An Unexpected Love

Here in the U.S., we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day this week.  With that in mind, I’m sharing my re-telling of this love story from Old Testament times.  For all David’s ups and downs, he knew what it was to be mightily loved by God — and he was fortunate enough to have the love of one very wise and very strong woman . . .

Oh, how she had grown to hate him. Ten thousand offenses, both small and large, had accumulated over the years since their arranged marriage.

Practical and traditional, Father had seen a prosperous match:  “Abigail, you will marry a descendant of Caleb,” he had exulted. Abigail had found no delight, no dignity in the homeland of this husband whose given name would be forever lost beneath the wreckage of his character:  Nabal –“The Fool.”   

Playing hostess to his drunken friends and enduring his loutish company, the loneliness was excruciating. Even so, she thanked Yahweh every day that there were, as yet, no children from this unfortunate match. “I am your servant,” she prayed each day at sunrise and found, over time, that the God of Israel had become her comfort in this desert-life.

When hope for love has left a marriage, what remains?

. . . unless the rattling husk becomes a place for something new to grow.   Slowly, Abigail began to notice the workings of Nabal’s household. Her quick mind took in the details of the livestock business, the buying and selling, the shearing and marketing of fine wool. She had long ago stopped hoping for love, but one day, she realized that the respect and confidence of the family servants had become her consolation, a gift from Yahweh. 

The season of shearing was upon them with its steady hum of activity, but Abigail welcomed the challenge and the stimulation, planning meals for the shearers, managing the bountiful output, and arranging for its transport. During a lull in the chaos, she was catching a breeze in the doorway when Othniel, her faithful steward, appeared, wild-eyed, breathing like a frightened creature.

“What is it, Othniel?” she asked.

“You know that David, the chosen of God, and his men have been protecting our flocks and our shepherds for some time.” 

Abigail nodded.  “Go on.”

“They have been like a city wall to us and to our herds, and so David sent his messengers to request protection money and provisions, a part in our feasting . . .  They were taken to the master.”

Abigail dropped her face into her hands and listened, knowing that what followed could only be bad news.

And it was: 

Disrespect.
Greed.
A refusal to provide reasonable compensation for services rendered.

When Othniel’s words confirmed her fears, she asked, “Have they gone?” 

Perhaps it was not too late to undo The Fool’s damage.

“The master has sent them away empty-handed.  They promise revenge, that everyone in the household will feel their anger.  . . I have said nothing to the master.”

“That is well,” she replied, flying into action. “We must move quickly.”

From shearing season’s full larder, Abigail rattled off a hurried and portable menu and directed Othniel to load it onto donkeys and to lead the way to David and his men.

“I will follow close behind,” she assured him.

Hurriedly, she changed out of her work clothes, mounted her own donkey, and followed. But suddenly there they were, rounding a corner with strapped-on swords like a military detachment – headed toward her home.  David was in the lead, but he stopped in his tracks when Abigail dismounted and fell on her face at his feet.

Her words tumbled out:

“Do not listen to my husband, The Fool;
As his name is, so is he;
If your men had only come to me,
they would have found a welcome and feasting.”

Abigail lifted her eyes in time to see surprise register on David’s tanned face.

“Therefore, I have brought the feast to you.”  She gestured toward the loaded caravan.  Was it just her imagination, or did David’s eyes move reluctantly away from hers?

Emboldened by his attention, she continued with words that she scarcely recognized as her own:
“Please do not let your name be associated with revenge and bloodshed, but accept these gifts. Because you have fought Yahweh’s battles, He will wrap up your life with His treasure and will certainly make for you an enduring kingdom. He will cast aside your enemies like a stone hurled from a sling. When Yahweh has brought these words to pass, remember me His servant.

Then, tearing her gaze from his, she turned to leave.

With one hand, David stopped her, for the other hand was raised in blessing – a blessing over Abigail.

//

She did not recall mounting the donkey.   She did not recall the journey home, for her ears and her heart were full of David’s words:

“Blessed is your advice, your good sense.

Blessed are you for keeping me from murder, for looking out for my reputation.

I hear you.

I respect you.”

Not since coming to the House of Nabal had she heard such words, and they carried her into the house. They sustained her through the night as The Fool slept off his evening’s wine.

