I quite enjoyed David McCasland’s biography of Eric Liddell. My generation remembers Liddell because of Chariots of Fire, the somewhat fictionalized account of his go at the 1924 Olympics. Liddell won gold at the Olympics, despite being challenged to give up his belief in keeping the Lord’s Day holy. Liddell was a man of Christian convictions. Following his Olympic triumphs, he became a missionary to China. The Second World War saw him interned in a Japanese camp. He died there on February 21, 1945 because of an inoperable brain tumour.
McCasland’s biography includes some snippets of Liddell’s life in the prison camp. In this excerpt, Liddell taught a powerful truth which many others have discovered: prayer mysteriously changes the one who prays.
…when Eric spoke in church or led a Bible study group with them, he rarely dealt with what might happen tomorrow. Instead, he focused on what could happen today. During one small group discussion, he read aloud the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Then he asked if this was merely an ideal or something practical they could actually do. Could they love the guards in camp and the Japanese people as a whole? Most thought it was only a lofty goal.
“I thought so too,” Eric said, “but then I noticed the next words, ‘Pray for them that despitefully use you.” When we start to pray,” he said, “we become God-centered. When we hate them we’re self-centered. We spend a lot of time praying for people we like but we don’t spend much time praying for people we don’t like and people we hate. But Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. I’ve begun to pray for the guards and it’s changed my whole attitude toward them. Maybe you’d like to try it too.”
Eric Liddell: Pure Gold, David McCasland, page 267.