Over the years I have had the privilege of working with some of the most successful people in business, sports, and life.The one common denominator for those who were not Christian believers was found in how they went about justifying their existence.It was always and only located in what they did for a living.They did not find their identity in the One who created them, as a Christian does, but in the life they were creating for themselves.
This contrast is best portrayed in the two main characters in one of my favorite movies,Chariots of Fire.
Based on a true story set in the 1920’s, it follows British sprinters Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, who could not be more different and develop an intense on-track rivalry, both running for completely different reasons.Liddell, born in China to Scottish missionary parents, runs to honor God and spread the Gospel.Abrahams is a Lithuanian Jew who feels keenly the anti-Semitism of British society.Even though his father became wealthy and was able to send him to elite Cambridge University, he feels he will never measure up and be fully accepted; he runs for the approval and applause of man.
What begins as a classic conflict of man against man evolves into a study of inner strength as they battle the expectations of others, and must find victory in being true to their hearts and convictions.Liddell’s father encourages him, “Run in God’s name and let the world stand back in wonder.”Liddell tells his sister, “I believe that God made me for a purpose, for future missionary work in China, but He also made me fast.And when I run I feel His pleasure.To give that up would be to hold Him in contempt.”He uses his celebrity to attract an audience to evangelistic services in cities where he competes.Abrahams, on the other hand, runs to prove himself, saying, “I am going to take them on, all of them, one by one, and run them off their feet.”
When Liddell learns that the qualifying heats for his 100-meter dash are scheduled for a Sunday afternoon, he decides he cannot in clear conscience compete on the Lord’s Day.When he informs team officials, they are dismayed and attempt to change his mind.The impasse is resolved when a teammate slated to run in Thursday’s 400-meter race offers his place to Liddell. Liddell and the officials gratefully accept. In a marvelous juxtaposition, we then see Abrahams and others competing on Sunday, while Liddell preaches in a Paris church, quoting from Isaiah 40 (“Behold, the nations are as a drop in the bucket, and are counted as the small dust in the balance. … All nations before him are as nothing. … He bringeth the princes to nothing”). Abrahams goes on to win the 100-meter race and Liddell the 400, both in record time. At the end of the movie, we learn that Abrahams eventually became a lawyer, journalist, and leader in the British sports establishment. Liddell, true to his calling, served as a missionary to China and died in a Japanese prison camp at the end of World War II.
What a difference a divine conviction makes!One man runs for personal glory and one man runs for God’s glory.One man runs to build a monument to man’s glory and one man runs to build a monument to God’s glory.The one who is building a monument for his own glory crystallizes in two of the most profound statements ever uttered by a man on the run from God, powerfully expressing the emptiness of a life without God at the center:
“Contentment? I am 24 and I’ve never known it.I’m forever in pursuit
and I don’t even know what I am chasing.
“And now, in one hour’s time, I will be out there again.I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds
to justify my existence.But will I?”
These two statements are the bookends in the unbeliever’s life.There is no contentment apart from Christ because Christ is the only source of contentment in the cosmos.Their lives are marked by continual activity: running, running, running—without ever knowing what they are chasing; working, working, working—without ever knowing what they are working for.And when and if they ever get what they are running after or working for, the satisfaction only lasts for a moment and then they must be off again chasing after the next thing that will quiet the unrelenting cry of their soul and medicate the unending ache in their heart.
Ten lonely seconds turns into a lifetime of lonely seconds when a person is trying to justify their existence outside of their Creator.These statements are as sad as they are familiar in a world on the run from God.Like Adam in the Garden, they are naked, ashamed, and afraid of who they are and what they have become, so they run from the only One who can give to them everything they need to justify their existence and validate their worth.
So . . . where are you seeking your significance?Harold was seeking significance in 10 lonely seconds on a trackand never found it.Eric sought significance in 6 lonely hours on a crossand, by God’s grace,he found it in a bleeding, wounded, dying Savior.One was looking inside of himself for meaning and purpose.The other was looking beyond himself to a Savior.
The unbelieving world strains, trying to fill that hole in the soul with 10 lonely seconds, repeated over and over again until they take their last breath, buttheir self-justification project will never produce the desired results.The temporal simply cannot do what only the eternal can.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!