Happy New Year! We hear it everywhere. But happiness can be so fleeting. What we all really desire is to experience joy and satisfaction in our heart. And we will only realize that as our whole person, body, soul, and spirit is yielded to God to become what he has designed us to be. Perhaps no greater challenge to that end can be found than that given in Scripture, in Hebrews 12:1. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
The Apostle Paul is picturing for us what we might see today occurring in the Olympics. The runners who receive the gold medals have their eyes on the goal. They have a purpose in everything they do. They recognize that millions of people are watching their every move and are cheering them on — which greatly motivates them. But their ultimate accomplishment happens only as they continue to discipline themselves to the extreme, eliminating everything that will deter them from reaching the goal that is set before them.
So what weight is dragging you down that you need to lay aside this year in order to run more swiftly the race that is set before you? What sin is there in your life that so easily besets you — that action or thought that you continually allow to control you? Remember, there is a great cloud of witnesses that is watching. Your decisions count.
We don’t have to look far to discover some weights and sins that may be weighting us down and deterring us from our goal. For example, what is it you hold in your hand? Let’s consider just seven possible things, and their very probable results.
#1. Cigarette? — Cancer, impaired children, accidents, fire, expense, negative example to those watching.
Not a very pretty picture when you consider any one of them, is it? Reality often is not very pretty, though, because at the core of such reality often is found only selfishness. We ignore the results of our act in our mind, will, and emotions so that we may enjoy the moment of pleasure or satisfaction. The sad part is, the results do happen.
A number of years ago a famous jockey held in his hands the reins of record-setting thoroughbreds. He reportedly made over $120 million. Then one fateful day, he spent the afternoon with his hands lifting cool drinks of beer to his mouth. Soon afterward, the vehicle he was driving veered off the freeway and headed over a steep embankment. For the momentary pleasure he experienced, he received a broken neck and paralysis in all four limbs.
What he, and millions of others have held in their hands have proven to forever change the direction of their lives -- no matter their previous status in life. Statistics are not just numbers. They represent real people who suffer the results of what we hold in our hands. And statistics reveal, some 18 million American adults, and over 4-˝ million teenagers are alcoholics. Alcohol and drug abuse causes some 300,000 babies that are born to enter the world with FAS. FAS is the #1 preventable cause of birth defects in the U.S. These children are in most cases unable to hold jobs, tell the truth, manage money — and are easily taken advantage of mentally and physically — and in many cases cannot distinguish right from wrong. Another 40,000 babies are born each year with less sever, but still serious birth defects, due to their mother’s use of alcohol during pregnancy.
Every year some 24,000+ Americans die and another 500,000 are injured in alcohol related motor vehicle accidents. A more recent study showed that 46% of auto accidents involve people using alcohol. These statistics don’t take into account the mental and physical suffering, or the financial burden that is placed on families, and our society as a whole. All because of what we selfishly hold in our hands.
You may never drink a drop of alcohol. Instead, you hold in your hand a thin tissue paper wrapped around your favorite tobacco. Statisticians who study pharmacology and toxicology reveal that the smoke that comes out of the end of the cigarette has a higher concentration of more poisons and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) than the smoke that the smoker inhales. Even if you just live with a smoker you have nicotine in your blood. Studies reveal that the number of U.S. non-smokers who die each year through various cancers or heart diseases as a result of exposure to other people’s cigarette smoke may be as many as 50,000.
Some reports say there are 600 billion cigarettes smoked each year in the US alone that emit an estimated 2.25 million metric tons of gaseous and particulate matter into the air. Seventy-five percent of the nicotine in a cigarette ends up in the atmosphere. How much of it goes into a child’s lungs!
Are you fearful of flying. It may be safer than smoking. The number of Americans who die of smoking related illnesses each year would fill 920 fully loaded 747 jumbo jets.
What’s in your hand? Take your pick from the list above. We’ve only touched on a sampling of the results of a couple of them. You may hold in your hand a “clinched fist. Someone has said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. Anger is a terrible tool for evil — to the person who holds it — as well as the person to whom it extends.” Or you may have another selfish vice. Gambling, maybe. Which ever it is, you can be certain the results are still just as serious. Statistics are not just numbers. And they are available for any thinking, unselfish person to consider.
What’s in your hand? Lay it down!
How much better it would be in this New Year if we would accept Paul’s challenge to “lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us.” That we would forever lay down whatever is in our hand — that we have held onto so selfishly — that is damaging our life and others. And in its place, may we extend an open hand in love, and kindness, and compassion to those around us.
Words from a simple chorus (I don’t know who wrote it), says it well. “I’m going on. I’m going on. I’m going on towards the mark — towards the Goal. So many lives depend on what I do, Give me the grace, dear Lord, I’m going on with you.”