Canada is presently caught up in the excitement of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia. With the number of venues, kinds of sports represented, records being broken, and worldwide media coverage, one might wonder what the early Olympians would think could they be transported to witness the achievements of our modern day champions.
One Olympic story that has interested me from the past is the story of a devoted Scotsman by the name of Eric Liddell who competed in the 1924 Games in Paris. Against all odds, Eric won the 400-meter race. His story is told in the movie, Chariots of Fire.
Eric was born in 1902 to missionary parents in China, though his family home was in Edinburgh, Scotland, and he was educated in London. He became an extremely talented runner, and his father encouraged him to “run in God’s name, and let the world stand back and wonder.” He had his own unique style of running, “head tilted toward the skies, knees thrust upward to his chin, feet rising high from the ground,” and is described as one who just “ran with abandon.”
Eric had a strong and devout faith in Christ and had been brought up to revere Sunday as “the Lord’s Day.” To engage in sports or other worldly activities on Sunday was, in his mind, dishonoring his Lord. He had trained for the 100-meter dash but, en route to the Paris Olympics, he learned that, in order to enter in that competition, he would have to run the qualifying heats on a Sunday. Because of his staunch love and respect for the Lord, he steadfastly refused to do it. In spite of the pressures imposed on him by his Scottish countrymen, he voluntarily forfeited his best chance for a gold medal.
Although he was not trained for it, or favored to win, he prepared instead to compete in the 400-meter. Astonishing everyone, Eric won the race, capturing the gold medal and, in the process, set a new world record, finishing five meters ahead of the second place runner! As Ann Mainse put it, “The Flying Scotsman,” as he came to be known, “walked off of one race and ran off with another; all with total abandon.” The theme of his life was “complete surrender;” another story among many, proving God’s declaration through the prophet Samuel: “Them that honor Me I will honor.” Jesus repeated it: “If any man serve Me, him will my Father honor.” Eric returned to China to continue his mission there for another twenty-one years. And there he died at the young age of 43, after being interned in a Chinese prison camp. (1 Sam. 2:30; John 12:26)
The Apostle Paul was very familiar with the Olympics, having spent time in Athens, Corinth and other places in Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics. They provided an ideal picture of the spiritual race that is set before all of us. “Do you not know that in a race the runners all run, but only one receives the prize? So run in order that you may obtain.” In other words, run to win! (1 Cor. 9:24-26)
Paul had entered the race to win. Even those things that were gain to him, he “counted loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” his Lord. He “suffered the loss of all things” that he “might win Christ.” He was pressing on to lay hold on all that God had ordained for him. He made a point of “forgetting those things” that were behind, and “reaching forth to those things” which were before. He was pressing “toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” He said, “I do not run aimlessly, being in any doubt as to my goal!”
What a pursuit !! What a goal !!
Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up your eyes and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the Path, and Christ the Prize.
Cast care aside, lean on your Guide,
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust, and your trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its Life, and Christ its Love.
Faint not nor fear, for He is near,
He changes not and you are dear!
Only believe, and you shall see
That Christ is all in all to thee.
John S. B. Monsell, 1811-1875
“Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with such a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us – looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1)
The Olympians compete to obtain a crown of laurel – or a gold medal – that will not last; but we do it to obtain an incorruptible crown that will last forever. So “do not throw away your confident HOPE, for it will receive its reward.” (1 Cor. 9:25; Heb. 10:35)
May the God of your HOPE
so fill you with all joy and peace in believing –
through the experience of your faith -
that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound
and be overflowing (bubbling over) with HOPE
(Romans 15:13 Amplified)
In Agape, Eulene