One life, one purpose - Eric Liddell

Updated: Nov 23, 2018

As ambitious men and women living of the 21st century, we all have dreams; dreams to succeed, to conquer and to flourish. In the pursuit of these dreams, we often miss out on our real purpose and true calling in life.

But there are a few who, not blinded by materialistic success, look forward to fulfill their divine purposes. Eric Liddell was one such man.

Born to Scottish missionaries serving in China, Eric Liddell spent his early childhood in China. At the age of five, he was sent to a boarding school for missionaries’ kids in England. At school, Eric was a brilliant sportsman and captained the cricket and rugby union teams. By the time Eric was in Oxford College, his fame spread across the land as the fastest runner in Scotland. He was seen as a potential Olympic winner.

During these years, Eric matured as a Christ follower too. His convictions were shaped and formed.

After Oxford, Eric chose to pursue pure science at the Edinburgh University, which later turned to be the stepping stone for his athletic career. He was by now a prominent rugby player and an athlete. But when the time came to choose between the two, he picked running. Soon Eric started representing Scotland in international competitions. He earned his way into the British Olympic Squad, all set to participate in the Paris Olympics 1924.


The turning point of Eric’s life happened when the finals of the 100-meter race were to take place on a Sunday. He was the favourite to win the race. Strongly convinced that he could not run on the day of worship, he refused to run the race. His team, coach and the entire nation was upset. Many called him “unpatriotic” and “unprofessional”. Undeterred, Eric decided to compete in the 400-meter race though it was not something he trained. But in Paris, to everyone’s surprise, Eric went on to bag the gold medal and set a world record for race!

He would say, “I believe that God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Despite the accomplishments, victories and fame, Eric knew his real calling was to serve in China like his parents. Eric traveled to China and served as a schoolteacher. Liddell spent most of his time in China, first as a teacher at the Anglo-Chinese College in Tientsin, then as a country evangelist based in Siaochang. He lived in China during the Japanese invasion in 1937. When the world war broke out, Liddell’s wife and three daughters were safely dispatched to Canada in 1941, but he chose remained in China. He was sent to an internment camp by the Japanese where he lived out the final two years of his life. He died in 1945 of a brain tumour, months before the end of the war.

Eric’s life can be summed up in the words of Apostle Paul - "What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8). He considered everything else - his fame, his future and his career - as a loss compared to making Christ known in China.

Many will look at Eric’s life and say - “What a waste of talent!”, but it’s not! He knew what was eternally valuable. We may have great dreams that we aspire and work for but nothing compares to the dreams God has for us. May we trust his purposes for us and take steps of faith towards it.

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