Thursday, November 17, 2005

Chariots of Fire

I saw the movie 'Chariots of Fire' for the first time a few months ago. It's strange, but everyone I've mentioned that to at the time chuckled when I told them. I don't know what's so funny about it, maybe it's got something to do with the movie - most people seem to have seen it but only a long time ago, and perhaps they remember it as being a nice but antiquated movie with a naively optimistic outlook on things. I've no idea really. However, I am fully aware of what I think about the film.

"What? What is your opinion?" I hear you cry. Well fear not, for I am about to give it! :)

It moved me. It spoke to me. I was fully impressed with it. Perhaps it was more the message than its merit as a piece of visual storytelling, but I came away from having watched it with feelings of respect, admiration, inspiration, and almost a homeward call of my soul. What I want to share with you here is the aspect of its impact which struck me most significantly.

Before I begin, a quick recap. 'Chariots of Fire' tells the true story of the victories of the British running team in the 1924 Parisian Olympics. It focuses most of all upon two figures, H.G. Abrahams and Eric Liddell. Both gifted sprinters, the former is an aggressively sensitive Jewish Englishman who enters Cambridge University and finds motivation in proving himself to the world, fighting for his Jewish heritage. The latter is a Scottish missionary and devout Christian. Born in China to missionary parents, he, with his sister, is preparing himself to return to the ministry but finds himself the hero of Scotland in his running abilities. At first rivals, the two eventually run under the British banner to bring home two gold medals.

In itself it is an inspiring story, and I highly recommend the movie, however, I would like to reflect upon something spoken by Eric. Part way through the movie Eric is trying to explain to his sister, who does not agree with his running, why he is choosing to continue with his preparations for the Olympics before he returns to the mission. In doing so Eric tells her, "“I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure. To win is to honor Him."”

I, and perhaps a lot of Christians, understand and believe in the first part of Eric's statement - that God made us for a purpose, that He has a purpose planned for us. Many Christians, I think, are straining and striving in search of that purpose. If only they could know what it is, then they could do it, and be content, and know that they are bringing pleasure to God, doing what they were made for. However, Eric doesn't stop in saying he was made for a purpose, he continues, and it is that continuance that I think many Christians find hard to grasp. I know that to me, it was, and in part still is, a mystery.

"He also made me fast."

I don't know if you can relate, but there's something about running. I'm not a hard-core runner, not at all. I don't get into the technical aspects or even the hard-nosed pursuit of fitness, but I do like to run and when I heard Eric speak something inside of me strongly stirred, recalling memories and feelings - almost a deep calling to deep. In the film, when Eric runs, his head tips back and he just lets fly. He puts everything he has into moving forward and as he does so, somewhere along the line he forgets about everything around him and he simply feels. It's a moment of focus and unity and peace. Alone in his path, his body is obedient and driven by his spirit which urges him forward. There in motion his heart is open before God and God is there with him. It is just him and God and a single-focused drive forward. Everything is together, in unity and nothing is held back.

I've felt that before, in England, up on the hills when I went just to get outside. Hiking is wonderful, but there's nothing like having no pack, no big boots. It's just you, free from encumbrance, and able to just charge forward. The terrain rolls, rocks jut, soil dips and as the wind drives you dart forward at full speed. Alert and alive your feet move fast, ably, finding every secure footfall and sending you forward. It's one of the times when I feel most like myself. Enjoying the freedom and the pace everything comes together - body, mind and soul. God is there and I am filled with joy, with energy.

As I heard Eric speak and watched him in the Scottish hillsides all of that came flooding back. As I thought about it later, it occurred to me that this is what I've been missing. It's what I've been looking for, coming back to, but I did not know what it was. Not the running, but the feeling - being able to pursue something single-mindedly with everything that I have, to take joy in something as I pour my whole self into it and, most of all, to feel God's pleasure in it - knowing that God takes pleasure in me living out everything He made me to be. In some ways the thought felt almost too good to be true!

