A CROWD OF WITNESSES

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. [Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)]

great egret - roseate spoonbills - corkscrew swampWhen reading Hebrews 12:1, I picture one of my son’s triathlons. After swimming nearly a mile, he comes running out of the water while stripping off swim cap, goggles and wet suit. He races to the transition area to don his biking shoes, helmet, and sunglasses. Then, after biking nearly 25 miles, he hurries to rack his bike, toss off biking gear, and slip on running shoes for the 6.2 mile run. At each transition, he strips off any unnecessary gear that can slow him down. That’s what the Apostle Paul tells us we must do—cast off anything that hinders us. Rather than wetsuits, bike helmets or empty water bottles, it may be unbelieving friends, questionable activities, lack of faith, fear or self-doubt that could impede us or cause us to fall.

Whenever I’ve attended one of my son’s races, I’m part of an enormous crowd witnessing the event. Most are like me—trying to spot our loved one’s swim cap bobbing in the water or his number as he speeds past us on the course. Although we cheer and yell encouraging words to all the racers, we are mere spectators and few of us have any real idea of the challenges faced by each competitor.

The race to which Paul refers in Hebrews 12 is our journey of faith. No quick sprint, it is much like a triathlon and requires strength, determination and endurance. Long and strenuous, with difficult transitions, there will be times when even the best prepared Christian will tire, falter, turn the wrong way or consider quitting. Paul writes of being surrounded by a crowd of witnesses during this race. At first glance, it would seem that these witnesses are simply watching and there to cheer us on (as I do my son). A look back at Hebrews 11, however, tells us the witnesses are not observers; they have already crossed the finish line. Including such stellar names as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David and Samuel, all of them encountered overwhelming challenges. They endured torture, sickness, combat, beatings, oppression, poverty, hostility and suffering beyond our wildest imaginings. At times, they stumbled but their faith remained strong; they persevered and their lives affirm God’s absolute faithfulness. Rather than mere onlookers, these witnesses are testifiers to a life of faith. They bear witness that completing the race God sets before us is both doable and worthwhile.

Not limited to ancient Biblical witnesses, we can be inspired by the witness of people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, Eric Liddell, C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom, all of whom remained steadfast as they ran their difficult races. We can even look ahead of us and see people like Andrew van der Bijl (Brother Andrew), Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Joni Eareckson Tada who continue to run their races today. Their witness of faithful service to God can inspire us to shed anything weighing us down and faithfully continue on the course God has given us.

By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. [Hebrews 11:34-34 (NLT)]

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