By Katie Helmreich
Basketball, an afternoon at the beach, and a Rubber Band Boat Race Tournament bracket with a group of third cousins makes for a stand out great day. But beginning that day with devotions at our family reunion was absolutely amazing!
The reunion theme verses this year were from Hebrews 12:
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)
I had the opportunity to lead devotions on Saturday morning with Nicole, one the 2nd cousins I loved to hangout with at our reunions as a kid. The verse was broken down into several devotions led by a variety of people over the weekend, and we were assigned just the first bit. Bickel Camp is always the first thing I think of when reading these verses, so I was excited to dig a bit deeper alongside everybody!
Can anything describe a cloud of witnesses better than four generations of family from all over the country gathering to praise God? Where else can a kid grow up supported by so many fun 1st cousins, aunts, and uncles who treat you as if you’re their favorite, even if you’re not actually their niece or nephew?
Nicole opened our devotion time sharing about the supporters at marathon races. As a runner, seeing familiar faces can help keep you going! An encouraging shout from your friends can fend off discouragement. A tiny, paper cup of cold water from a stranger will stave off thirst. A nutrition packet tucked into your hand like a relay baton gives you the boost of energy you need to continue putting one foot in front of the other.
Family and close friends will take short cuts from one point to another all along the marathon route, cheering on their runner over an over again throughout the race. But many other supporters will only impact the runner once or twice.
Most won’t even interact with an individual runner. Their presence there simply bulks out the crowd to make a long grueling race into an event that feels like a the big deal!
As I prepared for my portion of the devotion, my thoughts went in a similar direction. I’d planned to lead the group in a simple visual prayer, but as I began to work through the card I’d use as my example, I was surprised at the things that came up!
You don’t have to be at Bickel Camp to enjoy this one. Take five minutes and pray alongside us with. You’ll be amazed at where your prayers take you!
- Grab an index card, a pen or pencil, and a few colored pencils.
- One the blank side, write “Thank you, Lord, for this cloud of witnesses” in the center of an index card and encircle it with a cloud, leaving plenty of room around the sides. (Not into clouds? Put it in a circle, square, triangle, whatever.)
- Draw rays out from the center to the edges of the card, dividing the space into slices. The number of segments don’t matter; straight lines don’t matter; the shape doesn’t matter; symmetry doesn’t matter: just create some spaces to work in. You’ve got this.
- Now within each section, write the name of someone in the cloud of witnesses around you. We all have a few that come to mind right away. Go ahead and start there! Chances are you’ll hit a point where you’ll have to go a layer further to come up with more names. That’s where cool things really start happening. If you picture the race you’ve run so far, who were those that cheered you on even if it was just once or twice? Who handed you water or that nutrition boost just when you were about on empty? Who’s simple presence has blessed you with the reassurance of community along the way?
- Once your spaces have names (if you’re really stuck and can’t fill in the last few yet, that’s OK, too), set a timer for 5 minutes and start praying.
- As you add color or words to each section, thank God for the unique ways that individual has been in your cloud of witnesses. What specifically about that person and their faith and witness blesses you? How do you see God glorified in them?
It’s amazing how fast 5 minutes of prayer can fly by! Once you got going with names, did you find there weren’t enough spaces? Consider for a moment how much bigger the list would be if you peeled back the next layer of those that support you in your faith! If you didn’t finish in five minutes feel free to dive back in and wrap it up, or flip the card over and think for another minute with me.
You are in the cloud of witnesses, too. Jot down who around you is within your circle of supportive influence. God is glorified in the ways you are already supporting and encouraging your brothers and sisters in Christ!
Who else might the Spirit be inviting you to come alongside? Who could use a glass of water, literally or figuratively? Who needs a boost of nutrition, physically or spiritually? Who could use a pat on the back, a hug, or a high five? What words of encouragement could we shout to another even if we’re on the sidelines of the project or season they’re running through right now? Who’s struggling to find the right route? Point them to Jesus.
It was absolutely incredible to celebrate the great cloud of witnesses as an extended family. We’re all running the race together, even though we’re separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles most of the time.
By faith, we cast aside the sin that weighs us down. In every stage of the race, we persevere. Fueled by the endurance that can only come from the power of the Holy Spirit, we run with joy as we follow Jesus together!
And when we cross the finish line, what a day that will be! I can’t wait to celebrate it with my Grandpa and all my Great Aunts and Uncles who’ve finished before me!
We’re not there yet. So for now we’ll keep on running!
Sure was good to hug my Grandma while running alongside her at Camp!