by Jorge Gomez & Mia Gradick • 5 min read
The 1981 film “Chariots of Fire” recounts the story of Eric Liddell, a devout Christian born in China to Scottish missionary parents. Liddell is passionate about sharing the Gospel and is also blessed with an astonishing ability to run.
One of the Oscar-winning movie’s iconic quotes comes from a conversation with his sister Jennie, who believes that his plans to pursue competitive running are a distraction from serving God. Liddell promises Jennie that he will resume his missionary work, but also tells her:
“I believe that God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
The film makes clear that Liddell possesses much more than elite athletic talent. He’s a man of deep faith, someone committed to serving and glorifying God in all he did, whether running or sharing the Word of God. In particular, he holds a strong conviction to observe the Lord’s Day.
At the highest point in his athletic career, that conviction is put to the test. After years of training and hard work, Liddell is selected to represent Great Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics. On his way to France, however, he discovers the heats for his 100-meter race will take place on a Sunday.
Despite intense pressure from the Prince of Wales and the British Olympic Committee, he won’t betray his Christian convictions and refuses to run. He tells these important leaders:
“God made countries, God makes kings, and the rules by which they govern. And those rules say that the Sabbath is His. And I for one intend to keep it that way.”
A teammate offers to run in place of Liddell on Sunday, and gives the chance to run the 400-meter race on a different day. Liddell runs, defeats the American favorites, wins the gold medal and goes back home to Britain triumphant. Liddell eventually returned to the mission field, and died in 1945 at an internment camp in Japanese-occupied China.
For many, Liddell is a hero of the Christian faith. His devotion was unmistakable. Loving and honoring God was his priority, even if it meant forfeiting years of work and an opportunity at Olympic glory.
The Faithful Carrier: Running His Race
While not an Olympic athlete, Faithful Carrier Gerald Groff’s story shares striking similarities.
Gerald sincerely believes in honoring the Lord’s Day. He has likewise devoted great portions of his time serving as a missionary overseas. His first mission trip was right after high school graduation, when he travelled to Africa to share about his faith. He served in Africa twice more and in several parts of Asia. Some of these trips were as long as two years.
Like Liddell, Gerald’s faith and convictions have been tested, albeit on a different turf.
After returning home from a mission trip, he took a job with the U.S. Postal Service. This seemed like the perfect fit—until the post office began Sunday deliveries for Amazon. Gerald went out of his way to work extra shifts to make up for Sundays. But the USPS ultimately refused to grant him a religious accommodation, in direct violation of federal civil rights law.
He was put in the untenable position of having to choose between his faith and his job. Though it came at a personal cost, Gerald chose his faith.
Now, this everyday American hero has reached the most critical turn in his race. After years of battling in court, he will soon have his day at the U.S. Supreme Court. The argument is set for April 18.
In a victory speech, Liddell exhorted a multitude of fans saying, “I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, ‘Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.’ If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”
His words echo Hebrews 12:1: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
There’s a profound lesson we can learn from Eric Liddell and Gerald Groff: each one of us is running the race set before us. We are called to endure, look ahead in faith and to hold fast to our beliefs. Remaining faithful to God often comes at a price, but there is no greater joy than knowing you have fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith.