Prayer Workshop - March-April, 2017
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1, nrsv). Here the writer of Hebrews is referring to the men and women who through their lives of extraordinary faith serve as our examples and encouragement as we go down the same path. They show us what a life lived for God looks like. That cloud of witnesses includes Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rahab, and David. When I read Hebrews 12, I can’t help but think of all the saints in my own backyard.
I remember an old drugstore on the town square. It looked the same as it did when it was built one hundred years earlier and had endured the test of time. It stood between the post office and a building that had once been a bank. A small room on one side of the drugstore where the old-timers played cards remains prominent in my memory.
I have always admired the old-timers. I don’t think they would mind me calling them that. I think that’s what they would call themselves, and where I come from “old-timer” is a term of respect and a title earned. I have always liked to be among them, listening to them talk, observing them, and even emulating them.
When I think of lives of extraordinary faith, I think of the old-timers. My cloud of witnesses wore flannel shirts and overalls and farmed tobacco or raised cattle for most of their lives. They plowed fields and raked hay. Some didn’t graduate from high school and few received university degrees. Most of them lived in the same place all their lives and rarely went farther than the next nearby town or two to buy groceries or go to the doctor.
My cloud of witnesses will not be remembered for the number of books they read, whom they knew, or how much money they made. They likely won’t be remembered for their theologies or opinions. They will be remembered instead for their diligence and steadiness along what often proved a difficult road. They will be remembered for their perseverance and common sense. For the old-timers, what counted in the end — the only thing that counted — was staying the course and finishing the race.
I have two university degrees. I have studied a lot, read a lot, and encountered plenty of educated people along the way. But I haven’t come across anyone whose wisdom and knowledge can rival the quiet, persistent, and faithful lives of the women and men who persevered under even the most adverse circumstances. My education is straw compared to what the old-timers have taught me and continue to teach me about myself, about life, and about God. The witness of a life well lived and lived for God is the best wisdom and knowledge there is.
The old-timers are the ones I turn to when things get tough. I look to them when I don’t know which way to go next or when I’m tempted to take an easier or shinier path. I look to them when my academic education fails me, when opinions and doctrines and texts just get in the way. I look to them and see that they made it through, and I look at how they did it. They plowed their fields, picked tobacco, read their Bible, and went to church. They worked hard, loved the Lord, and didn’t let anything distract them. I look to them and know that if I can do the same — if I can follow the path of faith and stay on it — I have a decent chance of finishing the race too.
Questions for Reflection
1. Who in your faith community has encouraged you along your journey? How have they encouraged you?
2. What quality of those who have encouraged you would you like for others to see in you? Why?