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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…. Hebrews 12:1-2a
A “great cloud of witnesses” is all around us. This is such a great image. Can you picture it? We are in a stadium. People from the past who have lived out their faith – without quitting – with perseverance are in the stands cheering and encouraging us to keep our eyes on Jesus and finish the race.
There is a child in my elementary class whose favorite Bible story is the life of Joseph. I totally understand why she feels that way. Joseph’s story is fascinating; it covers 11 chapters in the Bible (Genesis 37, 39-50), and he lived to be 110 years old. I encourage you to read his story. But, here is my quick version…Joseph is his dad’s favorite son and everyone knows it. One day, his brothers have had enough and take matters into their own hands – they fake Joseph’s death and sell him into slavery. Joseph is taken to Egypt where he works for Potiphar. He works hard, is falsely accused and is sent to prison. God stays with Joseph and continues to help him grow in wisdom and faith. In the end, Pharaoh takes Joseph out of prison, appoints him to be the second in command of Egypt; Joseph is reunited with his family, and his wisdom and work saves people from starvation. Joseph is a part of the “great cloud of witnesses.” Hebrews 11:22 says, “Joseph had faith.” But, it would have been so easy for Joseph to feel sorry for himself, become bitter, and quit.
To join in the “great cloud of witnesses” we will need to find our own stride, finish our own race, and “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” What gets in the way of finishing your race? Think about the things that you might be carrying around that are keeping you from finishing the amazing things God has planned for you. What holds you back – bad attitudes, selfish motives? When are you most tempted to give up and quit – when things look impossible, when they don’t go the way you think they should go; when something takes a lot of time, when you feel criticized? Do you take your eyes off of Jesus and try to go on your own?
Several years ago, I led a Vacation Bible School that featured various sports heroes. One such hero was Derek Redmond. To be honest I had forgotten his story, but I was so glad to be reminded; maybe you will be too. In 1992, Derek Redmond was a runner who was favored to win the gold medal. During the race he suffered a terrible injury – a torn hamstring, and he fell to the ground. There was no chance he would win. Even so, he got up and starting limping to the finish-line. His dad saw what was happening, came out onto the field, and helped Derek walk to the finish-line. With the help of his father he finished; he persevered. You can watch it here; it is completely inspirational. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2G8KVzTwfw
Like Derek and Joseph we have a race to finish. God has a race for each one of us. He has marked it out for us to run here and now. And God is there to help us every step of the journey. The stadium is full of people cheering us on. People like Joseph who ended up a slave in a foreign country and found himself being falsely accused. And yet, he put aside all of his anger and excuses and ended up rising to second in command and saving the entire nation from a famine!
Don’t let anything hold you back from finishing your race nor from trusting in God. Remind yourself that God can help you let go of what is holding you back. He did it for the heroes of the Bible who were just regular people living a life of faith, and He will do it for you. He will help you persevere and finish. -Lia