Sometimes I find it hard to stay motivated. In a world that seems to be full of people doing significant things, I feel profoundly mediocre. It feels like it’s not worth attempting anything because it will either go badly or just won’t matter. And this mood can infect my Christian life: “Nobody would be interested in my testimony. What I have to say doesn’t matter. I can’t even get control of my sinfulness.”
I’m distracted and moody, emotional and lazy. I catch myself in all manner of behaviours that need to be repented of and set aside, and so I feel lost and in a mess. I turn to my Christian community and my trusted friends, and they keep me grounded and supported… but when the phone call ends or the text chat stops, those feelings can creep back in. The encouragement, while wonderful, doesn’t last.
The obvious solution is to go to the Bible, which has more lasting encouragement. But, when you’re in that state, it can be hard to look at Jesus and not feel smaller. If our confidence and energy are low, we may look to the author and perfecter of our faith and feel insignificant instead of energized.
However, there is a promise in the Bible for these times:
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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Heb 12:1-2a)
We often focus on the bit about laying aside our sins because, as humans, we tend to err on the side of the things that clearly tell us what we’re supposed to do. But the promise that I think is equally important is the “cloud of witnesses”.
Hebrews 11 gives a list of these witnesses who lived by faith. At first sight they are intimidating: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Rahab. Then judges, prophets and David himself. Great; a list of witnesses to remind me how horribly under par my life is!
But look again. These witnesses were not perfect—far from it. They were murderers (Exod 2:11-14), prostitutes (Josh 2:1), drunkards (Gen 9:20-21), liars and swindlers (Gen 27:5-29). All the judges fell short in some way: Gideon led the people into idol worship; Samson was disobedient in the specific areas of life that he was meant to keep holy; Samuel tried to make the office of priest into a hereditary throne. Even David did some ghastly things, like stealing another man’s wife and having him murdered. These people are not the picture-perfect witnesses that you might assume.
And then there are other witnesses mentioned—the tortured, the flogged, the imprisoned, the persecuted, the destitute—all mistreated for the sake of their faith. This is not a list of superheros; this is a list of normal people who struggled but who rose to the occasion on the strength of God.
Now, we might read ‘cloud’ and envision fluffy bundles in a blue sky, but instead think of a host beyond counting, like the many droplets it takes to make a mist. This “cloud of witnesses” is a wave of people. It reminds me of those blockbuster movies where a computer-generated army spills like a tsunami over the hills. Imagine all these people who have come before us, flawed and as broken as they are. Imagine they are shoulder to shoulder with us. What does that tell us? It tells us we are not alone. We are not the first or only witness of Christ to struggle.
A cloud of perfect people might make me feel self-conscious, or be a barrier to believing that I could really be one of them. Or I might get totally off-track and try to earn my way into the group. But a cloud of faithful witnesses who are just like me—that sustains me. That motivates me. That makes me feel I can serve God despite my sinfulness. Because I have all these people standing with me, in whose lives God has already worked and through whom his plans were brought into effect, I know that I too can persevere to stand before God.
And truly, when we look at these witnesses and try to measure up, we are looking at them wrong. Those witnesses aren’t there because of who they are or what they did. They are there because of what their story tells us about God. We see God’s faithfulness through their lives. We see God’s grace. We see his mercy and love. We see God’s patience and his commitment to his people and his promises. We see God continue to work to provide support and protection for his people. For us.
God chose these people, not because they were perfect, but to demonstrate to them and us his character and purposes. Likewise, we can look to Christ and know that our story is not about us, but about him. We can take lasting comfort and solace in that truth, in those witnesses and in Jesus Christ. And then, even on the days when we get nothing right, we can reach for his forgiveness and hope, tighten our laces and run the race again tomorrow.
This article was originally published on Meet Me Where I Am, and has been edited and republished with permission.