Truth has a way of digging deep in our hearts and exposing sin and failure. That’s how I felt not long ago as I hung up the phone after a long and in depth conversation with a trusted friend who has permission to talk into my life. To be honest, I felt shattered, overwhelmed. ‘Overwhelmed’ because I couldn’t see how it could be possible for me to do what was necessary to change in areas of my life that were threatening to take me out.
Ever felt overwhelmed? All of us have! You’re in good company with David who desperately prayed in one of those dreadful moments, “From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” - Psalm 61:2.
As I stood there, head hung low, something totally unexpected happened.
All of a sudden I became aware, literally, of the great cloud of witnesses. I could hear many individual voices simultaneously calling out to me, “Karen, you can do it! You can make it! We were able to and you can too!” For about 10 minutes I was in this spiritual atmosphere - it is hard to articulate exactly, but I was literally aware of the great cloud of witnesses standing close around me and above me, calling out from heaven. I was surrounded by a huge crowd of people all telling me I can do it, all urging me to keep going. For those few minutes I was in the same heavenly realm where I could hear their voices and sense their presence all around me. I was in the midst of them, their attention and words focused on me. I was connected to them – they knew me personally and were encouraging me not to give up, to press forward and be an overcomer.
My natural mind probed, trying to understand as my natural world and spiritual reality merged into one. The great cloud of witnesses are a spiritual reality! I’d seen the verse in the Bible but had never given it any more thought, never considering it had personal application. Awestruck, I realized that all in heaven, those who had gone before, are truly for us, and in reality, they are cheering us on! The citizens of heaven are involved and aware of our lives and struggles, urging us on to complete our race just as they had.
In the midst of the encounter, I suddenly remembered a few weeks back that a visiting prophet had called me forward and prophesied saying, “The great cloud of witnesses are cheering you on!” And now, here I was overwhelmed in the face of personal failure and disappointment, literally experiencing an encounter with the great cloud of witnesses!
For days afterwards I reflected on this prophetic encounter and turned to Hebrews 12:1-2, where the great cloud of witnesses are mentioned in Scripture. I needed more revelation! “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Surrounded! Yep! I definitely felt surrounded. WE are surrounded, encompassed on every side, covered on all sides by the heroes of faith who have gone before us. Were they perfect? No way! Many had colourful, even brutal histories – liars, murderers, adulterers among them - but their histories with God were more colourful. Despite their weaknesses they made it with God. They faced Him face to face with naked honesty, allowing their weaknesses to be made perfect in His power. And so must we!
It’s OK to be overwhelmed, as long as we run to Jesus, as David did. “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” He knew the source of his strength to overcome.
How does knowing that we are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses affect us? Having prophetic experiences is not an end in itself. There’s always revelation in prophetic encountering. There’s always God’s invitation to be changed more profoundly into Christ’s image. There’s always a greater beholding of the Redeemer. The truth is: God is ALWAYS doing something in our lives and supernatural experiences are purposed to achieve revelation that leads us to victory. So, we are encouraged knowing others with very human traits found God in their struggles and overcame!
Look at the rest of the verse, “… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
This is what our God-heroes achieved: they became focused on the destiny God had called them to and in that pursuit, they deliberately removed hindrances and blockages standing in their way. They dealt with sin, failure and weaknesses in an open and transparent way with God. (Remember, God deals with us as sons and disciplines us so we can share in His holiness and reap a harvest of righteousness. As a loving Father, He doesn’t go relentlessly hounding after us to correct our weakness - He deals with us in the process and journey of our lives as they arise.) They were committed to winning the race and set with holy resolve. They did this without the indwelling Holy Spirit! They didn’t live in the realm of grace that we do. Yet, they succeeded! Now they are the great cloud of ‘witnesses’. They witnessed the greatness of God in their own lives and they are witnessing the greatness of God in our yielded lives.
For us, individual members of the Body of Christ, the great cloud of witnesses cheers us on to consider Christ: “Do you see what this means--all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running--and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed--that exhilarating finish in and with God--he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” - Hebrews 12:1-3 Message Bible.
Even if you feel all alone in your disappointment and failure, the great cloud of ‘witnesses’ are calling out their encouragement to YOU. “You will make it! Look to Jesus the author and finisher of your faith! Consider what He went through. Study it out carefully, ‘go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility He plowed through! Jesus made and you will too!’”
Believe it and, ‘Adrenaline will shoot through your souls’! Adrenaline revives the body, particularly the heart. Revelation of what Jesus went through on the Cross so we could overcome sin is likened to adrenaline shooting through our body! It revives the wounded and failing heart. It opens the way for resurrection life and equips us with holy zeal; arming us with His strength.
No matter what, many, many have gone before and overcome, and so can you! The Witnesses, the Word, the Spirit and the Blood say so!