Contrary to popular belief, your ability is not your purpose. Your ability is however a platform, a channel or a vessel through which your purpose is delivered. The 1980’s movie, Chariots of Fire, is about the true story of two Olympic runners, Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian and Harold Abrahams, devout English Jew. Both men were competing in the 1924 Olympics. As the story unfolds we discover both men are running for a purpose greater than winning the earthly race. Eric ran “for the glory of God” and to “overcome the prejudice against Jews.”
The appropriately penned tag line for the movie is “Wings on their Heels, Hope in their hearts.” These men had talent. But their talent was spurred on by a greater purpose than winning the race, receiving a medal and earning fame. It was their talent that led them to an Olympic sized arena with the whole world as their audience. It was their greater purpose that urged them to press on to win the races.
The audience believed they were spectators of record-setting runners, but soon came to realize they were being asked to step into the race themselves, to stand up for prejudice, and step into a life of faith in Christ.
During a post-race interview Liddell said, “You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race.”
In one way or another, we all place wagers on how far our own abilities and talents will get us in this life. We all put stock in how smart we are, how skilled we are, how resourceful we are and even how well networked we are. In fact we make “how far we climb up the ladder or how successful we are” as the main focus of our lives.
So often we place our faith, energy, talents and efforts into winning the race. But we fail to recognize we are running the wrong race. So often we place our faith in our ability and believe our ability is our purpose. Instead of seeing that our ability is the platform or the launching pad to deliver our purpose. Liddell understood that God gave him a talent, a platform on which to captivate attention, in order to draw attention to God himself.
Whether we are given a stage, an olympic race course, a classroom, a board room, a work team, a family or a neighborhood committee, whatever our place we are to be influencers for Christ. To use our talent to “point the way” to the race of a lifetime, a race worth running, a race of faith.
Eric Liddell tells the audience that he wants to offer them something that lasts, “something more permanent” than the roaring of the crowds as the runner crosses the finish line. As an olympic athlete Liddell knew all too well, the cheering lasted only for a time, and there would come a day when his knees would give out and his legs would no longer be able to carry him. Liddell knew, wagering everything on his own ability, his earthly talent to “win the race” would bring earthly fame, but not lasting peace and comfort.
“Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”
Here are some questions to consider as a reflection on Liddell’s speech:
- What race are you running? Are you running the one that counts?
- Where does your power to run the race come from?
- What is the purpose of the race you are running?
You may be asking, “What is my purpose?” Whether you are 18 or 68 you may not be sure what your purpose on this earth is. Maybe you think, “I really don’t have any talents” or “I am not great at any one thing, good at a lot, but not great at any one thing.”
Oftentimes what we see as a detriment God desires to use to display his power at work in us. So to the man or woman who says, “I am really not great at anything,” I say, you are good at many things. God made you with many skills so that you could be meldable and relatable to many people. It means that God can use you in spaces that those who have one great talent could never be used. God can cast His net wide with you.
Eric Liddell said in another interview, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
Liddell believed that God made him fast, but his ability was not his purpose. His ability is what gave him a platform to demonstrate his purpose- to give all the glory to God. Eric boasted, not in his talent, but in his God, who helped him to run a straight race.
I believe we all have a purpose. I believe, and call me crazy, we all have the same purpose. Our purpose is to know God and to make Him known. That is the race we are made for. Whatever your platform or assignment; whether you are teaching, coaching, adjusting, prescribing, fixing, serving, making beds, washing windows, developing programs or curriculum, whether you are selling boxes or making packaging your ability, your job is simply a platform, not your purpose.
Your assignment, your role, your job is a platform to use your influence, your connections, your relationships to know God better and make him known.
My favorite quote in the whole of Chariots of Fire is, “When I run I feel God’s pleasure.” Think back over your life. What were you doing during the moments you have felt the most alive? Who were you with? For me the moments I have felt the most alive is when I am leading team meetings and teaching or speaking.
God has given me this kind of talent and platform because he knew I would be vulnerable enough to open up and share my struggle, share my messy middle with my team and with those I speak to. He knew that seeing lives transformed by the power of the gospel through my vulnerability would spur me on to deeper levels of faith in him.
When we recognize our purpose is far greater than showing off our abilities, and that our abilities are just the launching pad for our purpose, the ability becomes less important and the purpose begins to have a louder voice and stronger impact.
Maybe you have been running a performance or perfection race, waiting for the accolades of your abilities in the spotlight of the olympic arena. Maybe you are coasting on the tails of the accolades, recognition and awards of years gone by. Or maybe you recognize that this life is not about displaying your abilities. It’s about your abilities displaying your God.
Perhaps today is the day it is time to kneel down at the starting line ready to run the only race that really matters, the race of faith. You wait for the sound of the gun to send you running. And when you hear it, you RUN! Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Run your race, brother. Run your race, sister. Your path is marked out. Just keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.