Cross-country was not my sport of choice. Just days before the start of my junior high career, a friend and I showed up for tryouts to join the team. Neither of us were runners, so we expected to be quickly sent packing.
We made the team. Well, cross-country is one of those sports in most schools where, if you show up with a functioning heart, you’re in.
Running became a passion. Largely due to the influence of the senior team members, the older kids, the high school guys. One in particular made a lasting impression.
Coach would use him, and others, to take groups of us out for long training runs around town – two of those loops took me past the Messiah Congregation building.
On these runs, Dave – not his actual name – who was a natural athlete, would set the pace for us. Explaining, based on specific body type and experience, how to approach the terrain, and adjust our pace and posture.
He would effortlessly go out ahead of us, causing us to pursue, let us pass, get well ahead of him, only to catch us, and ease in at that quicker pace to help us breathe, maintain, endure, and ultimately finish the race.
He was our pacesetter.
The author of Hebrews writes, “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” (Heb. 12:1).
This “cloud of witnesses” has been greatly misunderstood; often imagined as people sitting in the gallery watching a play. This is not the case at all, as Hebrews 11 confirms, they were people pursuing God in faith, running the race. They are not on the course now, but they know it well, and have pointed the way.
They are pacesetters in faith. Those who came before us, as examples of how to run the race set before us. Not perfect in themselves, or their lives, they looked for the finish line, that city built by the Lord. They had their struggles, faults, missteps and stumbles, but they kept the Lord always before them.
This cloud of witnesses are not only historic, a relic of antiquity; we have pacesetters with us even now. Those who have been running in faith a little longer, have had more time in the texts, prayer, and worship. They have made it over more hills and through more valleys.
They are there, around us, helping us to see what is ahead, helping us to adjust our stride, our breath, and our posture. They are not perfect, but they are in the race, helping us all to mature in Messiah (Eph. 4:12-14).
Remember, the coach, the Holy Spirit, may send them out on the run to help us learn the subtleties of faith to endure to the end. They are not there as a rebuke, but as brethren training for and running the race.
Be well. Shalom.