So, this morning I zoomed in on that word, and went back to the previous chapter. Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the "Hall of Faith". This is the chapter that says "By faith...." a bunch of times and references many famous people in the Bible whose faith serves as a model for us. But, the part of the chapter that caught my attention was the end. After all the specific people are listed, there's this:
"32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us."
I can picture Paul in my head, rattling off this list of things people suffered. The last 2 verses catch my eye especially. The "yet none of them received all that God had promised" part - that kind of makes you catch your breath.
So it's all of that stuff that precedes this verse in chapter 12. "Since we have such a great cloud of witnesses" is referring to these faithful folks. Verse 12 is saying - all these people have gone before you and remained faithful. Many of them were tortured and suffered greatly, and never saw in their earthly lives the promises of God fulfilled. So you have to have faith. You have to keep going. You might not see the earthly rewards, but they are there.
Sometimes, I focus so much on the moment and so much on myself, that I lose sight of the fact that God is doing things in and through my story that I don't see. That "hindsight is 20/20" cliche is so true in our faith walk, isn't it? It's always easier to look back and say "Oh wow, look at all of those things God worked out." than it is to think - in the middle of your mess - "I bet God is doing something fantastic here" - but He is. Keep going. Run the race with endurance. Don't stop.