The 12th Man in a Crowd of Witnesses

I love Hebrews 12 and the imagery of a race. The stands, the runners, the perseverance. 'Cause I'm good at perseverance. I often fail to stop and smell the roses, too focused on the goal to appreciate the journey, but I do grit really well. Head down, work to be done, let's go!

But, without taking a single ounce of truth out of Hebrews 12, an analogy can only go so far in explaining life. Life is too complex and messy and beautiful to be captured in one single simile. Or even one parable. Just think about how many times Jesus said, 'It's like..." Why? Because it's also like...

So, back to Hebrews 12. I'm a runner. I'm throwing off the entangling sin, and I've got a race marked out just for me. I'm fixing my eyes on Jesus who ran it first; the one who can ensure I make it across the finish line without growing weary or losing heart.

But you know where the analogy breaks down??? My friends and my family and my neighbors--
they're all running a race too. The same one, basically--maybe their race is marked out just a little differently than mine is, but we're all on the track together.

BUT WE'RE NOT COMPETING! That's the wonder of it all. It's not that kind of a race.

My kids had Sports Day this past Friday, and we spent all day there having a blast. The first part of the morning I stood with friends, talking and laughing and soaking up the Kenyan sun. I loved it. My kids weren't racing very often, so there was lots of time to catch up with the other parents.

This lady kept dashing past me, looking a little odd to be honest. Barefoot, in a skirt, racing up and down the track in the grass, dodging all the other spectators milling around. By the time she'd clearly sprinted the 400m at least 20 times (and I'm not exaggerating!), her hair was wild and she was panting something fierce. And she had rolled her ankle so she was limping during her few moments of rest while the next set of racers lined up on the blocks. But she never quit.

And then I started looking around. I saw myself hanging out with friends having a good old time. I saw kids running their hearts out, and some not doing so well--trailing well behind the others, panting and hurting. Definitely weary, possibly losing heart. And I saw this mom, in her skirt and no shoes, running up and down the final 400m for EVERY. SINGLE. RACE, yelling and screaming and cheering and encouraging EVERY. SINGLE. RUNNER. on her daughter's Team White.

And I thought, "What am I doing?? I'm at the race, and I'm not doing a single thing to support anyone!"

So I joined the nameless Mamma, and I felt totally silly at first. I didn't know most of those kids; they didn't know me. I was just some stranger on the sideline, cheering them on, telling them they could do it, that it wasn't much further, that they were doing well. Some looked at my oddly at first, but every runner picked up his or her pace. Or straightened their back just a little. Or just gave me a wry smile like we both knew they were about to fall over. And every time a group of kids sprinted, or jogged, or especially when they trudged past me, and I started running beside them, I got teary as I cheered. Because let's be honest.

Who doesn't need some serious cheering as we go through this race??? And just how often do we hear what we need to hear from those around us?

How often have I been too busy chatting with friends to notice other runners who needed a shout-out? How often have I been sucking wind in my own race and everyone else seemed too busy with their picnics to notice?

So yes, I'm the runner.
But as a person of faith, I'm also in the great cloud of witnesses along with the Hall-of-Faithers.

Am I cheering?
Are you?
Are we doing all we can as the Church to support each other in our race? I've seen lots of posts lately about not competing with others, about the Mommy-Wars and the criticism we pour out on each other. And that's spot on. We should stop that craziness. But let's not stop there at benign disinterest in others' races. Let's take it a step further.

The Seattle Seahawks have a good thing going by promoting the 12th man...they understand the power of the fans to influence their players. The team raises a flag in honor of the 12th Man before every home game. Think about it...screaming fans supporting overpaid men running around in tight shorts and fighting over a leather ball (this from a football fan).

How much more should we stand tall, cheer loudly, and be each others' 12th Man? Along with Abraham, Moses, and Rahab, we can rock this stadium!


What do you think? Have you been cheered on by someone and you'd like to share it? Or have an experience of a time when you cheered someone on? We'd love to hear!  

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