At first light, Abigail approached Nabal, eyes on the floor, reporting mechanically:  “You recall that David’s men were sent away from your presence yesterday . . .” 

Describing David’s promise of revenge and her own actions, Abigail was startled to hear choking sounds from Nabal’s throat, but she continued with her report until a thud and sounds of alarm from the servants caused her to her lift her eyes. 

There lay The Fool, on the floor.

//

The ten days between his fall and his death passed quietly, and Abigail wondered how the demise of her own husband could affect her so slightly.  She had been aware of the shriveled condition of her heart, but marveled at the cool poise with which she had wrapped up the end of shearing season and notified Nabal’s near kinsmen.  They would be arriving soon to take over his property.

And what was to become of his widow?  The memory of David’s blessing fanned a small hope that perhaps one day she would find a place of love and respect, but she did not know how that could be.  She only knew that she must flee before The Fool’s family arrived and engulfed her as if she, too, were a possession.  Gathering a small packet of provisions, she made ready to depart. 

Hearing footsteps, she whirled, ready to bolt from the room, but instead she froze. 

Othniel stood in the doorway, announcing the servants of David:

“David has sent us to you – to ask you to become his wife.”

Rising, Abigail bowed, and her words to David’s men were also a prayer to Yahweh:

“I am your servant.”

//

And such is the glory of unexpected love. 

Each of us in our turn has been married, in some way, to foolishness —
but then redeemed by an unexpected love so strong and so wild
that all we must do is rise and follow,
placing our hand in His
and trusting for a better future.

“Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us . . .” (I John 3:1)

//

Be sure to check out the context for this Old Testament love story!

Photo credit:  Tiago Muraro

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Great Work: Encouragement

“Don’t corral others to meet your needs.”

“Choose to be a servant.”

“Give yourself away.”

If you’re interviewing a guy who wears the title “Chief Encouragement Officer” like a banner, you can expect to hear lots of sentences like these.  Here’s another one:  “The goal is to get small and, in humility, to build others up.”

And any of these could be the mission statement for David “JB” Miller or for the Life Letter Cafe, the on-line ministry he has founded based on the truth that God chooses to invest deeply into the lives of those who pour themselves into others.

With  200+ bloggers sharing their work at The Cafe, it has become a well-spring of encouragement for readers, and, as one of the bloggers,  I can say with certainty that Life Letter Cafe also encourages the writers who share their words in that friendly space.

When I asked David about a favorite Scripture, he immediately shared Proverbs 11:25b:

“Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

This is a principle that reverberates throughout the Bible.  In fact, I checked out Biblical usage of the word “refreshed” using Blue Letter Bible and found it has been used seven times, and it carries the positive sense of being comforted, strengthened, or established.  According to the Old Testament, refreshment can come in various ways:

  • Genesis and the Song of Solomon both speak of food that provides refreshment.
  • In Psalm 68:9, rain refreshes a weary land.
  • Proverbs 3:22 and 25:13 declare that wisdom, discretion, and a trustworthy messenger refresh like snow in the summer or like jewels on a necklace.
  • Then, in the New Testament, Peter the faithful messenger and carrier of wisdom to the recipients of his second letter reminds his readers that he is trying to refresh their memory and to stimulate wholesome thinking.

Food for the soul, wisdom for living, a faithful message, and living water for those who thirst are key to the refreshment provided at Life Letter Cafe, and the ministry is expanding.  In our era of virtual gatherings, naturally there is no brick and mortar involved, and, frankly, I am the last person who should be explaining this expansion because I only just barely understand the back side of my own blog, but here’s the goal:
1.  Rebuild the Life Letter Cafe with the capacity for 500 guest contributors;
2.  Build participation from the current 50 thousand monthly readers to 100 thousand;
3.  Offer several new services and leverage increased influence for the purpose of contributing financially to the rescue of the unborn.

David and his team are still in the early stages of planning and praying their way through this process.  You can read more detail about the project here or explore the SmashFund crowd funding tool that is just now getting underway.

 

capture

And while you’re busy pondering all this goodness, how is your soul being refreshed these days?

Have you passed the refreshment along to another?

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

A Study in Perseverance

Determination perseveres in spite of the word “no.”

