This is the third installment of a blog series announced here.
Even though Eric Liddell was a natural talent on the track or rugby pitch, he was not a natural talent when it came to public ministry. He was a shy person, naturally quiet, and not inclined to speak in public. In fact, it was a nerve-wracking experience for him.
And his fears, at least on a human level, proved to be somewhat justified. Eric did not have the polish, skill, or eloquence of most modern preachers. In fact, when Eric’s widow Florence first saw the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, and the eloquence with which the actor Ian Charleson gave public speeches, she was quick to acknowledge that this was not the way Eric really was. “Eric wasn’t a good speaker,” she said. “He had a real problem with crowds.”
Now, in our modern day most Christians would take such fears, and such lack of giftedness, as a reason not to engage in certain kinds of ministry. “It’s just not my gift,” they might say. Or, they may doubt or wonder how God could use them to accomplish much of anything.
One thinks of Moses’ litany of excuses when God called him to deliver his people from Egypt: “Who am I?” (Ex 3:11), “What shall I say to them?” (3:13), “They will not believe me” (4:1), and finally “I am not eloquent…but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (4:10).
But when we offer such excuses we forget that God has a habit of using the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He enjoys using ordinary people—like tax collectors and fisherman—to change the world. Why? So, that he will get the glory.
Eric Liddell understood these biblical truths. He understood that God could use him to accomplish things far beyond his own ability. And so, despite his fears and apprehensions, he made a remarkable promise. He promised that he would never turn down an opportunity to preach the gospel unless it was literally impossible to fit into his schedule. As a result, Eric would often find himself speaking at four or five service on any given Sunday, traveling to numerous churches throughout the day.
And God blessed his faithfulness. Despite his quiet, no-frills delivery style, Eric drew large crowds. People were drawn not by gimmicks, or high powered oratory, or by slick presentations. They were drawn by the character of the speaker and the content of his message.
Liddell’s life provides a tremendous challenge to those in ministry today. Some refuse to do ministry out of fear that they are not gifted enough, not trusting in the Lord. And others do ministry relying too much on their giftedness and slick presentations, also not trusting in the Lord. Both paths fail to trust in the Lord. And both are to be avoided.
We need to be reminded that the power of preaching is not in the presentation, but in the power of the message. And so Paul can declare, “And when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2).
And if the power is in the message, then God can use anyone to advance his Kingdom.