Cloud of Witnesses

Those we allow into our lives can either help or hinder our walk with God.

Photo by Raj Tatavarthy on Pexels.com

Sweat pouring from my forehead, mouth dry with anticipation, every muscle in my body tensed up, I bent over with my tennis racquet in hand, ready to return an incoming serve from my opponent. The bleachers were full of fans, including my Grandparents, but on that day, my attention was on just one person in attendance, someone I had never even met, a scout for Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. And my opponent was none other than Jim Courier, a powerful server and net rusher that would later hold the number one position in the world. Jim had a personal trainer and private court, while I had practiced for two years using community courts and the outer walls of buildings. Jim had also been accepted into the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and was our high school’s number one seed on the boy’s tennis team. So, when Jim threw that tennis ball up into the air for that first service, I was overwhelmed, gave into my fear and intimidation, and when that ball came to my side, I missed it completely. That first game, I managed only a few good volleys and only put a few points on the board. As we switched sides to continue our set, I looked over at the bleachers to the scout-someone that could determine my future in tennis-to see his reaction; indeed, he could no longer be interested in my game.

Then I heard my Grandmother, my friends, and my girlfriend all shouting words of affirmation and encouragement; for a moment, I had forgotten they were even there, that those bleachers were full of people who believed in me. As I dribbled my ball on the ground in preparation for my serve, the cheers from the crowd impacted me; I remember thinking back to all of the 10-hour training days, the sacrifices I made to get this far, the past tournaments I had won, and the investment others had made in my life. I tossed that ball into the air, watched the cow gut strings make contact with the felt on the ball, and then charged the net with confidence, ready to return. That was one of the best serves I ever had; that ball barely cleared the net and landed surgically in the right corner, and while Jim made contact, his ball went out of bounds, and I won that point. The crowds went nuts; I will never forget how loud and excited they were; I felt like Rocky on his second wind against Ivan Drago. Back and forth we went, for well over two hours, I eventually lost to Jim with the first set 4-6 and the second 3-6, but I played my best. And while I ended up sharing the first seed position on my team with Jim and was accepted into the tennis academy, God had a different path for my life in serving my country through military service, and eventually full-time ministry.

While my tennis career never took off, my Christian walk certainly has, and I have found the same elements in my success on the tennis court apply to the victories I have had in my faith. While you may never be facing a professional tennis player on the other side of your court, there are times when obstacles and circumstances can cause the same feelings of anxiety, insecurity, fear, and intimidation. Times when you feel the devil is winning out, you’re in over your head and have been struggling to stay afloat for so long eventually, you will drown.

Those around you can encourage the One above you to demonstrate power through you during these challenging times, if you are willing. As a Christian, there have been trials I have endured and yielded to the temptation of believing the devils lie that I was all alone; and the lack of calls, visits, and outreach, seemed to confirm that very sentiment. Yet, when I focused on the voices of those real friends that had invested in my life, demonstrated their love for me over the years, and remained in my room when everyone else had departed, my faith was restored, and I was able to claim victory. This is what makes choosing your circle of influence so crucial to your spiritual growth and vital to the success of your walk of faith. 

The next time you find yourself facing an opponent or obstacle, remember to listen to those voices of encouragement, cheering you on, praying for your success, and ready to celebrate your victory. While your bleachers may seem to be populated more by your enemies, I can assure you; you’re not alone.

Scripture: “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.” -Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

Question: Are you tired of the fight, weary of the race, and exhausted by the heavy burdens you’re forced to carry? Do you ever want just to give up, feeling like you are all alone in the battle of life?

Prayer: Father, I don’t know how much more I can take, the days are getting longer, and the trials seem to be more frequent and challenging. There are times I feel like the prophet Elijah as if I am all alone with no one around that understands or cares. Please give me the faith to believe, the ears to hear, and the eyes to see, that you have placed people in my life to encourage and spur me on. May I be more focused on those encouraging me than those that rise against me, and may you use my encouragers to bring you glory through my life of victory. Thank you, Father, for the people in my life that love me, and may I find someone in this life to invest in and encourage as well. May the voices of encouragement help refocus my attention on my Hope, your Son, Jesus Christ. In His name, I pray. Amen.

