His wife said he needed to be more like his hero, Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame.
- Posted on Nov 1, 2012
“Da, da da da da, daaaa.” Who can’t hum the theme music to Chariots of Fire, the movie about Olympic sprinter and Scottish missionary Eric Liddell and his Jewish rival teammate Harold Abrahams? The movie is one of my favorites.
“God made me fast,” Eric tells his sister, “and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” I’m no runner, I’m a pastor. But I believe God made me to preach, and I feel joy in the work.
There was a time, though, when I almost let that work take over my life and family. That’s when my wife, Amy, stepped in and reminded me of the lesson of Eric Liddell’s story.
Sixteen years ago I started a church in a friend’s garage. We had a congregation of 40. I worked long hours to counsel attendees, develop outreach programs, raise funds for a new building and hire staff. Amy had her hands full homeschooling our kids.
The church grew and so did our family—six kids in all.
One evening I was working late, as usual. There was no way I’d finish my sermon before my meeting with the board. The phone rang. I picked up. The sweet voice of my four-year-old Catie. “Daddy, will you have dinner with us?”
“Daddy’s working late again. We’ll say prayers together when I get home.”
“Home?” Catie asked, sounding puzzled. “Daddy, don’t you live at church?”
Ouch. Sometimes, it felt like it. That night the meeting ran long. By the time I made it home, only Amy was still awake. “The kids missed you today,” she said.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “How are they? How was school?”
“Actually...we discussed Eric Liddell,” Amy said.
“That’s great! We love that movie.” Then I noticed the look on Amy’s face. “We all could learn a lot from his example,” she said pointedly.
The next day I sat at my desk and replayed Chariots of Fire in my mind. On a ship headed to Paris for the 1924 Olympic games, Eric learns the heat for his race, the 100 meters—a race he’s favored to win—falls on a Sunday. “Does it matter?” his teammate asks.
“Yes,” Eric replies. He refuses to run on the Sabbath. Finally, a teammate offers to switch races and let Eric run the 400 meters. No one believes a sprinter has a chance to win the 400. The starting gun fires. Eric leads from the outset.
That’s where the theme song comes in, along with an iconic slow-motion sequence. He pumps his legs, never tiring till he reaches the finish line—first. Just before he crosses, he recalls what he told his sister earlier. “God made me fast.”
All at once I remembered what preceded that line. His sister questions his devotion to God after he misses a church meeting for a training run. “You’re so full of running,” she says, “you have no room for standing still.” It’s with his sister’s admonition ringing in his ears that Eric refuses to run.
Standing still. That’s what Amy wanted me to hear. Eric Liddell ran for God, but his most important act wasn’t winning a race. It was the race he didn’t run. He honored a commandment—to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest.
That night I surprised everyone by coming home early. I took our family on a three-week vacation to the Rocky Mountains—and didn’t check e-mail once.
When we got back, I made a promise. Since I needed to work on Sunday, Amy, the kids and I chose Friday as our day of rest. A time to sleep in, eat a big family breakfast, play games or just hang out and talk. It’s our Sabbath.
I’m still a bit of a workaholic. Our church, LifeChurch.tv, has grown to tens of thousands of attendees and followers on the web. But now I schedule morning meetings, so I’m home for dinner.
And I guard my Sabbath fiercely. If anyone wants me, I say, “Sorry, this is my Sabbath.” My day to stand still.
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