Chariots of Fire is the true story of “the man who wouldn’t run on a Sunday.” It tells the story of two great British athletes training for the 1924 Olympics: Christian missionary Eric Liddell and equally talented Harold Abrahams. Liddell and Abrahams take two very different approaches to their running: Abrahams finds his identity in it, and Liddell does it to the glory of God. This sermon reviews the film and draws out amazing lessons and examples of what faithfulness to God looks like in action.
For those listening to the sermon, it’s best to see the film first. For everyone else, here is a brief synopsis: The film (1981 Best Picture winner) is a true story featuring two runners, Eric Liddell (a strong Christian missionary) and Harold Abrahams, a Jew at Oxford. Both are excellent runners and are chosen to run in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Abrahams breaks tradition by hiring a personal trainer. Liddell’s heart is for Chinese missions (he was born there of missionary parents), but believes God wants him to run competitively, too.
It is announced that the heats for the 100m race, Eric’s specialty, will be held on a Sunday. He refuses to run, believing that such athletic activity on the Sabbath is wrong. He resists all pressure to change his mind. He instead takes the 400m, not his specialty. Meanwhile, Abrahams is nearly tormented by 1) his loss to Liddell in an earlier race, and 2) the challenge of the 100m Olympic race, feeling his identity is wrapped up in it.
Abrahams wins his race, and Eric does as well, setting a world record. After the races, Abrahams becomes the elder statesman of British athletics, and lives a long life. Liddell goes to the mission field the next year, is taken into a detention camp when the Japanese invade China, and finally dies of a brain tumor in 1945.
What we can draw from the film:
Eric had a great talent that didn’t quite seem to fit his spiritual calling. He waited on the Lord until he realized that He could run for the glory of God. But he made sure to keep committing his way to the Lord, even if it meant losing a chance to run his best race.
Eric Liddell’s life after the Olympics is worthy of study. Parents should read books to their children and adults should study and emulate his Christ-like behavior as a missionary, both before and after his time in the camp.
Abrahams’ life was successful in the world’s eyes and he had a successful marriage, but he had a lot of bondages, including an obsession with timing.
Sticking to one’s convictions and obeying God will often confuse and inconvenience others. (When Liddell withdrew from the 100m, he also had to withdraw from the 4x100m race, which may have accounted for their disappointing third-place finish in the Olympics.) Our obedience to God will affect others, and may be disappointing to them. But look at the long-term effect of his sticking to his convictions! He blessed far more people in more lasting ways than he inconvenienced or disappointed in 1924.
If you are going to serve the Lord, you will sometimes feel tied down or limited. While other runners were competing in the heats, Eric was preaching at a local church. Others seemed to have all the fun and glory. But it was apparently not an issue for him.
Seeking God’s will and doing it will have consequences far beyond what you’ll be able to see. It will also give us the peace inside that we are all looking for!
God has given each of us a platform. For Eric, it was given to him by his running. He could have just been a great runner with a humble attitude. But he took advantage of the platform he had to preach the gospel and share the love of God.
God has given us gifts and talents, and if they are submitted to Him, and we keep putting Him first, we will give glory to God and will be using our gifts to the fullest. If God has given you a talent that you can’t figure out how to use, ask God to guide you. You’ll be challenged to keep Him first along the way, but what an adventure you’ll have!