Run the Race – Win the Gold

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Runners, on your marks. Get set. Go! The pistol fired, and the runners took off like a swift breeze sweeping across the English Channel. The race took place 100 years ago at the Olympics held in Paris, France, in 1924. This was the final of the men’s 400 meters. All but one of the contestants had trained exclusively for this event, and they set a rapid pace on the inside lanes of the track.

On the very outside lane was the man who was not supposed to be in this race. He sprinted out at breakneck speed, a sweltering pace that the other runners were sure he could not sustain. He could not see his competitors behind him because of his lane position. He soon considered that he had to continue at that rapid speed, or the others would catch him. He jolted like a thoroughbred around the track, his head lurched back, with his arms flailing. As he later declared, “When I run, I sense the pleasure of God.” 

Eric Liddell was supposed to race at a shorter distance. However, he was a devout Christian, and because of his convictions regarding Sabbath observance,* he would not run the 100-meter dash to be held that weekend. Instead, when the 400-meter race was over, Eric Liddell, the man who was not supposed to run that distance, had set new Olympic and World records as he claimed the gold medal.

Now that he was an Olympic champion, multiple doors to wealth, fame and success opened to him. However, Eric Liddell was committed to a work that he felt was more important. Eric Liddell was committed to Jesus, and he knew that Christ had called him to be a missionary in China. Although he was dubbed “the flying Scot” in the press, Eric claimed a different heritage: “God made me for China.”

The year following his Olympic victory, Eric Liddell returned to relative obscurity as a missionary in a remote school in rural China. He served as an English and Bible teacher for twenty years, encouraging young people to be champions for Christ through athletics and academics. 

He married Florence Mackenzie, and together they had three children. However, Eric never met his third child because his pregnant wife and the two older children were evacuated out of China during WWII. Eric remained behind to support his Chinese Christian brothers and sisters when the Japanese invaded. He was taken captive by the Japanese and interred in a prisoner-of-war camp. During his incarceration, he remained active in ministry, so much so that an atheist inmate of the camp referred to him as a saint. Sadly, Eric developed a tumor on his brain while in the camp and died shortly after the diagnosis.

One hundred years ago, this man, Eric Liddell, stood for Sabbath principles amidst pressure from teammates, the public and the press. He was victorious and won gold in a race no one thought he would win. 

More importantly, Eric Liddell was faithful to his calling as a disciple of Jesus. He knew that God had made him for China, and his faith — much more precious than gold that perishes — shone brightly on the Olympic track and in the mission field to the praise, honor and glory of Jesus Christ.

Each of us is called to run the race of life. Comparatively few will win Olympic gold. All of us are called to live by principle. Many are called to mission service; few choose to fulfill their commitment to follow Christ in service. If sometime in the last few years you expressed an interest in mission service, take the next step of faith. As you hear the voice of Jesus urging you to run the frontier mission race, please connect with us. We want to help you win gold!

_*Eric Liddell mistakenly honored Sunday as the Sabbath; nevertheless, he lived by his principles. His Olympic experience was portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire (1981). _