When Rosalie Ranquist realized that she was called to be a missionary, her rough background and lack of education led church leaders to discourage her from pursuing her goal.  Even so, in 1967 she left for Papua New Guinea and her career was remarkable in every way — particularly in light of her seemingly inadequate preparation.  Although she is, technically, “retired” now, she continues her involvement as an international literacy consultant on a limited basis, and she still shares her favorite Scripture verse with others:

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord,”

I Corinthians 15:58

Knowing that Rosalie is facing some health challenges, she and her verse have been on my mind lately, and since I’ve been reading in I Corinthians 15 for the past three weeks, this was the perfect time for me to visit Biblegateway.com for resources that deepen my insight into Rosalie’s verse.

capture

Since there are thirteen Study Bibles to choose from, I was able to review the verse’s historical context, and also found this insight from John MacArthur:

“The hope of resurrection makes all the efforts and sacrifices in the Lord’s work worth it.  No work done in His name is wasted in light of eternal glory and reward.”

Steadfast, immovable, and abounding are not words that most of us use in everyday speaking, so I was surprised to note how many of the newer translations have stuck with them.  You can check for yourself by clicking on the  I Corinthians 15:58 in all English translations link below the verse.

The NRSV and Amplified Bibles used the word excelling, and the New Living chose outstanding to speak of “abounding in the work of the Lord.”

The Good News Translation used firm and steady for steadfast and immovable, while the International Children’s Bible spoke of being steady and strong.

The Living Bible put some meat on the bones of Paul’s opening “therefore”:

“So, my dear brothers, since future victory is sure, be strong and steady, always abounding in the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever wasted as it would be if there were no resurrection.”

This rendering of the verse anchors it deeply in the big picture of the chapter’s theme:  Resurrection.  A click on the four brown parallel lines beside the reference allowed me to view the entire chapter as needed, for I Corinthians 15 provides the most thorough teaching of any chapter in the Bible on resurrection and the Christian life.

Paul is not offering an empty or theoretical hope.  His admonition toward a steadfast and immovable perseverance on the narrow path —  even when it feels as if the narrow path may be squeezing the life out of you —  is not just a happy thought to keep us company as we endure.  It is a promise of future life that has been verified by the resurrection of God the Son.  Jesus was the “first fruits” of that promise, and based on that, we know that God can deliver the goods.

Resurrection is the bass note that thrums underneath every word that Paul has written in this long and theologically rich chapter, for the truth of resurrection is the basis of a living, breathing, get-up-in-the-morning-and-obey-God-all-day kind of faith.   It is only because God keeps showing up with power that I can war against sin — every day.  He offers freedom from slavery to other people’s approval and from my stubborn need to be “right.”  He brings life to this new creation so that I can find grace to hate the selfishness and small-living that would keep me at the center of my own universe.

Rosalie Ranquist and the truth of her favorite verse serve as a continual reminder to me that nothing is wasted in God’s economy:  our suffering and our service are all infused with meaning because we live in a hope that is based on Truth.

//

Check out the resources at Biblegateway.com by using it to enhance your understanding of a passage that you are studying today!

 

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Come Together for the Better

Weekly we gather — seldom daily as they did in New Testament times, the era of ravenous lions and Nero’s flaming, pitch-dipped Christians, human torches to light his gardens.  Lugging our three pound Bibles and a week’s worth of accumulated angst, we gather, having in common our hearts of flesh and likely the scar tissue where hearts of stone rubbed us raw in time past.

“Coming together” Paul calls it at least four times in his Corinthian communiqué, and he chides that congregation for coming together “for the worse.”  By contrast, he launches into what amounts to a reenactment of Jesus’ last Passover celebration in the Upper Room with words that have worn grooves in the church’s collective memory.  “This do in remembrance of Me.”

According to John MacArthur, Paul’s account of Jesus’ last Passover celebration in the Upper Room pre-dates the Gospels, making it the first written record of the event from which we pattern our modern day communion service.  Paul received the story that the eye-witnesses would write about later.  Let that sink in for a moment:  post-crucifixion, post-resurrection, post-ascension, Paul was given the privilege of writing about an event he would never have been invited to at the time.

The bread and the cup had once been the centerpiece of the early church’s coming together.  However, in keeping with human nature, it had become a hollow shell.  Indifferent, ritualistic, unrepentant, and greedy, the Corinthians gobbled bread and slurped wine without a thought for Christ’s sacrifice.  It was Paul’s intent to fill that tradition with meaning once again.

