October 10, 2013

Spirit & Soul – My Great Cloud of Witnesses

“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, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2 / NIV).

I just heard that another dear friend passed into eternity.

As most people do when they hear this news, I spent some time thinking about my friend – and about death in general. Not in morbid fascination; rather, in quiet reflection about those who have gone on and about my own mortality.

I pulled out my “Great Cloud of Witnesses” folder. It contains the funeral notices and obituaries of family, friends, and acquaintances who, over the years, have escaped the boundaries of mortal clay and have “put on immortality” (I Corinthians 15:54). As I reminisced over each person, nostalgic sadness and remorse came over me. Sadness for those who I knew were believers; remorse for those who were not. Even though I miss them sorely, my sadness is tempered somewhat since I know when a believer is “absent from the body,” he or she is in the Lord’s presence (II Corinthians 5:6-8). But my remorse lingers since I know I could have, and should have, been a better witness to those who did not have a personal relationship with Christ.

As more and more people I know arrive in Heaven, they become part of the “great cloud of witnesses.” The angels escort them to their seats in the heavenly grandstands overlooking the race of life. This is what Paul refers to when he encourages us to live our lives as if running a race in front of these heavenly spectators.

With each new witness in my section of the grandstand, I ask myself, “How am I running my race? What are my heavenly fans thinking as they watch me live my life? Are they happily cheering me on or frantically urging me to run a better race? Better yet, what is Jesus Christ thinking?” These sobering questions help me gain a heavenly perspective as I run my earthly race.

My hope and prayer is that we all throw off everything that holds us back from running a strong race. That we put aside the “pet sin” that so easily knocks us off course. And that we live our lives each day with focused determination – as every great runner – with our eyes firmly locked on the finish line where Jesus stands to welcome us home. Let’s focus on running our race and finishing strong.

No pressure, my fellow runners; but we have a huge home crowd cheering us on!

As a “missionary kid” who grew up in a Christian home and church, Nate Stevens has enjoyed a 30-year banking career in a variety of leadership roles. Recently, God made it clear he should use his writing talents for God’s kingdom. He writes online devotionals for his home church (Calvary Church in Charlotte, NC) and articles for several other publications. Information about his book, Matched 4 Marriage – Meant 4 Life is available at www.natestevens.net. God is opening doors for speaking engagements at conferences, seminars, and Bible study groups for singles, young adults, young marrieds, and youth. Nate currently lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, and is an active dad with his two awesome kids, Melissa and Mitchell.

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