Help for the New Year

"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 perseverance the race that is set before us." Hebrews 12:1-2

This is perhaps a perfect New Year’s text. It sums up so many spiritual qualities and commitments that can make 2013 a better year for you, regardless of the circumstances you face. Let's note each one.

The cloud of witnesses always evokes a lot of questions. Do our ancestors look over us? It’s a pleasant idea, but the Bible teaches us specifically that God Himself watches over us. That’s good because the Spirit of God watching over me is much more beneficial than say, my dad. So why did the author of Hebrews write about a cloud of witnesses? These people are the examples we are to follow. There are people in your past who have had a spiritual impact on you. Remember what they have told you and the examples they led. Some of those spiritual mentors still live. You can talk to them, gain insight, and encouragement. God sends people into your life regularly to help you, and for you to help them. Remember them, or seek them out. You're definitely not alone in 2013.

Laying aside every weight and sin is a little more direct. When we talk about leaving things behind that can drag us down, sin comes first to mind. This is simple: if you have a recurring problem with a particular sin then stop it. And stop it again. We can’t fool around with sin. Jesus taught us to pray "forgive our trespasses" because sin is a deadly reality. It has real, terrible consequences, and should be regularly cleaned out. Stop rationalizing the sin, and start repenting of it.

The word weight is particularly interesting to me. I can fully understand the preacher of Hebrews writing that we should lay aside sin, but why every weight also? What did he have in mind? The word for weight can also mean impediment. I wonder if he was thinking about old fears, disappointments, lingering resentments? We all surely collect enough of those over the years, and they prevent us from thinking about God as clearly as we should. God wants to get everything out of the way so we can see and hear Him more clearly, and feel His love overflow in our hearts.

Ken Chafin, one of the great Baptists who has joined the great cloud of witnesses, was preparing for Easter by praying and spending time alone to listen for God's voice. Here is what he heard: “Kenneth, you’re a little frightened; let me take your fear. Through the years, you’ve accumulated people that don’t like you. You’ve let that bother you. Let me take that away from you. Let me take away your defensiveness and insecurity and bring to you a sense of peace, of boldness, of love, of forgiveness, of openness, and the willingness to risk.”

God may be trying to say the same thing to you. Take a good look at what you're dragging around. It’s impeding you from moving forward with God. Be done with it.

Finally, run with perseverance. I could write or preach a whole series on what it means to run with perseverance. This morning’s sermon was entitled “Look to Jesus!” You can preach a long time with that kind of theme. I resisted that urge, but did point out that this is what the writer of Hebrews was aiming for the entire letter. Jesus is superior, Jesus is sufficient, and because of His sacrifice for us, Jesus deserves our highest devotion. The word for perseverance can also be translated as patience, the kind the actively presses forward with a conviction that God will bless and guide.

I’ll close with a congregational prayer we said together this morning in worship:

"Everlasting God of all the years, You have been our companion through all the mysteries of the past to uphold us when we knew not the way. Take our hand now and share our pilgrimage to an unknown future. Open our eyes to recognize Your presence with us this day that we may give You praise and celebrate the goodness of Your guidance. Renew us. Refresh us. Fill us with Your Spirit; we pray in Christ’s name. Amen."

God has already provided all the help you need for the New Year. Enjoy it.

Grace and Happy New Year,

Dr. Terry Ellis

January 6, 2013