“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily best us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
To me, that verse has two important messages. The first is that God wants us to be aware that there is a cloud of witnesses, people of faith that have gone before us. The Bible names individuals like Abel and Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and many more. They encourage us by their example, and I would like to think they cheer us on even now as we strive for the finish line.
My nephew runs marathons, and one thing he likes to do before a race is write his name on his shirt in bright, bold, reflective letters. Thousands of miles from home, in Chicago or Boston or Denver, kind strangers have cheered him on calling out his first name as he rounds a difficult turn or climbs a challenging hill. That courage and determination, the stamina it takes to be a long-distance runner, is what God asks of us. In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
The second message is that sometimes we must dig deep in God’s Word to find the strength and patience God gives us to finish. I had a roommate in Bible school named Linda who was unassuming, sincere, and consistent. It’s hard to be an imposter when you live in a tiny on-campus apartment with three roommates! After graduation, she moved back to the East Coast, and we lost touch except for the occasional Christmas card. In those cards, I saw pictures of her husband and three lovely kids as they grew. She usually wrote a line or two. Not much, but I enjoyed the updates.
Not long ago, at Christmas, I was surprised to receive a package from her. It contained a single poster with a Bible verse from Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be though dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.” I thought I knew what it meant. That was a verse we often quoted to each other back in school. In fact, there was a song with those words that we used to sing. I thought perhaps she happened upon the poster when shopping at a Christian bookstore and sent it for the nostalgia. I was wrong.
The next year, I sent but didn’t’ receive, a Christmas card. A few weeks after the holiday, a heartfelt letter from her husband arrived telling me that Linda had fought bravely and courageously but lost her battle against cancer. She never told me of her illness, but she did reveal how she faced it. I like to think Linda was encouraging herself as she encouraged me to run the race, to finish the course, to know God is always with us. She held on to that Bible verse from Joshua, and it gave her strength. Sad as I was to hear of her death, I felt so grateful to have known her and perhaps just the slightest bit envious that she had finished her race and finished strong. I look forward to seeing her again one day.
So, what can we do to ensure we finish strong?
- Lay aside anything that can hinder us. Hebrews says to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us. Whatever it is, God is able. 1 John 3:20 says, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things.” Whatever it is, be it doubt or unbelief, be it a habit or just a negative way of thinking, God gives us strength to lay it aside when, and if, we fully trust him.
- Run with courage. Hebrews says that we need to run with patience the race set before us. That means not losing focus, not losing heart, not giving up. Finishing is taking the next step.
- Be careful who you listen to. Joshua was one of only two spies that thought the Jews could go into the promised land, BECAUSE God was able, BECAUSE God said to. We always have the choice to look at the circumstances or to look to God and His Word. We also have the choice to listen to those who trust God or those who entertain fear and doubt.
Thanks for hearing my story. I would like to hear your story, too. Maybe you know someone who has inspired you, who has left a legacy for you to follow. Now, more than ever, it is critical to stay the course of faith laid out in Hebrews 12, glancing back with appreciation for those who have gone before us, looking forward with determination to finishing the race. Not that I think I can do anything courageous on my own, but through His strength. Psalm 3:3 says, “But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
God bless you today. Be strong and courageous!
— Written by Jill