Aspiration to fame is as old as humanity itself. Yet if we have a good look at who makes it to the Bible’s ‘Top Famous People’ as recorded in the letter to the Hebrews (chapter 11) we will find that they were commended for something very different to what many people consider necessary to reach the zenith of popular acclamation.
These guys are applauded for an inner reality which much of the western world has no use for any more: faith. Their faith was not a belief in a philosophy but an unwavering trust in a God who had revealed himself and His plans to them. They didn’t just believe in God, they believed God. In very real terms, for them faith was an action verb.
But the writer of the letter doesn’t mention these ‘superheroes’ just to illustrate how strong their faith was but to encourage us to persevere in our own walk with God. Nor were they without their flaws and weakness. Yet the author tells us that we are surrounded by these great cloud of witnesses and their relationship with God is meant to encourage us much as the supporters at a stadium will applaud their team and encourage them to score the winning goal.
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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God
What do we need to do to run with perseverance? We are told to throw off whatever may hinder us. Can you imagine a runner in a thick sweater, a jacket and boots trying to run to win a race? No indeed. We too need to shed whatever it is that weighs us down and we all know what those things in our lives are. Empowered by the Holy Spirit others have done it before us. There is no reason why we shouldn’t either. Whether it is serious sin, lack of forgiveness or spiritual laziness God’s grace is sufficient for us and there are many people around to help us along the way.
Furthermore we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We are not the agents of our salvation, God is. We do not walk this journey and face the obstacles in our own strength. It is not possible for us. So as the Cure D’Ars reminds us ‘All saints began their conversion by prayer, and through prayer persevered’. God is pleased when we pray with confidence for His healing love and grace to fill our lives every day.
And finally to persevere we need to keep our eyes on the vision God has given us. The vision here on earth is to grow in love and serve the Lord wholehearted. We all need to discover how we are called to do that concretely. Love is the only virtue which will accompany us into eternity. Jesus equates our love to others with our love of God. The two are inseparable. And of course we mustn’t forget that our ultimate vision is our eternal destiny and all the decisions of our life are to be taken against that background.
Let us join the ‘cloud of witnesses’ even before we get to heaven and encourage each other to persevere in our walk with the Lord. That is why being part of a Christian community is very important for young people today. It is where we receive and give encouragement so that we will keep
racing towards the finishing-point to win the prize of God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.