Remember the witnesses this year

Published 6:41 pm Friday, January 6, 2017

At the beginning of a new year, it is vital to get the right mental focus. 1 Peter 1:13 commands us, “Prepare your minds for action.”

Many people scoff at a determination for a new year to be any different. “It’s just another day on the calendar,” they say.

And they approach it that way. They have no resolutions and no hope that a new year will bring any personal changes.

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As Christians, we should never succumb to this cynical approach. We should approach a new year as an opportunity to evaluate our lives and seek to grow in Christ.

One of the best biblical texts for helping us do that is Hebrews 12:1-2, which says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

When the writer of Hebrews says, “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” he is referring to faithful believers who have run the race before us. He has just written about such people in chapter 11 of Hebrews.

They were men and women who faithfully persevered, in spite of intense hardships, because of their abiding trust in God. They are models for us.

But the text does not mean that they are looking down at us from clouds. The image is of an athletic stadium, and the faithful saints who have gone before us are sitting in the stands.

But the focus is not on them looking down at us. Instead, the focus is that we should look to the example of their faithful lives for inspiration, as we run our race.

What did they do to run faithfully? What must we do?

First, we must rid ourselves of all that hinders. We must “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.” Do runners compete while carrying heavy weights? Do they compete while wearing heavy boots? Absolutely not!

But here’s the deal: Sin weighs us down. Sinful patterns of thinking and behavior are weights that keep us from running faithfully. Throw them off!

Second, run with perseverance. The Bible says, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” This is no sprint. It is a marathon. We have to be in this for the long haul. We must finish faithfully.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, the Apostle Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The reward goes to those who finish, not to those who quit.

Third, rivet your focus on Christ. We must be “looking to Jesus,” fixing our eyes on Him. He has already run this race. He faced every challenge and every temptation, and suffered every pain.

He took all our sins and sorrows on Himself on the cross, and defeated sin and death by rising victoriously. Look to Him in 2017.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.