On the morning of July 11, 1924, Eric Liddell was preparing to run the four-hundred-meter race at the Paris Olympics. Liddell had withdrawn from the hundred-meter competition, a race he was favored to win, because he refused to run on a Sunday. As he prepared for the four-hundred-meter race, which was not his strongest event, he was handed a slip of paper with a paraphrase of 1 Samuel 2:30: “Those who honour me I will honour.” Despite drawing the outside lane, the “Flying Scotsman” broke the Olympic and world records with a time of 47.6 seconds and won the gold medal.
In the 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, Eric’s sister doesn’t understand his devotion to the track and tries to convince him to give up running and move to China. He eventually went and served there as a missionary for eighteen years. But he also believed that God was the One who gave him the desire to run. “[God] made me fast,” explained Eric. “And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
Hold that thought.
A few centuries ago there was a litmus test within the church to determine whether or not something was sinful: “Did you take pleasure in it?” If you did, it was a sin. What a terrible test. God Himself would fail that test in the first chapter of Genesis. The psalmist went so far as to say, “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11, ESV) That doesn’t sound like a cosmic killjoy! That sounds more like Christian hedonism. In John Piper’s words, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Pleasure isn’t a bad thing. It’s a gift from God. When did we start believing that God wants to send us to places we don’t want to go to do things we don’t want to do? Sure, taking up our cross involves sacrifice. But when we delight ourselves in the Lord, God will give us the desire to do whatever He’s called us to do, no matter how difficult it is.
I’ve had many conversations with church planters over the years, and one of the common questions they wrestle with is where to plant a church. Many of them have done demographic studies, and that’s due diligence. But I always ask the desire question: “Where do you most want to live?” That question often results in a quizzical look, so I double down. “Where do you want to raise your family? Do you prefer the city, the suburbs, or the country? Do you want to live by family or get as far away as you can? Are you a mountain person or a lake person? West Coast? East Coast? No coast?” The reason I ask those questions is that I believe church planters will be most successful in places where they really want to live. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But what makes it difficult is that we’re more in touch with others’ expectations than our own desires.
Some of us have no idea what we want, because we sacrifice our desires on the altar of other people’s expectations. We settle for “should.” We settle for “have to” instead of “want to.” And then we wonder why we don’t feel the joy of the Lord. It’s because we’re listening to the wrong voices.
Frederick Buechner noted the challenge of choosing the right voice to listen to in his book Wishful Thinking. Buechner cited three default settings: society, the superego, and self-interest. If we don’t turn them down or tune them out, those become the loudest voices in our lives. Society bombards us with its messages all day, every day. Billboards, commercials, click ads, and social media are the tip of the iceberg. Superego has the loudest voice. And self-interest is not easily tuned out. If you give those voices your ear, you’ll conform to the pattern of the world around you. (See Romans 12:2)
Buechner then flipped the script and revealed a litmus test I’ve learned to love. “The voice we should listen to most as we choose a vocation is the voice that we might think we should listen to least, and that is the voice of our own gladness. What can we do that makes us the gladdest? . . . I believe that if it is a thing that makes us truly glad, then it is a good thing and it is our thing.”
I might even add, it’s a God thing.
If there is a lesson to be learned from Eric Liddell’s life, it’s probably the same as the principle proposed by Frederick Buechner: listen to the voice of gladness. When we do, the track becomes every bit as much a mission as China. And you can fill in the blank with whatever you feel called to.
Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church, known as one of the most innovative and influential churches in America. He’s also the New York Times best-selling author of a dozen books, including Chase the Lion and his newest, Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God, from which the above excerpt was taken. Visit him at www.markbatterson.com.
Excerpted from WHISPER. Copyright © 2017 by Mark Batterson. Published by Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.