Can we say that what happens when we “come together” each week is “for the better” — for the enhancement, the building up of the Body?  Oh, we will not do it perfectly.  Not now.  Not on this planet.  But do we listen more than we speak?  Do we ask questions like a bridge from heart to heart —  and then really pay attention to the answers that travel back to us on that bridge?  Can we bear in mind that the point of our gathering has very little to do with order of service or music style or whose turn it is to serve in the nursery?

Whatever our tradition — bread cubes and grape juice, matzo and wine, daily, weekly, or monthly — when we gather “for the better,” we receive the story anew.  We lift up the Gospel of Truth and put the wonder of incarnation on display, demonstrating that we are committed to a Kingdom that is both already and not-yet.

Here in New England, church attendance is no longer a cultural norm.  Unbelievers (and even some Christians) have accounted for the church in the column labeled “irrelevant,” but — whether by curiosity or by compulsion — if an unbeliever enters our fellowship, what would be his impression of our “coming together?”  It’s no surprise that Paul had thoughts on this.  His goal was that an “outsider” be convicted, called to account, and overcome by the reality of God’s presence.

If awe is a contagious condition, is anyone who wanders into my fellowship at risk?

Are the bread and the cup, the ministry of the Word, the lifting of voices, and the offering of gifts an empty tradition, a hollow shell —  or does grace flow like wine?

Are hearts nourished with the Living Bread until the truth overflows and splashes, soaking believers and unbelievers alike with the glorious outcome of having come together “for the better.”

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Veering into the Serene Providence

Knocking twenty-two years’ worth of dust off a resume stretches the definition of “creative writing” to its limit. After giving my time away for two decades, can I convince even myself that my skills are marketable? Am I still capable of holding my own in the workforce? The questions hang in the air like a challenge.

This job search is not happening at all the way I had planned it. Certainly, I have always expected to return to work someday, but only after the graduation party for boy number four, the culmination of my career as a homeschooling mum.  Naturally, I would observe a few weeks’ intermission — to beautify my future Pinterest-perfect home. Then and only then would I break out the resume and step magically into the job of my dreams  – or else . . .  just crank out a run-away best-seller, the smoke rolling off my keyboard from the intensity of its truth-telling.

However, with reality comes the quaint truth that “making ends meet” may simply mean bringing them into the same zip code. With my teacher-husband home for the summer, why not let him manage the family mowing business – and the family? Why not see if I can land a summer job?

Why not?

Whenever the unexpected happens, I’m thrown against the framework of my theology. Will it hold? Does what I believe about the sovereignty of God accommodate a veering turn that was not anywhere on my road map? In the past, I have found that the disruption of my plans has been a salutary thing – not a sign from heaven that I have disobeyed or ignored God’s direction, but, rather, an assurance that there is a serene Providence* at work behind the scenes, that God has said words of promise over me:  “I have other plans for you, plans which will open a way for you to learn to know Me – which is far better than what you had planned.”

Naomi would agree, I think. Senior heroine from the book of Ruth, she encountered the unexpected when Bethlehem, “The House of Bread” was stripped by famine and left without a crumb. The journey to Moab with Elimelech and their two young sons would have been a desperate act, and it was followed by a decade of every imaginable kind of loss as, one by one, her men — her protectors — died.

Even the comforting presence of devoted daughter-in-law Ruth could not dilute life’s acrid brew that transformed Naomi the Pleasant into Mara the Bitter, (Ruth 1:20, 21). Naomi’s jarring change of direction leaves me breathless. How does a woman ever absorb the loss of a husband and two sons? One thing she discovered (and that I am learning) is that God is the only One who is equipped to recognize a detour while it is happening. It is only from the vantage point of the rear view mirror that we mortals are able to verify the truth that, all along, God had in mind our best interest and the furthering of His Kingdom.

With the sadness of mourning still roaring in her ears, Naomi could never have imagined that her slow trek back to Bethlehem would be a journey toward life and joy – and grandchildren! She could not have discerned that her time in Moab – temporary after all – would reap a bearer of strong genes for the making of the Messianic Line:  King David’s great-grandmother, Ruth, the gleaner of barley who gathered grace as well.

