These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 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. (Heb. 11:39-12:2)In the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, we are given a catalogue of people who overcame their environments by faith. They were not great people exercising their faith; rather, they became great by faithing it. They were witnesses to God’s power in their lives, in their days. They had less on which to base their faith than believers today have—we who are downstream of Jesus’ death and resurrection—but they were faithful in their turn.
Now it is our turn. We have this “cloud of witnesses” as an encouragement. They ran in their day and often ran well. They were on our team; they are not our competition. The author to the Hebrews called them to mind for us, that we might be familiarized with and encouraged by their lives and their faith.
Abraham’s faith in getting the right kind of wife for Isaac helped me believe God could do the same for me. God made me deal with the unseen until it became actual. I thank God for the examples in Hebrews 11. I needed them. I needed to see what living by faith looked like, and I needed to see that these believers made it.
Many runners have since run the race by faith in the same God that the people in Hebrews 11 believed in, and their lives have shared the same power. Have you taken the time to read George Müller’s biography? If so, weren’t you encouraged by the power in his life? Weren’t you driven back to the Bible to again look at God’s wonderful promises—to see the unseen with the eye of faith, to catch your second wind, to overcome your spiritual exhaustion?
It is important for Christians to know the lives of faith recorded in Scripture. Could you outline Abraham’s life? Joseph’s, Moses’ or Paul’s life? Have you read the biographies of God’s people down through the centuries, such as Hudson and Maria Taylor and their vision for China, or William Carey or Elisabeth Elliot?
If you want to win the race, you train for it, because you know from those who went before just how much effort it takes. You know from the examples of previous runners that certain measures are necessary, so you lift weights, run distances and sprints, and stretch muscles to prevent cramping and injuries. As Christians, we often run the race as if it were the first time anyone had done so. We make mistakes because we haven’t realized that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
Realizing this can make all the difference in how you run. You are not the first Christian businessman or woman. You’re not the first Christian farmer, student, or single parent. You’re not even the first failure that God has turned into a victory! A number of the people in Hebrews 11 were failures at one time. Gideon hid from his troubles, Barak cowered from leadership, and Samson fell into temptation, yet God worked enormous victories through these men.
We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Let us not stumble through the race by neglecting the help their lives offer to shore up our footing. With their lives of faith as encouragement, let us set aside all hindrances, fix our eyes on Jesus, and run the race victoriously.