God Made Me Fast: Eric Liddell and Being Shaped for Significance

“Jenny…Jenny, you’ve got to understand. I believe that God made me for a purpose: for China. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt. You were right, it’s not just fun. To win is to honor Him.”

That was a famous scene from 1981’s Chariots of Fire, the true story of Olympians Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. In this scene, Liddell is preparing to leave for China to become a missionary, but is telling his sister that before he does, he’s going to run in the 1924 Olympics; not for pleasure but to give glory to God.

Recently on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale talked about this idea of being “S.H.A.P.E.D” for significance through the things that we are given and blessed with, and how Eric Liddell used the “shape” he was given to maximize his potential.

During his time away from the Church, Cale encountered a Southern Baptist author named Rick Warren. Warren has written many books and in one of them, he introduced the S.H.A.P.E. acronym, saying that there are five things that “shape” us into the people who can leave an impact.

S – Spiritual Gifts. These gifts would involve the intangible virtues that we live by and use to build up the Body of Christ. They are our invisible strengths.

H – Heart. These are embodied by the things and people that we are passionate about.

A – Abilities. These are our God-given talents and material strengths. They are what we excel at. For Eric Liddell, one of his abilities was to run fast.

P – Personality. Our personality is the medley of our strengths, weaknesses, habits, virtues, vices, and quirks that allow us to approach things in a unique way. Only we can serve God in the way that we were made to. God gave us what He gave us for a reason.

E – Experiences. These are the things you’ve gone through in your life, good and bad, that affected the person you have become and are becoming. “God never wastes an experience.” Fortunate experiences open your eyes to God’s beauty, and unfortunate experiences will show you how God brings good out of bad. If you ask God for help, He will give it to you. No matter what shape that assistance takes, you will be better for that experience if you stay Christ’s course.

“Really, it’s very much a Catholic idea because we believe that ‘grace builds on nature.’ That’s something that St. Thomas Aquinas said. God’s grace doesn’t destroy nature, it builds upon it. It supernaturalizes it. It lifts it up,” said Cale.

That’s exactly what Eric Liddell did, both in his Olympics performance and in his mission work in China. Liddell, a devout Christian, was told in the 1924 Paris Olympics that he was going to have to compete on Sunday. He refused because he wanted to keep God’s Day holy. This was the pinnacle of his career, the Olympics, and yet he was willing to push it aside to stay true to his beliefs. Fortunately, a teammate of his gave up his spot in the 400-meter event so that Liddell could compete, and he ended up taking gold.

All the while, his discipline allowed him to stay focused on God.

After the Olympics, Liddell set off for China to become a missionary. Liddell got married there, became a father, and when it became too dangerous for missions, his family left while he stayed to serve the poor in Xiaozhang. He was later imprisoned in an internment camp and while there, Liddell became a well-known personality, “Uncle Eric”. He exuded charity, selflessness, and generosity. Another internee, Norman Cliff, wrote a book about him in which he says Liddell was “the finest Christian gentleman has been my pleasure to meet. In all the time in the camp, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody.”

All the while, his discipline allowed him to stay focused on God.

In 1945, Liddell found out he had an inoperable brain tumor. He was malnourished, overworked, and suffered nervous breakdowns. After his life of athleticism and championship attitude, it was becoming more difficult to continue. But his discipline would not allow him to break focus from God. He had made the most of his shape, his sufferings, and his blessings.

Eric Liddell’s last words were, “It’s complete surrender.”

Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.