"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us 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."
Remember this is a letter to a group of discouraged people. Now the writer (Paul?) is winding it up. He has just brought up in the previous chapters all the specters of heroes the Jews have revered. Paul has just shaken the Hebrew tree to shower down all the fruit off every limb. I admit that I'm rather obsessed with Ancestry.com climbing the family tree, but the Jews, without laptops, have it all down in oral history. They have no compunction about going all the way back to Adam and Eve. So you can bet when he said, "since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us," all their eyes looked up. These are the ones, Andrew Murray says, "...with one heart and mouth witness to us: 'Be of good courage, fear not; be strong in faith, and persevere.'
But do you know who I look up to in the sweet bye and bye? Jesus Christ. Looking into His eyes knowing He not only bought my salvation, but He extended the invitation to come join Him where He lives and has prepared a place for me. Talk about sweet, I can't imagine! But all the other witnesses will have to line up behind my relatives before shaking my hand to welcome me to heaven. If I didn't have such a great cloud of witnesses, my folk, I might not have had the courage to run with endurance the race set before me.
So what are the encumbrances? What is heavy in my life? Have you seen the Hawaiian woman's surfing champion who works out running and carrying a fifty pound weight while under water? Yeah, that's the mental image I have of running the race. For goodness sake, woman, put the weight down and come up to the surface! I know, I know, she's doing it to build up endurance to be able to withstand those mighty waves that are enough to crush her, but good grief! So, my point is, what is the weight you are carrying around while running underwater? What are the weights, encumbrances you are running with?
The older we get, the more I wonder what is in my garage. Sometimes I wake up and think, what on earth will we do with all that stuff! It is a weight. Things. It's almost a compulsion, that if I had the energy, I would be motivated to sort through those things that no longer have meaning in my life. Tomorrow. Some weights are behind closed doors, and I don't want to think about them.
Sometimes weights are not tangible. Sometimes they are the hurts in the heart, the disappointments, the loss, the grief, the pain others have inflicted upon us or just plain things called life that have caused suffering. Those kind of weights are heavy weighing down the heart. Paul has encouraged us to let them go. There is something better coming than carrying around the past pain. I have this picture of grief, that it causes severe pain because a heart has been stretched from here to heaven. But at the same time, those loved ones are not suffering, but rejoicing. Nothing's weighing them down!
And we are not even talking about "the sin that so easily entangles us" yet. Andrew Murray says, "The Epistle has taught us that one of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is the remaining stationary, and not advancing beyond the beginning of Christ. ('Ye were running well, who did hinder you?') It leads almost inevitably to backsliding and sin...After having shown us, in His wonderful picture gallery, what the fullness of faith is, He now calls us, in view of all the trials life may bring, and with them the temptation to grow disheartened and faint, to patience as the virtue by which faith is to prove its persistence and secure its reward.
Okay, I'm glad this isn't a sprint. I have found that even a toddler can outrun me. If it is a long race, where sometimes you jog and other times you just put one step in front of the other, I can pin a racer's number on my shirt for that kind. Andrew Murray says, "I means that a man while he is on the course gives himself wholly to one thing--running with all his might...The Christian course means this all through life: a whole-hearted surrender of oneself, to put aside everything for the sake of God and His favour. The men who enter the course are separated from the crowd of idle spectators: they each of them can say, 'One thing I do'--they run...Day by day, our separation from the world and sin, our giving up every weight and every sin, must be renewed."
Murray sums it up by saying, "...three elements of success in a race: self-denial, that gives up everything that hinders; decision, that puts the whole heart into the work, and runs; patience, that day by day afresh enters the course."
Adam Clarke says, "...so Christians, professing to go to heaven, must throw aside every thing that might hinder them in their Christian race. Whatever weighs down our hearts or affections to earth and sense is to be carefully avoided; for no man, with the love of the world in his heart, can ever reach the kingdom of heaven."
We haven't even touched the sin that entangles us yet. Neither have we hardly touched the notion of enduring, a term I'm not very comfortable with. Maybe we'll tackle that next time we chat...