In the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire, a thrilling scene captured Eric Liddell rebounding from a devastating fall. The slow motion camera zeroed in on Liddell’s collision with a competitor and his sprawl to the side of the track. In the scene, his head turns forward to the race and his eye sharply focuses on the runners rushing ahead without him. He clambers back to his feet, instantly surges ahead, and at full stride with head thrown back, races past the frontrunner at the last moment to win. It is a stunning replay of an incident that actually happened—one that eventually propelled him to 1924 Olympic fame.
Because life is like a race in so many ways, this story throws light on how to manage our failures, disappointments, lapses in judgement and outright misdeeds. When we fall, it is easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of disappointment – even despair – that we are not making progress in our recovery. We can get bogged down in a swamp of self-conscious pity and discouragement, returning to the old cycle of behavior as a means of relieving the emotional power of our situation.
Yes, there is a time to carefully reflect on what led to our fall. Like athletes in training spend time replaying the videos of their defeat in previous competitions in order to train for the future, we learn from our past to inform us for the next race to come. But we must get up and move forward. Instead of choosing a path of defeat, we remind ourselves that the Christian life is not one of perfection. We sometimes fall even when we have motivation and will to do what is right and helpful. The Apostle Paul teaches us to follow his example of pressing ahead without being dogged by our past.
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers…, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us…Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. NLT
Once we have confessed our sin and sought forgiveness from all those involved, we must press on. Christ Jesus has promised perfection when we join him for the great celebration, but for now, we must do our utmost to look ahead, and anticipate the prize that is surely to be given to us at the end of our race. This is not merely some Disneyesque “you just have to believe in yourself” mindset. Rather, it involves humbly acknowledging our imperfection, asking for God’s help, and embracing the forgiveness and future God has planned for us.
Liddell’s faith, commitment and attitude propelled him to 1924 Olympics fame with a world record in the 400 metre race. Along the way, he experienced many obstacles, hours of grueling training, and tension with his commitment to Christian missions. His life tragically ended in a Japanese concentration camp in China in February of 1945. But he had won his race for the prize—God’s high calling—not looking back at those obstacles. His example of godliness and persistence provides a clear lead for us to follow in our race of life.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” NLT
Jim is the founder of COMPASS, and has been a leader in sexual addiction ministry for over 10 years.