I was captured by the words of my spiritual companion when he said, "We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses." This is a very familiar passage from the Bible that most of us have heard or read over the years but his take was a little different. This is the passage:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus...
Before I share what captured me, here are a couple of thoughts about who the 'cloud of witnesses' is considered to be. Some believe it is the martyrs of the church over the years that surround us as we walk in faith in this present world. For some, it is the saints that have gone before us who have reached their heavenly dwelling. The view I am most familiar with as a chaplain is our loved ones and family members who have passed before us. No matter how you understand this passage, it is encouraging to think we are surrounded as if standing at the 50-yard line in the middle of a football field surrounded by a stadium of men and women rooting us on to run this race set before us.
I was captured by thoughts opposite this verse. If we have a cloud of witnesses rooting for us, do we also have a cloud of witnesses whispering to give up or back away from our faith? What if there is a cloud of witnesses such as fear, doubt, shame, guilt, trauma from our past, pains inflicted by others, and unresolved grief? These things in my world loudly invite me to shrink back from what I believe. These types of witnesses are endless, but we all have them to some degree.
Another unclear passage that gets my attention says, "What is seen is temporal but what is unseen is eternal." What do we do with a passage like this? We obviously have to take it seriously in consideration of our spirituality. Could it be there is more going on than my eye can see or my mind can conceive?
The cloud of witnesses that surrounds me is encouraging me to lay aside those things in my life that are clinging to me, calling it sin. These are weighty items in my life. It's interesting it uses the word cling. These are noticeable things, but not very clear to my seeing eye at times. There is a goal in our lives much bigger than our daily living. It is a race and the prize is Jesus' presence. Each day is a leg in the journey summing up the totality of our lives. This is for all of us who believe and even struggle to believe.
The cloud of witnesses working in the other direction identifies me more as one not belonging to the race, weak, defeated, and hopeless. It actually entices me to not press forward, not to worry about those things (sin) that clings so tightly to me. These movements come from the roots of fear, doubt, unbelief, guilt, and shame. The crooked finger of our enemy knows just when to share his enticement. He tends to focus me on the things that I can see with my physical eye. Even if they are temporary in the moment they feel like the settling answer for my life. These are real battles that we don't hear spoken of very much but they are very, very real. If we are pressing forward and we feel resistance then that means there is substance that signifies there is battle. The cloud of witnesses from scripture knows the reality of this battle from the other side.
I remember being a part of a retreat once and one of the most moving parts of the retreat was in a candle-lit room. I was surrounded by men and women that patted me on the back, gave me hugs, shook my hand, and said they were praying for me, encouraging me to keep running the race. I was overwhelmed with tears, joy, and determination to keep running the race.
How is your race doing? Do you hear your fellow brothers and sisters encouraging you, praying for you to keep the faith, or do you hear the opposite ~ those voices that speak doubts, critical words, or memories that tell you to give up and throw in the towel? Brothers and sisters, you are not alone! There are millions who have gone before us and millions still running to the true prize - Christ our Lord!
If you need space to unravel these battles please reach out. I offer a prayerful presence, a listening ear, and most importantly, Christ. Peace my friends - see you on the track! :)