"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross,
scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
I have a friend who loves the word of God and with every letter from her I receive at least 3 verses. A couple of weeks ago she sent me a reminder to read these verses again. At the time, she had no idea how much I needed her reminder, but I know that my God did. When I got her letter I was burdened with unnecessary burdens and was struggling with my weaknesses and a terrible fear. My eyes were firmly focused on my circumstances and myself rather than on God and His power. But the verses brought me back to that place where my focus and my dependence were on God.
The word "therefore" always tells us to notice what was previously said in the text. The chapter before these verses contained a list of believers who trusted God and, as a result, had experienced great things. Enoch walked with God and skipped out on death. Noah built a ship and weathered a God-sized storm that destroyed the whole earth. Abraham left the security of home to live in a tent as he waited for the city God promised him. His wife Sarah's unbelieving laughter turned to joy as she nursed a baby when she should have been rocking great grand children. Moses' parents saved his life by floating him in a basket in alligator infested waters to grow up and to lead a nation through a sea without getting wet. An army flattened the walls of Jericho by marching and shouting while Rahab and her family’s safety hung on a crimson cord hanging from her window. Daniel slept peacefully with lions while his friends danced in a fiery furnace with out even smelling like smoke. Still others had great victories--victory over sin and others being made strong through weaknesses. Some were rescued and escaped death while others died leaving tremendous testimonies of faith.
To live the exciting lives like these people did, I must be willing to lay aside every weight and the sins that entangle me. In the original language the author used an athletic term to paint a word picture. I mentored girls who were are swimmers and added resistance by letting the hair on their legs grow and wearing loose fitting shirts that caused drag during training sessions. Then for a race they shaved the hair off their legs, wore swim caps, and removed the big shirts so they had less drag in the water, having the benefit of stronger muscles produced in training. Here the author is telling us the Christian life is like being in a race and we need to get rid of anything that drags us down. That could be habitual sin, friends that distract us from God and His will for us, material things that draw our focus away from God and His will, selfish attitudes that display pride, or business that leaves no time for God.
At the root of our weaknesses, our fears, and our sin often lies the sin of unbelief. When we are struggling, we might want to ask ourselves questions like: "What do I really believe?" "If I believe God is the comforter, why do I turn to other things to numb my pain?" "If I believe we are ambassadors for Christ, why am I surprised I don't feel at home here?" "If I believe God has forgiven me, why do I not forgive myself?" "If I believe God will never leave me or forsake me, why do I feel so alone when I am struggling?" "If I believe God is my strength, why do I not call on Him more?" "If I believe God has given me spiritual gifts with which to serve, why do I succumb to fear when faced with the opportunity to minister?" Doubt is not bad when I deal with it in the light of God's truth. In fact, the most dynamic faith is faith exercised in the face of doubt. Faith is a choice that gives me the opportunity to see God's power.
The author reminds me to run the race before me with endurance, keeping my eyes on Jesus, the very one who can mature faith. Christ has determined my path and has planted seeds of faith in me and is using the race to strengthen that faith. I want to set my eyes on Him for He is at the finish line, cheering me on. He is not waiting to see me fail. He is encouraging me! Does He have the right to tell me to endure? Yes, because He endured the cross and the shame of my sin for the joy of presenting me to His Father a child purified by His blood!
Everyday I want to pause and reflect. Where am I in the race that God has set before me? Have I laid aside the weights that can drag me down? If not, the race is a lot harder than it needs to be. Have I laid aside sin that hinders me, especially the sin of unbelief? If not, I'm missing out on experiencing God in so many ways it would take a book to describe them. and that book, the Bible, has already been written. Are my eyes on the author of my faith? If not, I miss seeing God cheer me on! I don't want to veer off course. His course is the quickest and most sure way to the finish line! I want to remember Jesus is the finish line. He is cheering me on with arms wide open--waiting to take me home.
Prayer: Father, thank you for putting the “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11. Thank you for the witnesses you have placed into our lives that have remained faithful and worshiped you even in the most difficult of circumstances. Thank you for enduring the cross and our shame so we could know you and live for you. Please help us to lay aside the weights that hinder our relationship with you and our service. Help us in times of unbelief to fully trust your word and your character. Thank you for setting our paths. Thank you for being at the finish line to both cheer us on and to receive us with open arms. Thank you that we all can be winners in this marathon called the Christian life. Amen.