1Therefore, 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, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us [Hebrews 12:1]
These words have always been powerful for me. As a writer I love the imagery of a 'great cloud of witnesses' in Paul's letter to the Hebrews. Paul is saying that since we are indeed surrounded in this way, we are more able to throw off all that entangles us in the matters of this world--those "of the world" things.
Things like the 2-year long U.S. Presidential election process, the war in Iraq, all the unrest, wars, famine, natural disasters, and on and on and on distract us from what really matters. In the midst of this "cloud" we are energized, nourished, sustained, encouraged and supported in the "race marked out for us."
The "cloud" refers to those surrounding us. It's important with whom we associate, with whom we choose to be friends, with whom we spend time. We may not have control over these things at our jobs, but without godly friends and a strong faith community, it's nearly impossible to live live out our call as Christians.
Why? Because we tend to act like those with whom we interact. We tend to speak as those with whom we speak. We tend to spend our time the way those with whom we associate spend their time. While familiarity may not breed contempt, it can and may breed something even more insidious. When we become so comfortable and familiar with friends we may relax our standards a bit, or allow them to relax theirs. Our conversations may shift from how we can deal with difficult people by remembering they are children of God to how annoyed WE are by the challenging people in our lives.
When we get so comfortable with our Christianity we may forget that we are as broken, frail and flawed as are each of the other people in the world where we live. Our co-workers, the other commuters on the road, the clerk in the store, our spouse, our children all deserve to be viewed through the eyes of our Savior. All too often, though, we make it about "me" and that's, as it was explained to me one day recently, "idolotry." That's right: we make ourselves the center of the world rather than God when we snap at, gossip about, begrudge and bemoan all the others in our lives.
I've had an interesting month. I've attended two Christian Writer's conferences, met some amazing, gifted, wonderful Christian women writers and deepened friendships with some amazing, gifted, wonderful Christian women writers. Don't get me wrong--I'm not so selective about my friendships that I am only friends with women Christian writers! That's just where I am right now -- in the writing mode - and since I'm a Christian woman writer . . . well it kind of all makes sense.
Since I've been published (for pay) this past year, I've been asked to be a member of a panel discussion at the annual dinner of the Christian writer's group I belong to. I honestly don't know what I will say beyond the fact that I am ever humbled and awed that the God of heaven and earth has selected me to be a vessel of His word to a world in desperate need of healing and hope. I will also relate my ongoing struggle to live a life worthy of God's design for my life.
To Him belongs the glory and to Him belongs any success or wealth or recognition I have or will ever receive as a writer. "My" words are all God-breathed and spirit-inspired. When I read the words of some of my "new" and current Christian writer friends, I can tell they feel as I do--that they are blessed beyond imaginging; that they are God's willing and holy vessels of the Good News. I read their words and think they are so powerful and beautiful that I aspire to be like them.
I still love my "old" friends and they will always be important in my life! They have been some of the strong Christians that have helped keep me in line as well as encourage and uplift me. Interesting though, that all my "old" friends with whom I maintain friendships are Christian. My church is truly a Christian family - after almost 20 years together, that makes sense.
So my challenge to myself is to not be so relaxed and comfortable that I forget whose I am and how He desires me to act and think and speak. My desire is that I can be a light for my friends and family as I live out and live into God's plan and purpose for my life.