In the interim, therefore, we wait; and we pray for grace to trust God’s motives.  Today, I am feeling the murkiness of the fog of unknowing. This waiting is something I’ve never been good at, and yet I can attest to the deep groove that is formed in the soul by waiting – and praying. Paul Miller in The Praying Life advises:

“Instead of trying to suppress anxiety – to manage it or smother it with pleasure – we can turn our anxiety toward God. When we do that, we find that we have slipped into continuous praying.”

How delightful to think that if I can adjust the angle of all my concerns at this turn in the road (Can I still be the present kind of mum I long to be? Who will direct the church’s VBS?  Will my blog disappear from the planet?), if I can move the trajectory away from worry and toward petition, I will “slip into” prayer.

What a mercy.

“Expect delays,” say all the road signs, and while my detour is only the palest adumbration of Naomi’s jarring ride, I am blessed by her words to Ruth:

“Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out.”

And, Note to Soul:

While you’re waiting, let the memory of past deliverances teach you to hope against all hope in today’s uncertainty, knowing that with every unexpected bend in the road you are veering into the loving and wise sovereignty of God.

 

*The phrase “serene Providence” is borrowed from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s oration on the death of Lincoln.

Photo credit

//

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Grace for Breakfast

The year is really no longer “new,” and the image I’ve chosen for this study is — thankfully and finally — out-of-date (although we did have snow flurries on Sunday morning), and so today we conclude our study of Hebrews with the rich content of chapter thirteen.  For weeks, I’ve been planning and pondering how to tie up some of the major themes we’ve covered together.

For instance, we noted very early on that the writer of Hebrews gives very few exhortations in his letter that are strictly moral or behavior oriented.  Instead, he focuses on warnings against the sin of unbelief, for it was this very thing that lay at the heart of Israel’s downfall.  However, here in the last chapter we have some do’s:

  • love one another
  • practice hospitality
  • care for prisoners
  • honor your marriage vows
  • be content

Yet, even now, the author is careful to tie his admonition to the believer’s standing in Christ, for the exhortations given in verses 1-5 are given in the power and the promise of verse five:

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

Another theme that I had planned to review in detail begins in Hebrews 6:12 with the encouragement to imitate the faith and patience of those who have inherited the promises.  This theme is perpetuated in a huge way with chapter eleven’s table of contents of Old Testament saints, and now chapter thirteen urges readers to consider who else they might emulate.  The message is, “Go find some heroes,” for this is the sort of hero worship in which the hero will deflect attention to where it belongs, heroes who motivate us to worship God.

Best laid plans notwithstanding, I have found that with every reading of Hebrews 13, verse nine has been the burdock on my coat sleeve:

 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Is this a strange verse to focus on?

Not if you remember that we said from the beginning that our study of Hebrews would increase our appreciation for the book of Leviticus!

Apparently there was an unhelpful teaching at large that involved food — perhaps  Jewish dietary restrictions were being taught as a path to righteousness?  The author is not specific, but without a doubt, in our century there is no shortage of unprofitable thinking about food whether it’s excessive dieting, addictions of all sorts, and even obsessions over what goes (or doesn’t go) into our bodies — as if that could defile us more than our faithless words or ceaseless striving, (Matthew 15:11).  Efficient idol-factories that they are, our hearts have even found ways of turning fasting and the Lord’s supper into something they were never intended to be, when the truth is:  There is no food regimen that will fix your life!

With both feet planted firmly in his understanding of the Old Testament, the author reaches back for truth from Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement.  The offering for sin made on that all-important day was carried outside the camp — and burned.  None of it was eaten.  Hebrews 13:12 draws a dotted line all they way forward to the cross, where, outside the city gate the sin offering to end all sin offerings was offered, and the “food” upon which we all now are strengthened is grace.

This truth unmasks the hollow place that sends me to the refrigerator (again?) between meals.  Over-eating or boredom-snacking or stress-binges may be signs of a grace hunger that no food on this earth will satisfy.

The drooping spirit that sends me to the third (or fourth?) cup of coffee just to put one foot in front of the other may be more than just fatigue, but rather a sign that strength of spirit is lacking.

Where does this strength of spirit come from?

According to Hebrews 13:9, it doesn’t come from food.  It comes from grace.

