Made Fast: Eric Liddell

The human body is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Just recently I saw a video of some people doing Parkour – it’s pretty amazing to see what they can do with their bodies. In my town there is a rock climbing club, and I have some friends who are involved, so I see a lot of pictures of the routes they can climb – places that don’t look to me like they are climbable! This month I am going to run a half marathon. For many years I have enjoyed running as a way to balance my life and stay physically active. But more than that, I find that running is a way to worship God with my body.

In fact, when I look at all the amazing things the human body can do, I think about how we can use our bodies to glorify God. We often read 1 Corinthians 6:20, which says, “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” as a warning to stay away from sin. It is a warning, but I think it is more than that. We can see the strength and power in our body as a gift from God. We can use those gifts to glorify Him.

This makes me think of the story of Eric Liddell. I’ve always admired his story, retold in the movie Chariots of Fire, but there is so much more to the story than the movie tells! Chariots of Fire tells the story of Liddell’s time at the 1924 Paris Olympics, where he was favored to win the 100m dash. When the Olympic schedule was announced, however, Liddell found that the 100m qualifier was on a Sunday, so he pulled out of the race. The Olympic organizers allowed him to participate in the 400m instead. Though many people called him a traitor to Britain, he was undeterred, and went on to set an Olympic record in the 400m that wasn’t broken until the Berlin Olympics twelve years later. In the movie Chariots of Fire, Liddell says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” Liddell knew that his running ability was a gift from God. He never took it as something he could use to get personal praise. Rather, he always ran as a way to worship God.

This is why, after his record setting Olympics, Liddell left the athletic world and became a missionary to China. And yet, while in China, he didn’t neglect his physical gifts. Instead, he used them as a further way to make connections with people. Liddell was in China when it was invaded by Japan, and he was put into an internment camp. In this camp, Liddell once again found a way to glorify God with his athletic skill. He refereed for sports that the young people played. Langdon Gilkey, a fellow inmate, said of him, “Often in an evening . . . I would see Eric bent over a chessboard or a model boat, or directing some sort of square dance—absorbed, warm, and interested, pouring all of himself into this effort to capture the minds and imaginations of these penned-up youths.” Dr. Norman Cliff, another who was imprisoned with Eric, said, “Eric Liddell would say, ‘When you speak of me, give the glory to my master, Jesus Christ.’ He would not want us to think solely of him. He would want us to see the Christ whom he served.” Eric Liddell saw his life, his body, and all his skill as a way to glorify God.

I pray that my race will be run the way that Eric Liddell’s was. As I look at the gifts God has given me – even my ability to run – I want to see them as a tool for bringing glory to God. As the old hymn says,

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

May our bodies be used to glorify God!