…since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
Our church has a COW program that manifests itself at the beginning of the fall school semesters. Let me explain: The COW – Cloud of Witnesses – sponsors are assigned high school and university students for intercession and encouragement. I have several myself and find it a great joy to follow up with “my” students to see how God is working in their lives.
I’m not certain that’s what the writer to the Hebrews had in mind when he described that Cloud of Witnesses that is so intensely interested in our lives, but I find it greatly comforting to think that there is a whole grandstand full of people in the heavenlies cheering us on, just as I do with my students. I know Jesus is occupied in praying for us (Romans 8:34), but I just wonder if that Cloud includes some of our loved ones who have vested interests in our welfare? I can just imagine that my parents and grandparents are watching with great hope.
Not only are we surrounded by all those godly witnesses, but Jesus assures us he is always with us (Matthew 28:20). Corrie ten Boom wrote about being alone in a cell in the concentration camp and feeling downcast. Then she remembered that Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). She reasoned that Jesus was one, the Father was two, and the Holy Spirit was three. That was enough for her to know that she was in God’s presence.
Isn’t it also true of us? Surely, at various times of our lives, we will find ourselves alone. We either shrink into self-pity or we look around to find ourselves in God’s presence. And, of course, there is that great Cloud of Witnesses that knows the reward of trusting and abiding in Christ no matter what the circumstances.
What a joy to know that at every juncture of our lives, Someone is watching. Someone is praying for us. Someone is cheering us on. And Someone is always there to strengthen us in pressing onward.
Father, keep our eyes and hearts fixed on you. Remind us that we’re never alone, and others have gone before and reached the destination safely. Thank you for always providing what we need to keep going. AMEN.
And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Esther 4:14b (ESV)
I was standing in line to vote when the man next to me asked, “Where is Willie Nelson on this ballot?” which of course provoked a conversation about the candidates and the issues that concerned us. (I had to agree that Willie would be a good write-in.) As our discussion continued, I mentioned a blog Max Lucado had just published with his predictions for November 9. Lucado confidently stated that God will still be in control no matter who is elected (https://maxlucado.com/prediction-november-9/).
That brought to mind the various people God has used in the Bible and in history to impact the culture. I thought of Joseph whose gifts and wisdom brought about the saving of his family and adopted country; of how improbable Esther and her story illustrated God’s providence; of Daniel whose impeccable integrity and courage demonstrated godly commitment in a pagan environment; and of Nehemiah whose love for his homeland initiated the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
And then there’s the account of a retiring monk, Telemachus, who felt called to go to Rome without any clear indication of what he would do once he arrived. Upon hearing the roar of the crowds when he neared the Coliseum, he ventured closer to learn that people were being sacrificed for entertainment. It is said that the godly monk pushed his way through the barriers until he stood in the middle of the arena. “Desist, desist,” he shouted. This unexpected happening stunned the crowd to silence, and then they began to call for his blood even as he continued to shout for an end to the violence. As he died, he did not know that his death would bring about the end of the gladiatorial games.
We’ve had visionaries on our own soil who pledged their lives and resources for the ideal of religious freedom. In other places, Wilberforce dedicated his life and energies to abolishing slavery in Britain, while Bonhoeffer’s passion for living out the Gospel led him to perish attempting to destroy the evil that corrupted his beloved German homeland. The list goes on and on…
History reminds us that God’s people always have a responsibility to understand the times and to respond in obedience to his providence. To what has God called you for such a time as this?
Father, each of us has a role in your providential plan. Open our eyes to see how we may faithfully serve you and the community in which you have placed us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Revelation 7:9
I have the privilege of working with courageous missioners who have joyously given their lives to share Jesus with people around the world. George and his family have served Christ in the Philippines for many years and recently sent me this beautiful reflection. He gave me permission to use it here:
I live in a very crowded city, Manila, the densest city in the world. What would normally be a 15 minute drive in the USA can take up to 6 hours here on account of so many cars. People get irritated, and it’s hot.
All around me are represented the 180 or so languages that exist in the Philippines. One day there will be people from every one of these languages standing among the great multitude, offering praise in their language (tongue) to our Father. That is why I came here, to be stuck in this crowd for now so that one day they can join us before the Father in a much bigger crowd and with way more than 180 languages praising God.
On that day, we won’t be irritated at the tightness of the crowd but will rejoice that we have all been forgiven, redeemed, and can stand in his glory before the throne. I think I will stand in the Filipino section.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for all your devoted servants around the world who share you gladly in word and in deed. Thank you for calling each one of us to service in your Kingdom. AMEN.