I used to run cross-country races at school. The course varied, but my classmates and I often ran six or seven miles in the rain, along muddy English farm tracks, even through snow. Under those conditions, I set out with an extra sports shirt to stay warm, tying it around my waist when I no longer needed it.
Professional athletes would never dream of carrying excess weight or unnecessary luxuries, or wearing baggy garments; they would ditch the lot at the side of the course and focus on running. The book of Hebrews exhorts us to take our race seriously, imitating those in the chapter 11 hall of faith.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also 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. (Heb. 12:1)
According to the verse, the Hebrews 11 faith heroes dealt with both sin and encumbrances. Noah, Abraham, and Moses were surrounded by sin. God judged Noah’s world through the flood because of its sin. Egypt was almost synonymous with sin and, while we know little about Abraham’s family, we know they had scant relationship with God. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the other faith heroes had plenty of sin around them to turn aside from.
We have no difficulty grasping the idea of avoiding sin; but not everything about the communities of the cloud of witnesses was bad. Even relationships with unbelieving family and friends can be wholesome. Godly people often have a positive influence on those around them, so why not keep a Moses in a strategic position to turn pagan nations to God?
The cloud of witnesses cut healthy roots and made huge sacrifices. Noah became something of an outsider in his hometown. After all, who builds a lifeboat in a desert? Noah laid aside whatever his network counted as “cool” and became a social oddity and perhaps an outcast. Abraham cut ties with his tight family group when he moved west as an alien. Moses renounced a comfortable life in an Egyptian palace.
It is easy to pat the patriarchs on the back for taking a stand against sin, but calling normal life an encumbrance does not come easily. Nor should it. What sets the heroes of faith apart are their specific calls from God: Noah was told to build the ark, God gave Abraham a promise with marching orders, and Moses received a divine assignment that did not include being salt and light in pharaoh’s court.
Because of their calling, the cloud of witnesses had choices to make—continue doing their best to bear fruit where they were planted, or listen to that odd inner urging of God to do what the majority called crazy.
Assuming we are not dabbling in sin, the question for us is what has God specifically called us to and are we obeying Him? If we have no specific call then we should certainly serve His purposes where we are. But if you know God is calling you then ditch any distractions and focus on obeying Him. Anything that obstructs obedience to a specific call of God is an impediment—including the healthy and wholesome. It takes faith to lay aside encumbrances to obey God.
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