The Athlete’s Prayer

1 John 1: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Eric Liddell was a Scottish athlete who is best known for competing in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.  This portion of his life is depicted in the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire.  A principled man, Liddell refused to run in races that were held on a Sunday which led to an incredible story depicted in the movie.  However, Liddell’s life was far more meaningful than simply running.

In 1925, Liddell left competitive sports to return to China to serve as a missionary like his parents.  He competed in some running events in China, but he focussed on teaching and evangelizing the Chinese.  He married a Canadian missionary woman and had three daughters, the last of which he would not see born.  In 1941, Japanese aggressiveness had made life in China dangerous and the British government advised Brits to leave.  Liddell’s pregnant wife and his other two daughters left.  Liddell was convicted to stay and never saw them again as he was sent to an Internment Camp, Weifang, where he died in 1945.  While at the Internment Camp, Liddell became a surrogate dad to the abandoned kids.  The Chinese students apparently called him Uncle Eric and they loved him dearly.

Liddell would confess that prayer was the key to his life.  In his book, The Disciplines of the Christian Life[i], Liddell identifies his process of prayer.  Step 1 is silence. “This is where we should analyze our lives to see if there is anything that isn’t pleasing to God and repent of it immediately.”  Step 2 is to bathe your thoughts in God’s Word, so we are attuned to his Will.  Step 3 is to write down what comes to you when you pore over God’s word.  Step 4 is action.  “If prayer doesn’t lead us to action, we’re doing it wrong.”

For another excellent example of prayer, I turn to Nehemiah 1.  Jews had been exiled from Jerusalem (The Babylonian Exile), and Nehemiah finds out that those who survived the exile and are back in the province were “in great trouble and disgrace.  The wall of Jerusalem is broken down” (Nehemiah 1:3a).  When he heard this, he wept.  “For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (vs 4b).

As you read Nehemiah 1, you see his pattern of prayer.  1) He praised God (vs. 5); 2) He confessed his sins and those of his people (vs 6-7); 3) He claimed God’s promises (vs 8-10) and he reminded himself of those promises; and 4) and he prayed for favor to be used as a tool for God (vs 11a).

In both Liddell and Nehemiah’s approach to prayer, there is a common theme of repentance.  I strongly believe the Church today has lost the art of repentance.  We seem to cling to God’s grace and accept his forgiveness, but we often leap over the necessity of the confession of sin.  When I look at mature Christians of the past, and those I know today, the common theme is humility – lives of continual confession.

I believe there are many Christians going through sickness today (mental and physical) and sin is the key.  That is not to say all sickness is due to sin, but some is.  16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16).  Choose to become a mature Christian – live a life of continual prayer and repentance.

[i] The Discipline of a the Christian Life, Liddell, Eric, 1985. The Estate of Florence Liddell Hall.  Abingdon Press.


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