I have a health app on my phone. Using my personal statistics, it determines how many steps I should do in a day for my health. First thing in the morning, it comments on my sleep, talks about the weather and reminds me of getting my steps in. Later in the morning, it comments on how many steps I’ve taken and encourages me to get going. When I make the required number, it signals me by a colorful display. The app keeps a tab on each day’s totals and up to the time of me writing this, I’ve completed my steps six days in a row! I used to complain that my life was run by my phone, but now it is totally that way… my day is not over until I complete my steps!
Whereas my own discipline couldn’t get me to exercise, my phone can. Who would have thought my phone would be my personal trainer and motivator?
When it comes to motivation, what is it that keeps us going? For many who work, it is often the money that keeps them going or the desire to move up the corporate ladder. In school, people push hard hoping to get scholarships or acceptance into their school of choice. For the athlete, it is often the roar of fans that cheer them on as they approach the finish line. But what about the Christian life? What is it that motivates us to keep running the race, especially when we face challenges?
In Hebrews 12:1, it says, “Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us . . . run . . .” So the first motivation I want us to see is this cloud of witnesses. Who are they and what does their witnessing mean? They are the saints that have lived and died so valiantly by faith in chapter 11. Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah and Moses and all those who suffered and died, “of whom the world was not worthy.”
But what does their “witnessing” refer to? Does it refer to their watching us from heaven? Or does it refer they’re witnessing to us by their lives? The word “witness” can have either meaning: the act of seeing something, or the act of telling something.
Which is it here? I think it is the act of telling. The verb form of this word “witness” is used five times in Hebrews 11 and always refers to the giving of a testimony rather than just watching of an event. So when I read Hebrews 12:1, I believe it is referring to the saints who have run the race before us, and have gathered, as it were, along the marathon route to say, through the testimony of their lives, “By faith I finished, you can too!”
The best way to illustrate this, I think, is with Hebrews 11:4, where the writer speaks of Abel and says, “Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.” So Abel is in the cloud of witnesses, and he is witnessing to us by his life through the Scriptures. This is the way all the witnesses of Hebrews 11 are helping us. They have gathered on the sidelines of our race and they hold out their wounds and their joys and give us the best high-fives we ever got: “Go for it! You can do it. By faith, you can finish. You can lay the weights down and the sins. By faith, by the assurance of better things hoped for, you can do it. I did it. And I know it can be done. Run. RUN!”
Living our lives for Jesus is hard. Each day we face challenges, temptations and trials. There are times where we feel alone as if no one understands what we are going through. But when we read Hebrews 11 and the stories of the saints of days gone by, we see that we are on a road that has been traveled upon by many others. In fact, there are dozens and hundreds and thousands of those who have gone before and who have finished the race by faith and surround us like a great cloud of witnesses who say: “It can be done! By faith, it can be done.”
Then there is another motivation in verses 39-40. It says, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” This is followed in 12:1 by “Therefore . . . run.” The “therefore” means that verses 39-40 are a motivation for our running. Since this is true, run! How is it a motive?
I take verse 39 to mean that when the believers in the Old Testament died, their spirits were made whole and perfect, but that they do not receive the full blessing of God’s promise. The fullness occurs at the final resurrection where all believers will receive their new bodies in a glorious new age. Like all the believers still living, they await the promises given by God.
Have you ever wondered why they have to wait? I mean, they’ve gone through so much in their time on earth, and now that they are gone, they still have to wait? The answer is given in verse 40: “Because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” In other words, God’s purpose is that all His people – all the redeemed – be gathered in before any of them enjoys the fullness of His promise. It is like growing up and having to wait until our dad’s got to the table before we could have dinner. God’s purpose is that we all come into the fullness of our inheritance together.
So the motivation is this: when you go on this journey with God, take some time to think about the fact that your life counts to God and to them. Your finishing the race is what history is waiting for. The entire consummation of the plan of the universe waits until every single one of God’s elect is gathered in. All history waits and all those who have lived by faith crowd the marathon route to urge you on, because they will not be perfected without you. Nor you without them.