seen it (so sorry!), or you’ve forgotten the story line, it centers around a spirited competition between two stellar runners, Scotsman Eric Liddell, and Harold Abrahams, a man obsessed with achieving unparalleled success. 


Liddell, born in China to missionary parents, was preparing to return to the mission field there. However, he also was a fast, gifted runner, and did not believe that ability could be cast aside. He – like Abrahams – had aspirations for representing Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics. 


Eric Liddell assures his sister, Jenny,
of his commitment to missions.
In an iconic scene from the film that I referenced in my last post, Liddell talks with his sister, Jenny, who has expressed concern that his running is diverting him from his calling to serve as a missionary. He responds, “I believe that God made me for a purpose – for China…. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Then Liddell adds, “To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt. You were right. It’s not just fun. To win is to honor Him.”


Each time I’ve viewed the film, or thought about his words – even though they’re part of a movie script – I can’t help but wonder: Do we understand and appreciate God’s purpose for our own lives? And when we engage in what He has gifted us to do, can we feel His pleasure?


Contrary to what some might surmise, God is not some divine spoilsport, determined to keep us from doing the things we enjoy. Consider a fleet Thoroughbred horse – when it runs fast, as it’s designed to do, can you imagine it feels God’s pleasure? Or a physician whose life is dedicated not only to medicine, but also to serving others in God’s name. Do you think that doctor, in helping very sick patients back to health, feels God’s pleasure in the process?


But there’s another plot line in the film that struck me just as powerfully. Abrahams in a driven soul, constantly striving and desperately afraid of failing. When Liddell beats him in a race, he’s devastated. Even later, when he wins the Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter sprint, Abrahams feels empty and unfulfilled. At one point, he bemoans the fact that – for him – his entire life is defined by how he performs in a 10-second race.


Contrast that to Liddell, who opted out of the same event to stand firm in his convictions. Qualifying heats for the 100 meters were scheduled for a Sunday, and he refused to waver in his belief that he should not compete on the Sabbath. Instead, he was entered in the 400 meters, set for another day. Even though that was not his primary event, Liddell stunned the experts by winning the gold.


Afterward, the joy he felt was not simply the thrill of victory. He had honored his God, and saw an Old Testament promise fulfilled: “Those who honor Me, I will honor…” (1 Samuel 2:30). That was the last Olympic appearance for the man popularly known as the “Flying Scotsman,” but Liddell went on to the mission field in China where he faithfully ministered to people in northern China for two decades before his death in 1945.


Once, when asked if he ever regretted leaving the fame of athletic competition, Liddell responded, "It's natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I'm glad I'm at the work I'm engaged in now. A fellow's life counts for far more at this than the other.”


Jesus addressed this perspective in His so-called “sermon on the mount” when He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).


So the questions remain for us to answer: Are we engaged in things that, when we do them, we feel God’s pleasure? And do we understand His purpose for us so that, when all is said and done, we’ve devoted our lives to the pursuit of things that count for much more than other things?

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