I was never much of an athlete at school, but one thing I seemed to have a knack for was Cross Country running. I was a skinny kid who seemed to have an endless amount of energy, so long distance running fitted me well. By the age of 15 I was on the school team and regularly running against boys much older than myself. Cross Country running is not a spectators sport. It's a lonely pursuit with most of the time spent on endless winding trails with no one to keep you company other than your thoughts and the occasional other runner (who hopefully you are passing). There is very little glory in it - you run into the woods, run around the woods, and run out of the woods, and no one really seems to notice, or care. One year our team was entered into the Hong Kong Schools competition and we were racing against a number of other schools from around the city. I remember being on the trail and doing quite well, running ahead of my teammates and most of there field. As I came around a bend in the trail, the path suddenly opened up to a large school field packed with young kids cheering and screaming. I had no idea this was going to happen, and I suddenly went from a scrawny lonely Cross Country runner to a athlete of Olympic proportions. The unexpected cheers from the gathered crowd made me feel like a regional champion. I ended up loosing the race, but didn't care in the slightest. I had a moment, albeit fleeting, when I was loved by adoring fans.
The writer of Hebrews understand the importance of encouragement. After a glorious chapter filled with examples of the greatest people of faith from Israel's history, he then turns to encourage the church in the race set before them. He says that because we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we run the race set before us with perseverance. In other words, the examples of the Greats from our past provide the fuel for our faith of the present and the future. We are able to persevere in our race because we are being cheered on by their example, by the lives they led. And also ultimately by Jesus. As the writer tells us, he is the author and perfector of our faith. Or to keep with the metaphor given to us - he is the designer and the owner of the path we run. He has mapped everything out for us, and it is him who ultimately helps us finish the race. He knows the path best because he designed it just for you. And because of this, we run with confidence.
As you end your fast with a focus on your future, be conscious of the great cloud of witnesses God has placed around your life. Your family, your friends, your Plus Group, your community at The Vine are all gifts to you to cheer you on in your faith. Faith should not be a lonely pursuit. It is a race that requires a team. As you look forward to this coming year reflect around the 'team' God has provided you, and be thankful for it. Likewise, know that Jesus has designed your year and that he knows every uphill climb, every vista, every corner, every straight. He places it before you and simply asks you to run the race well.
Take a moment today to reflect around the great crowd of witnesses that God has placed in your life. These might be people in your past but most importantly consider the people who are in your life today. Thank God for each one of them, and commit yourself to developing these friendships afresh this year. Think about where you are getting community from this year, and commit yourself to journeying with others in their faith as you grow in yours.
Father, you have laid a race before me in this coming for which I am grateful. Thank you that you have not asked me to run this race alone. You are the author and perfector of my faith, and for that I am so grateful. Amen.