Is it possible to eat grace for breakfast?

The only reliable resource for feeding the spirit is Christ.  This final chapter of Hebrews points us to the altar which brings us the abiding presence of Christ who is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”  It points us to “the outcome” of the conduct of those who have run and are running the race of faith ahead of us.  Most of all, the book of Hebrews points us to faith, the power that fuels right conduct, the source of all true righteousness.

As we bring our study to a close, here is my prayer for you and for me:

Lord, sweep us into the river of Your grace that we may remember — and never forget — where the strength comes from that will keep our wandering hearts close to you.

Amen.

//

Photo credit

Thanks to all of you who have persevered in this journey through the Epistle to the Hebrews.  I’ve appreciated your input and your encouragement!

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers.

Running the Race of Faith

Soaring on lyrical thermals, the author of Hebrews piles image upon image, linking his thoughts with conjunctions that urge the reader to keep a finger in the preceding pages — all the while pressing forward for more encouragement.  Finding that ten out of the thirteen chapters begin with a conjunction, this last thunderous “therefore” that launches chapter twelve sends my mind back — not merely to the previous chapter, but ALL the way back . . .

Because God has spoken;
Because He has provided an escape from the endless downward pull of sin;
Because it is still Today — but it won’t be forever;
Because there is an urgent rest offered as a gift to the people of God;
Because Jesus, High Priest and Sacrifice, has ushered in New Covenant realities that fulfill all the Old Testament shadows.
Because of ALL this . . . and “because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” let’s lay aside the encumbrances;
let’s jettison the load of sin,
and let’s join the race!

Salvation is the starting line for everyone (there are no head starts or short cuts), and this race of faith is no stroll in the park.  The Greek word used for “race” [agon] is the root for our English word agony.  In this race, we’re not competing against the other runners, but against everything that deters holy living.  Hebrews 12:1 reminds me that trying to run the race of faith while entertaining known sin in my life is like setting off on my daily walk with my shoe laces untied.  But it’s the “weights” or “encumbrances” that have my attention today, those subtle distractions that prevent me from finishing well:

  • too much sugar
  • not enough sleep
  • a call to a friend instead of time spent in prayer
  • a five-minute “check my e-mail” that turns into a half hour of answering Facebook messages and responding to blog comments
  • reading or writing before I’ve opened God’s Word for the day

Your list will likely be different from mine.  I hear that the Hallmark Channel is a glorious distraction  . . .

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Notice the “great cloud of witnesses” who surround us, and who are offered as motivation and encouragement for running our race of faith.  Through the years, I’ve imagined these saints “who have gone on before” watching me, “witnessing” my walk . . . and I’ll admit that it feels a bit creepy to me.

John MacArthur explains the cloud of witnesses in this way:  “They are examples, not onlookers . . .They are not looking at us; we are to look to them.”  This is a helpful clarification, for their stories witness to the truth upon which we build our faith.  They have run the race, and they finished it!  Hebrews 11 serves as a table of contents for the Old Testament examples of people who, though not perfect by any means, put their faith in action in ways that reassure me that even though the race of faith is always strenuous — and sometimes grueling  — it is run successfully only in the power of God.

When I read about Sarah’s life, I hear her calling to me from the sidelines:  “Whatever seems impossible to you — even if you’ve meddled with it and messed things up — keep running!  You can do it by faith!  You can do it!”

Remembering Noah’s faith, I imagine him saying:  “Your path may not make sense to anyone but you.  This is because they have not heard God’s voice as you have.  Keep listening to God.  Keep running in faith!”

When my faith feels flimsy, I imagine Rahab’s encouragement:  “Remember the truth that you have heard about the power of God – and ACT on it by faith! You will not be disappointed!”

The “witness” of their lives encourages me to ask hard questions about my readiness to run, faithfully and unencumbered.  Hebrews 10:36 is a rebuke and a rallying cry for all who have entered the race of faith:  “You have need of endurance!”

Yes, I really do.

Which of the Old Testament saints listed in Hebrews 11 speaks to your need for endurance? Do you have found-wisdom to share for laying aside the encumbrances that hinder the race?  I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below.

//

Photo credit

Only one week left in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My Sunday school class and I have been landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s last week’s blog post.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers.