Crowd of Faithful
I used to coach high school track and field. My first team had eight members (it was a very small high school). I had one young woman who went out for track simply because she wanted to be involved with something outside of class work. She worked hard and decided to run the 3200m race (about 2 miles). She was not fast nor was she particularly gifted as a track athlete, but she was determined to work hard and be part of the team. She kept improving over the course of the season, but never finished anywhere but close to last.
The last race of the season for most of the track athletes in Illinois is the district meet. When the 3200 started at the district track meet, she was soon at the back of the pack. As the race went on, she was lapped by every runner in the race (one lapped her twice), but she pushed on. As she started her last lap, the most moving thing I have ever witnessed as a coach happened. The crowd stood up and started cheering for her as she made her way around the track. They progressively got louder as she went further and eventually most of the spectators were yelling for her as she crossed the finish line. You would have thought she had won the race. She did finish with a personal best, but nobody in the crowd would have known that.
Hall of Faith
This is the memory that comes to mind when I consider these words in Hebrews, “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” (Heb 12:1, ESV). This verse is preceded by what many have called the “Hall of Faith.” Hebrews 11 is filled with the names of those who have gone before – heroes of the faith if you will. It describes what they endured, looked for, hoped for, etc. Some routed armies, established justice, and closed the mouths of lions.
However, that is not the whole story. At the end of this list, the writer of Hebrews mentions unnamed multitudes that have suffered for their faith, lived in caves, were imprisoned, were impoverished, and experienced cruel tortures and death. The writer says that the “world was not worthy of them” (v. 38). It occurs to me that all of those mentioned make up the breadth of the human experience. These are the “great cloud of witnesses” that the writer speaks of.
I have always thought of the above description in terms of the race that young lady ran at district. To state the obvious here, the race is the life we are living. It may be victorious or full of suffering. However, if we run it with endurance (like the young lady above), we will finish well. We all have a great distance to go (some of us more than others), but as we are running, we are focused on the next few steps directly ahead of us. We are concentrating on what we need to do next in order to continue the course “set before us.” We really don’t see or hear the crowds that are watching us. After we cross the finish line and our race is over, I think we will finally become aware of all of those who have gone before, those who have been cheering us on. It may be that we will stand and wonder how we had never heard them before, but I really don’t doubt that they are there, and that they are telling us as we run that we can make it.
Blessings to you all.