Where We’re Going Matters

The unknown is the field on which the battle of our faith is waged

I was scared, nervous, full of anxiety, and if honest-a little angry at myself for being in this situation. Boot camp was over and there I stood on the parade ground in Cape May New Jersey, in full uniform; bleachers filled with supporting family and friends, cheering me and my 119 shipmates on in our recent graduation. One would think that happiness, excitement, and pride would have marked my emotions, and while those were present, the overwhelming fear of what would happen in less than a week consumed me. You see, on the last day of boot camp we were all assigned our very first tour of duty; we found out where we would be going and what we would be doing. Me? I was to be assigned to the United States Coast Guard Cutter Sweetbrier in Cordova, Alaska. My job? Scrubbing barnacles off of buoys in the Bearing Sea. Well, we also did law enforcement, drug interdiction, international boardings, and search and rescue, but scrubbing barnacles off of buoys in the Bearing Sea, I mean where was the Bearing Sea anyway and who really cared about barnacles. And, where was Cordova, Alaska?! Turned out one of my drill instructors knew very well the location and the job description and basically-after getting an entire squad bay full of recruits to laugh at me-simply said, “good luck with that”.

So, while I was very proud that I accomplished something that some thought impossible, graduating one of the toughest boot camps out there, I was scared to death. And, when that day came and I found myself alone at the airport in line to board my fight, that same parade ground fear increased and overtook me. In flight, the stewardess felt so bad for me, seeing my anxiety stricken condition, she even offered me an “adult beverageā€, knowing full well I was only 18 years old. That entire trip from Philadelphia to Seattle to Anchorage to Cordova was nothing but a white knuckled fearful experience. Funny, I do remember one leg of the flight looking over at a couple gazing intently out the window to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Alaskan scenery; very much enjoying the ride, when all I could do was keep the vomit from not ruining their view!

Over the years I have had the fortune of boarding many a plane with destinations like; Paris, London, Mexico, Guam, and many of our wonderful country’s states, yet none of them were marked with such fear as that first airplane ride back in 1987. Why? For two reasons; first I was not a Christian and second I had a fear of the unknown. Now that I am a believer, I have the confidence that while things may be unknown to me, that is not so with my Father, and I trust Him. Much like Abraham I suppose. It is recorded in Hebrews chapter 11 verse 8 that, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” That is what faith can do, overcome the fear of the unknown with a trust in God that believes that is where His blessings lie. I firmly believe that the unknown is the field on which the battle of our faith is waged.

If you are struggling with the unknown; with questions that are birthed out of tomorrow, perhaps your faith needs a boost. Do you find yourself restless at night wondering what will happen? Overwhelmed by the fear of “what if”, or “what could be”? If so, I am certain you are like that young Tom on that first plane ride; white knuckling through life, as opposed to that older couple, across the aisle, who enjoyed their journey. Friend, God wants you to walk across the aisle of the plane of life, sitting back, looking out the window and enjoying the journey. How? By not worrying about the destination. As Christians, we know our final destination is heaven; a place where the streets are made of gold, the walls of jasper, the foundation of precious stone, with gates of pearl; a place where there will be no more suffering or sorrow, our home where we can be with Jesus forever. Will there be turbulence along the way? Yes. Will there be times when the oxygen masks drop and we think we are going to crash? Yes. But know this; God is in the cockpit, He knows the course, and He has never lost one single soul along the way. Trust Him and enjoy the ride, that is His desire for you.

Scripture: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

Prayer: Father, life can be scary, especially when there is so much I don’t know. The unknown of tomorrow can overwhelm me with questions and doubt, but I don’t want to live in fear and uncertainty, please help me. Father, please remind me that you have planned out my journey and even given me details about my destination. Please help me trust you more so that I can enjoy each day as a gift, no matter what is going on around me. I don’t want to be pacing the ship in the middle of each storm, but peacefully sleeping through it, knowing you’re in control. Thank you for having patience with me, for loving me, and for taking care of me. I love you. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray, amen.