Locate Your Encouragers (Part 1)

 

Running The Race
Part 1: Locating The Encouragers
 
By Larry D. Wright
 
More than any other analogy, the writers in the New Testament compare the Christian life to a race. Paul demanded that we must run with purpose in order to win the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24) and that we should be careful that we do not run in vain (Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16). We cannot forget Paul’s inspirational challenge as he declares his own epitaph to be: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
 
The writer of Hebrews helps us understand the importance of looking for sources of inspiration from others along the way with this exhortation; “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses…let us run the race marked out before us.” (12:1) Locating people who encourage us is an essential part of preventing failure, defined as, “do not grow weary and loose heart”. (12:3) Clearly, failing to locate and access encouragers can be fatal to any minister and any ministry.
 
The ministry is filled with serious and sincere runners but unfortunately not everyone finishes well. There is a myriad of reasons for this but many fall by the wayside from lack of encouragement.   The Spring 2005 issue of Stewardship Strategies features an article by John Maxwell entitled, The Marathon Mindset. Maxwell properly credits the origin of the marathon, a race that retraces the 26.3 miles of the incredible run of a Greek soldier. After the Grecian army defeated the Persians in the plains of Marathon, Phidippides “ran like the wind” to Athens and shouted, “We were victorious”! Following his announcement, he collapsed and died. 
 
John Maxwell surmises that “Although he was the first marathoner he apparently ran his last race more like a sprint”, then concludes that his death, though inspirational, was unnecessary because he made several critical mistakes. “Many a leader, when given the opportunity to take on a marathon challenge has run too hard, too fast and with too little nourishment along the journey. The consequences can be severe. Some fall by the wayside. Others simply give up. And a few taste victory only to die from the effort-not necessarily a physical death, but a professional death to be sure.”
 
Hebrews 12 begins with a conjunction, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses”. This conjunction connects the chapter to the previous one in which the author extrapolates a long list of people were faithful to the finish and thus qualified as sources of inspiration.
I believe that this imagery is often misunderstood. Some interpret the analogy as though these people who have passed from this life into eternity are like spectators in a stadium and they are watching us on earth. I agree with Warren Wiersbe’s comments: “It is not suggested here that these men and women now in heaven are watching us as we run the race, like people seated in a stadium. The word witness does not men spectators. Our English word martyr comes directly from the Greek word translated witness. These people are not witnessing what we are doing; rather, they are bearing witness to us that God can see us through.” (Wiersbe, Be Confident, Hebrews, pp.134-135)
 
It is a popular belief conveyed in secular songs, but the Bible does not teach that people who have passed into eternity are watching us perform in life. That is not the teaching of this passage or any other passage that I know about. Rather, the real imagery of Hebrews 11 is like strolling through a cemetery and being inspired by reading the names and recalling the memories of those who ran the race with integrity and finished well.
 
I pause at the grave of Able and I am reminded, “You can kill the messenger but not the message”. The legacy of Enoch (who had no tombstone!) cries out, “To walk with God is life’s highest privilege.” Noah’s example says to me, “You can live for God in any generation.” Abraham testifies, “It is safe (but often scary!) to trust God and travel under sealed orders.” The Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 is filled with men and women whose life and walk encourage me not to loose heart (12:3). Of course, the ultimate Encourager is Jesus Himself so I am exhorted to, “Looking off unto Jesus”(Weymouth). The inspiring idea behind this eye movement from the people of encouragement to the Encourager (12:2-3) is that no human source of encouragement in perfect and they can fail you. But as you “consider Him” you will find He alone is flawless in His encouragement.
 
The point is everyone needs people in their life who will encourage them; who recharges their battery; who keeps them accountable and on the path. Every person involved in ministry has a long list of people surrounding them who TAKE from them, so what is needed is to counter the TAKERS with corresponding GIVERS. The question is, “Who are those people in your life?”
 
Who are the people who encourage you to stay engaged in the race and who discourage you from becoming isolated and vulnerable?
 
If you want to do well and finish strong in the race you must locate the encouragers.
 
 
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