Many Christians feel compelled to batten down the hatches recently. Newsfeeds scroll stories of challenges to religious liberty. In effort to seal-up faith some Christians are turning away from the world. However, Christian's aren't the only ones slighted by the world's ideas. We feel it's important to use education to foster an enduring faith that can offer hope for the world.
Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell lived a life that engaged conflict uniquely. His gold medals hung on a hook in a darkened room as he walked dusty streets in China bringing hope to a country in conflict. His goal was to unify mankind around Jesus. His life causes pause for the Christian pondering isolation. He reveals 3 storied steps that foster an enduring faith that engages the world to restore.
Running To a Conflicting Climate
Liddell was a turn of the century superstar. Refusing to compete in his best event at the 1924 Olympics, Eric untied his sprinting spikes and found his loafers and Sunday best. The event's preliminary heats were run on the Lord's day. Eric followed the letter of the law in the fourth commandment.
Liddell opted to compete in a more difficult race on Monday, after visiting the pew Sunday morning. The race didn't favor his small frame and awkward stride. However, Eric practiced a series of exercises that gave him a literal leg up against his competition. He won a gold medal.
Eric raced away from the track after donning gold as the British national anthem played. Knowing he could dominate competition in at least two more Olympics, the 22 year old Liddell packed his bags and left competition. Heads turned, some shaking as they bowed, while Liddell sprinted from a sport that earned him fame. What a waste of talent.
After draping his gold medal over his Olympic bag, Liddell stood in line to buy a ticket to China. He returned to the home of his birth. His missionary parents modeled a relentless love that set a lifelong pace for Liddell. Eric left Olympic fame to tell people about Jesus.
Liddell joined a throng of people communicating Jesus to a culture that would rather worship ancestors than bow knees to Jesus Christ. In China, Eric shared Jesus boldly as a teacher. In the 1940's Liddell was interned in a camp by Japanese occupying forces and experienced persecution. His faith grew during this time because of 3 simple practices.
Submitting in Prayer
Liddell kissed the heads of his two daughters before gently touching his lips to the womb of his wife to bless an unborn child he would never meet. Liddell sent his wife to Canada for the birth of their third child. The decision forced him to his knees.
Liddell made the decision to stay in China because he agreed to fulfill his contract to a mission organization. The dotted line Eric signed promised he would communicate Jesus for a predetermined time period with the mission organization. Eric is a man of his word.
As the boat carrying his family lurched from the dock, a shadow fell on the former Olympian. Liddell prayed. His prayers were unique in that they didn't seek to alter reality. Sometimes prayer can plead for different circumstances. Liddell didn't do that. His prayers were simple. He was submitting to the will of God, and it changed him.
In preparing for persecution Liddell's heart wasn't focused on safety. However, in facing conflict, the role of prayer for Eric Liddell was a declaration of Whom was being served. It was not Eric's will to be distant from his family. But his time in prayer set God as the preeminent person served in Eric's life. Prayer functioned as a disciplined exercise to keep God's place in Eric's life above comfort. Liddell sought Jesus over safety.
Through prayer, faith is rebuilt because it reorients the believer to a position of submission to God. It carries vision from self to Savior. Fortified faith rests fundamentally on prayer.
During Eric's internment he grew to befriend everyone. One day he discovered that a prostitute in the camp had a broken shelf in her pitiful room. Eric ran to her, fighting through a crowded field of hungry men loitering by her doorway. This was his element.
There seems to be a strange twist in the story of Eric Liddell when he is found knocking at the door of the room of a prostitute. It would make sense for him to seek companionship in his lonely state. It had been years since he held his pregnant wife. But when the curtain-draped doorway was gently opened, Eric's purpose to see the young woman with sunken eyes transcended mere wanton hope.
Liddell walked into to the dark room to restore order where men dropped trinkets in payment for a prostitute's service. After fixing the shelf hanging in the corner of the room, the woman assumed there would be some type of payment. Liddell simply smiled. He was there to bring order.
Devotions provide an organizational shelf for problems left on the floor of our lives. Rather than stepping over conflicts, Liddell worked to build an organization system that could take conflicts and problems and organize them neatly in thought cubbies. A devotional life that draws people into the Bible is a significant building block in fortified faith. Devotions coordinate conflict into optimized organization around Jesus Christ.
Strengthened by Service
Teenagers shouldn't be idle. The youngsters interned with Eric grew restless as days and weeks turned to months and years. Little boys grew slightly taller. Malnourishment squelched growth patterns. Patches of whiskers popped from cheeks that were smooth when the Japanese first corralled the boys and their families into boxes that would become homes. The budding teenage boys coerced girls to explore new feelings that came with puberty. When Eric noticed that the idleness of the camp was destroying teenage innocence, he went to work.
Eric created a track team. Walking paths became sprinting thoroughfares. The feet of gangly teenagers trotted emaciated frames around a field of dried grass as the youngsters sought to impress a world renowned athlete. While some possessed a natural stride, others didn't have a talent in running. Eric met one student and gushed over the talent he saw in the young man. Gazelles don't have big bones. This young man was not a gazelle.
After one practice Eric propped up the young man by reiterating the talent he saw displayed on the dirt path. Others rubbed their eyes, asking each other if Eric was talking about the big boned boy. Eric's response startled them. The goal in Eric's work was not to create Olympians. The talent he affirmed was in hard work, not running. The focus was different. His efforts kept kids from getting into trouble. To this day stories waft from the stillness of Eric's story. Kids came to Christ and developed a love for living a disciplined life because of Eric's service.
For Liddell, service was an outgrowth of submission. Prayer and devotions were an engine that propelled action. In times of conflict it is easy to grow inward. Liddell didn't retain his faith under a steeple in prayers for redemption. He engaged conflict. Persecution ran to Eric and he met it with an exercised vengeance.
These three simple steps are elaborated in a new biography about Eric Liddell that focuses on his missionary work. This book was summer reading for a few staff members at Hillcrest. It is affirming many basic practices that occur in Hillcrest's classrooms.
Prayer and devotions accompany nearly every class period at Hillcrest. Students are encouraged to use these practices as a launchpad to explore areas of service. As we start another school year, it is exciting to read a storied example of fortified faith that mirrors practices at Hillcrest Academy.