This weekend I attended the Generation Unleashed youth conference in Portland with my wife and youth from our church. I’m not sure who got more out of it, the youth or me. It was an amazing experience to say the least.
During the opening session, pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr. spoke about running the race. The text was Hebrews 12:1-3:
12:1 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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
He shared the story of when he went out for the cross-country team in high school to impress a girl, despite hating to run. During his first race, he started out with a very fast pace, while everybody was watching, thinking that it was going to be easy. But once he got to the part of the course that went into the woods, he was exhausted, and he bent over with his hands on his knees while everybody past him up. He pressed forward, walking, all alone, discouraged, and certain that cross-country wasn’t for him. When he finally got to the edge of the woods, he suddenly saw a crowd of people, including his teammates, and they saw him and began to cheer him on to finish the race. Despite giving up in the woods, he had kept moving forward one step at a time. His teammates and the crowd continued to cheer him on as he started running again as hard as he could and finished the race. As he crossed the finish line, his teammates surrounded him and lifted him on their shoulders. His teammates had his back.
Far greater than the crowd at that race, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses in heaven. These are the faithful that have gone before us. It might include our parents, or grandparents, or uncles and aunts, who left a legacy of faith for us to follow. I thought a lot about my parents, and the faith that they had during their life. I thought of the time when I was a little boy living in Mexico. My parents had incredible faith, believing for provision to provide for their every need as missionaries in Mexico. I remember the story (I was too little to remember the actual event) of how one night we sat down for dinner as a family. We apparently didn’t have any food in the house (and no money) except for a few rolls and butter. We sat down, prayed, and there was a knock on the door. Somebody had been prompted to bring some jam to complete our dinner.
I think of that story as one of many faith stories in my life story. Even if you don’t have a legacy of faith in your family … perhaps you are the first in your family who have accepted Jesus as your Savior and are on a faith journey … the giants of the faith still provide a legacy of faith for you, and they surround you every day as a cloud of witnesses, cheering you on to keep running the race that has been marked out for us as we follow Christ.
There are a couple of key takeaways that I came away with:
- We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, and “Heaven’s got our back”. Imagine a Super Bowl crowd, all cheering on their favorite team or player. Now magnify that by a number larger than you can imagine. That’s what it’s like to have a cloud of witnesses cheering for us cheering for us to finish the race. Wow!
- Fix your eyes on Jesus: He is the author and perfecter of our faith.
- Direction is more important than speed: Just keep your eyes on Jesus, and keep moving in the right direction. If you are going through a time in the “woods” or a difficult time, just keep moving on the path marked for you.
- Whenever you get weary, and have to put your hands on your knees, remember that Jesus endured the immense suffering of the cross, and took on the sins of the world, your sins, so that we don’t have to lose heart and we can press on towards the finish line and hear those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
Rest if you must, but remember “Heaven’s Got Your Back!”