Logic said his chances were slim to win the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympics. After all:
- Four hundred meters is a long sprint; he was a short sprinter.
- Two other competitors in the race had achieved world records in this event.
- He had been assigned the least desirable lane.
But when the starting gun fired, Eric Liddell quickly took the lead and pounded around the track at a steady pace—his head thrown back, arms pumping at his sides. Against the odds, Eric crossed the finish line first to win the gold medal. In fact, he set a new world record.
In the film, Chariots of Fire (1981), about Eric’s rise to Olympic gold, his character says, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” The scriptwriter was actually responsible for those words, but the attitude behind them surely reflected the strong faith-experience of the real Liddell.
No doubt about it: Eric was gifted by God to run. And when he used that gift, Eric felt confident God was pleased, because he was fulfilling one of the purposes for which God had created him.
But those famous words from the film beg the question:
How can a person know when the invisible God experiences pleasure?
Scripture is the obvious place to begin our search for answers. In fact, the first book of the Bible—the first chapter no less—gives us indication. Seven times as God was creating the universe he “saw that it was good.” God takes pleasure in what he has made.
His pleasure is especially evident in the creation of humanity. He knit each of us together—not just bones, muscle, and organs—but personality traits, modes of intelligence, talents, interests, and more. Each of us is an incredible feat of engineering, a breath-taking masterpiece (Psalm 139:13, Ephesians 2:10). With so many variables at his disposal, God creates each person with precise uniqueness for distinct purposes.
God also plans out each of our lives: the places where we’ll live, the people we’ll meet, the events we’ll experience (Psalm 139:16).
“God formed us for his pleasure…
and meant us to see him and live with him
and draw our life from his smile.”
—A. W. Tozer
(The Pursuit of God, p. 32, emphasis added)
In Psalm 147, we’re told, “The Lord delights in those who fear* him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (v. 11).
What might that delight or pleasure feel like to us?
Perhaps a warm contentment in the spirit—the way we feel when someone we respect smiles upon us with approval. Perhaps deep confidence as we live by his wisdom.
With God, such sublime moments are not necessarily random events. We can be assured to experience God’s pleasure as we:
- Take joy in his presence (Psalm 16:11) through worship—anytime, anywhere.
- Radiate his joy to others. There is blessing in being a blessing.
- Make right choices – especially the tough ones.
Eric Liddell surely sensed God’s pleasure as deep confidence when he made the tough choice not to run in his best event, the 100-meter, in the 1924 Olympics. The race was scheduled on a Sunday, and Eric took seriously God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath set apart for worship and rest.
When does God experience pleasure from our lives?
Consider Eric Liddell’s statement in the film, only let’s personalize it based on the way God has created each of us. Prayerfully fill in these blanks:
“God made me ____________. When I __________, I feel his pleasure.
One of my statements might read: “God made me a grandmother. When I play a rousing game of tag or hide ‘n’ seek with Elena and Sophie, I feel God’s pleasure.”
I’d love to hear your responses. Please share in the comment section below!
My mind cannot fathom the incredible privilege you have given us, Lord God. Thank you for ordaining the reciprocal process of pleasure between us: we enjoy bringing you delight, and you allow us to feel your pleasure. My mind cannot fathom it: I bring delight to the King of glory! I rejoice in you and praise you with all my heart.
* “Fear of God” in the ancient Hebrew refers to awe, respect, and reverence for him.
Sources of information about Eric Liddell: