Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)
Footraces were a common attraction 2,000 years ago, just as they are today. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews likened the Christian life to a race. Many people think of it more as a battle or struggle, but to the extent we live as the Bible prescribes, we'll see life as a long run into eternity.
To be successful in our race, we must have "cheerleaders"—fellow Christians who root for us when we do well and pray for us when we stumble. Our encouragers are also the "great cloud of witnesses" mentioned in today's passage. These are believers from Bible times on, men and women who have left us an inspiring example to follow. We know from Old Testament stories that these people were not perfect—they faltered and fell—but God used them anyway. Reading about their races, we can be inspired by the way they achieved a full life.
The writer of Hebrews urges us to "lay aside every encumbrance." Athletes dress down so that nothing can hamper their forward momentum. Christians, like cross-country runners, are interested not in speed but in endurance. If we're going to be sustained throughout the race, then we need to rid ourselves of all hindrances. An encumbrance is subtle and can take many forms. It may be a habit, hobby, or attitude. To push forward in our race, we must honestly examine our life for anything that might be impeding closeness to God. Then we must make a decision to deal with it. God wants us to run our race well.
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