As I write this blog, I am sitting under what I like to call my “Devotion Tree”. It’s a very large oak tree which serves as the starting line for our area cross country course, which just happens to be on some property that my home church owns. I find that 20-30 minutes a day here allows me to truly focus on what God has and can do as I hear the sounds and see the sights of His handiwork.
This morning, it seems as though there is something different in the air. You see yesterday was a “Day of Praise” for our church. It’s much like a homecoming event, where we take a look back and celebrate the things that God has done. This event takes place every year and is always capped off, just like any great church does, with a meal.
But the “Day of Praise” at my church has another significance for me. If you’ve ever heard my testimony, then you know that Run for God was “birthed” at this event. That’s right, SEVEN years ago, a man by the name of HR Poe said SEVEN words to me that forever changed my life, and as a result, the lives of many others. It was seven years ago yesterday that HR said, “Mitch, don’t let this become your god”. HR said this in response to God revealing to him that I had allowed running to become more to me than just a sport. It had become an idol.
What took place over days and weeks ahead was nothing short of God showing me that He was in control. Starting a running ministry made no sense. I had never been to seminary, I wasn’t a teacher, I was terrified to speak in front of a crowd, I wasn’t even that good of a runner, and I just wasn’t qualified to take on this role. I was absolutely correct! But what God showed me 7 years ago was that this wasn’t about me and what I could do in my own power, it was about Him, and what He was going to do if I would simply step aside and let Him move. Seven years, and thousands of churches later, God is still teaching me this principal.
Let’s fast-forward six years. Last November as we were preparing to release the updated 5K Challenge, which includes the presentation of the Gospel and the plan of salvation, I began to pray for God to allow me to share the Gospel in a “big way”. I even wrote this on one of my prayer rocks that I keep in my office. It wasn’t very long (six months or so) before God began to lay a vision on my heart. This vision was to take the words of His Son to the masses through the pages of Runners World magazine by simply asking the question that Jesus asked to his disciples in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say that I AM?” Readers would then be directed to a webpage that would clearly walk them through the plan of salvation and give them the opportunity to reach out to us should they have questions. Clean, Clear, and Simple!
It seemed as though God was showing me a billboard with His fingerprints all over it. This vision was from God, and there was no denying it, but what I did over the next few months was allow doubt to creep in. I kept this vision to myself and would not discuss it. It just didn’t make sense! I couldn’t possibly be this bold. I couldn’t bear the thought of all the ridicule we’d receive from a world who is growing farther and farther away from God. A full page Runners World ad costs roughly $14,000 per month, I can’t afford that, and besides that, I’d never convince Runners World to even run such an ad. Sound familiar?
By August, God had convinced me once again that this wasn’t about me, it was about Him. I’ll never forget walking into our offices in early August and just springing this vision on our Run for God team. Needless to say, I got some blank stares, and lots of questions. Questions like how will we handle this, and how can we possibly afford this. Questions were many and answers were few! I began to reach out to some people whom I trust in my community to share this vision and to seek donations. I knew that we needed to raise some “seed money” to get this campaign off the ground before reaching out to the general public for help.
Run for God has never accepted donations. We’ve always kept the lights on through book and t-shirt sales, but this campaign would blow the budget and break the bank for sure without some help. It seemed as though everyone I talked to was 100% on board. Checks began to come in, but they weren’t coming in at the rate that made me feel comfortable about moving forward. I knew that 650 people donating $20 a month could keep this campaign in the pages of Runners World magazine indefinitely, but I needed to get this thing off the ground through local funds before making my case to the entire Run for God family.
Since the day I decided to step out and start this process, God has been confirming this decision in my heart. He’s done so in many ways. I attend our youth services on Wednesday nights at our church, and our youth pastor started a series called “Being Bold” literally the week that I began to put this plan in action. He spoke each week about people who took on “God Sized” tasks throughout the Bible. People like Esther and Daniel. People whose plans would fail if God didn’t show up. He went on from there to a series about Noah, and how God sometimes calls us to do things that just don’t make sense! God was putting people in my path that it seemed were speaking directly to me saying, “your on the right path”.
Let’s fast forward to this past Thursday. I was beginning to lose faith in this plan. You see, since the beginning, God had laid the January 2017 issue of Runners World on my heart to kickoff this campaign. This is the most read issue and this effort would have the greatest impact because of this fact. The deadline for confirming our intentions to Runners World Magazine is TODAY, October 24, 2016. This past Thursday, I was even giving my brother an update on this campaign, all the while having that sinking feeling in my stomach that this campaign might never happen. How could it? I hadn’t raised enough money yet, I’d started to fear the persecution once again, and “My Plans” just weren’t going “As Planned”. I was allowing this campaign to become a symbol of what “I” could do rather than what God can do!
Yesterday morning I showed up to church early to help setup for our day of praise. This is usually a day of celebration and reflection for me on what God has done through this ministry. HR Poe even rode with me to the place that I am currently sitting (my Devotion Tree) to help set up for the meal that would be after church. HR and I even talked about that day seven years ago when God prompted him to lovingly confront me about an idol in my life. But yesterday didn’t start with joy in my heart. As much as I tried to put on a happy face, I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that I had failed God and this evangelistic outreach that he laid on my heart was imploding.
You may have heard the phrase that our God is an on time God. I’m here to tell you that is TRUE! Once we got everything set up for the “Day of Praise”, I ran home to get the family for church. We hurried back, took our seats, and began to worship with our church family. Something felt different. The music seemed to be more piercing, the atmosphere seemed to be more electric, and it was obvious that God was moving in our church yesterday morning. Then my pastor took the stage!
Charlie Bridges took the stage to give his message. Over the years, I have reached out to Charlie for advice on many occasions. In fact, he and his wife are the ones that encouraged me to make the phone call to Lifeway years ago about publishing Run for God. But for some reason I had not mentioned this campaign to my pastor. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it just never happened?
Once Charlie took the stage and put his first slide up on the big screen I knew why the subject had never come up. It was so that there would be no question or explanation for what was about to happen. Charlie’s entire message was built around Matthew 16:15 “Who do you say that I AM?”
I was instantly a basket case! I was hitting my wife in disbelief at what I was seeing. Was it a dream? Was I seeing things? This couldn’t be real! Seven years ago to the day I was confronted with seven words that began the ministry known as Run for God and today, seven years later, I’m being confronted with seven words that could change the hearts and lives of over 2.8 million people a month. Once the invitation was given, I couldn’t get to the altar fast enough. I knew my doubt was a lack of faith and therefore sin. I had to get on my knees and confess to an almighty God that I was attempting to limit what He could do based on what I could do.
As if that were not enough, as I lay there weeping on the alter, I felt a hand on my shoulder. At first nothing was said, I just knew someone was there praying with me. Then, it was as if God had brought this journey full circle as I heard HR Poe’s voice praying for me.
God is Good all the time, and all the time God is Good!
How can you help?
By the way, today, I let Runners World know that January’s issue is “a go”. We’re going leave the rest to God!
If you would like to contribute to this campaign, simply visit www.RunforGod.com/Donate