Let me share something about myself. For many years now I have sought to offer myself entirely to God. To heed the words of all those sermons which spoke of availability and service. I desire not to miss anything, or waste time reinventing the wheel, but to believe and to follow that path with all my heart. I have sought to make myself as open as possible to God so that whatever God asks He should never hear a 'no' from me but instead always find me willing, albeit after a little pushing some times. Such I have tried to be, yet of late I have found myself in turmoil. I have had much trouble in making decisions, freezing or deliberating endlessly when faced with big choices. I have found myself somewhat of a paradox. I remember the days at school when I was told , "You'll be able to do whatever you want to do," and I recognise all the gifts I have been given, that I should be soaring through life. The truth is though that I have spent many times wondering what is going on and whether I am even capable of leading a normal life. Gifts and abilities are all fine, but they often seem intangible. Potential but not reality, not a guarantee.

Recently, with many decisions having to be made and therefore much thinking having been done, it has brought me more and more to focus on what I really want and what I need to do. That might sound a little 'me' centered but keep with me because I don't believe that is the case. Some of the questions I've been facing are 'Do I want to get married?' 'What would I want from marriage?' 'If I do want to marry, do I want to do it right now?' 'Is God calling me to it or perhaps to singleness?' 'What is God's call upon me, His purpose?' In seeking to find some answers it became apparent that I could not make such decisions solely in terms of 'what is good', 'what is the ideal', and 'what is the principle'. As I considered things I found that whilst I was able to lay out the general game-plan for humanity quite well with many wonderful truths I needed to find out more than principles. I needed to find out what excited me, what my desires were, and knowing where my gifts lie, search the depths of my heart, not just the reason of my mind.

The 'heart' is a funny subject. On the one hand, the Bible says it is deceitful, it tells us to guard it, but then Proverbs 21:1 says, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases." Without going too much into this, I believe it is the case that when a servant of God offers himself up to God, heart and all, that God honours that and takes hold of that life, directing his heart and life. As God begins to uncover the buried parts of that person's heart, revealing the image of who He will make them to be, I believe there is a unity of both principle and passion.

You see principle by itself can teach what is good, but within that realm of the good, passion provides the direction and motivation to move into the future. Eric Liddell's desire was to serve God, he had given his life over to the Lord for that purpose. He had studied God's word and knew truth, yet in filling his heart and mind with God's word he found that there was a passion and a design of God leading Him to run. He honoured God through it, and what a place it is to be able to not only serve God from duty and truth but also from the heart!

I don't think Christians are all cookie-cutter clones who are wiped of their personality and individuality in coming to Christ. All of us should be prepared to serve wherever we can when needed, even in areas where we have no desire or ability. However, in the long term, I believe God designs and uses us for specific purposes for which He gives us the heart. Sometimes we will undergo massive transformation and what we once thought would be abhorrent to us becomes a joy and a privilege. Yet note that it becomes a joy it does not remain abhorrent.

When we seek God as Christians, when we ask for wisdom and direction, when we are making decisions, let us not forget that the Lord directs our hearts and that those who delight themselves in Him are granted the desires of their heart. Let us fulfill our duties, and be committed to truth and principle, but let us also remember that there is something more than these things - in Christ there is the unity of the whole human being mind, body, heart and soul. Let us live with passion and commitment confirmed by the peace and word of God.

And what's more, when we do not have answer, when we cannot settle upon a decision, let us not fear God, which is our tendency, but remember that He is our loving Father. He will not disappoint us. If He is staying silent at the moment it is because He desires us to continue in some way now learning something more before He releases us upon the new path that He has already prepared for us. It's easy to trust God and know He's good and faithful when He bring everything right to your doorstep and everything is in place. When things aren't clear though, that when faith finds its point!

I'll end with one more line from the movie, in seeking the advice of his father Eric is told,

"Eric, you are the proud possessor of many gifts and it'’s your sacred duty to put them to good use. You can praise God by peeling a potato if you peel it to perfection. Run, in His name, and let the world stand back in wonder."

God bless,