Running with Horses: Unlocking Your Ministry Potential


How does God want to use you? If you grew up being told, “You were made for a purpose,” you have probably wondered, “Why did God create me? What purpose does He have for my life?” When we are in college, we often assume that God has really “big” purposes for our lives; however, if time goes by, and people don’t flock to our church simply because we preach there, it’s easy to scoff at our childish optimism. But should we? Is there anything inherently carnal about attempting great things for God?

God has equipped His church with people who have various gifts, according to His plan and His gracious provision (Eph. 4:11-12). Each of us has a gift that is valuable to the body (1 Cor. 12). That means that even though God sometimes chooses to supernaturally empower people for use in their area of weakness (Ex. 3-4; 2 Cor. 12:9), His normal operation is to gift people according to how He wants to use them. Additionally, He recognizes that there is a difference in people’s performance (1 Tim. 5:17). While He may allot the same gift to two people, the capacity of each individual in that gift may well be different. 

This then raises the question: How, and to what extent has God gifted each of us? What are we doing with those gifts? Are they lying dormant, or are they being stirred up like a fire for use (2 Tim. 1:6)? Are they stagnant, or are they being expanded through intentional development? Are we doing the best with the gifts we have been given (2 Tim. 2:15)? Is it possible that our lacking faith and inconsistent commitment to God’s calling could result in our not attaining to all He could have accomplished through us? To say it positively, is it possible that we, expecting great things from God, giving our very best to our Master, could see Him work through us in proportion to His great power (Eph. 1:19-20)? 

To use God’s words in Jeremiah 12, are we being wearied by footmen, or are we preparing to run with horses?

My Story: Why I Needed God to Say This to Me

During a period of ministry preparation and anticipation, I heard a convicting sermon on maximizing our ministry capacity. I had been told that I was gifted in some areas, but I had not been intentional about developing them, remaining stagnant and allowing my ministry tools to rust. 

That conviction led me to a concerted effort to prepare for when God called me back into full-time Christian work. I found a mentor, prepared financially, started graduate studies, and accepted a ministry position ideal for my development. Those three years of my life were transformative. My ministry capacity grew significantly. My model of church ministry was refined as I served within a church that prioritized making disciples. 

However, during that process, I hit a hiccup. I discovered something about myself that was inhibiting my capacity for the Kingdom—the same issue God addressed in Jeremiah 12.

Jeremiah had been faithfully prophesying in Judah, assured of God’s protection against backlash (Jer. 1:18-19). Yet, despite this, he learned of a plot against his life (Jer. 11:19), led by his own countrymen. At the beginning of chapter 12, he pleads with God to destroy these men who were devising evil against Him.

God’s response is striking, and was life-changing when He applied it to my life. “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”

If Jeremiah was so overwhelmed by the adversity within his own homeland, how was he going to survive when God expanded his ministry outside of Judah? If I, in this period of training and mentoring, was having such a hard time dealing with the challenges of ministry, how was God ever going to use me in the way He was preparing to use me? I could train and learn all I wanted, but my own thin skin was going to keep me from surviving where God was ultimately calling me. Every slight, every offensive word, every ministry setback was sending me into a tailspin. I was losing sleep, complaining to my wife, and sacrificing the joy of ministry through my lack of resiliency. God was working to expand my capacity, but it was being severely limited by my inability to overcome obstacles. 

How This Verse Transformed Me

This began a period of refocusing for me, of training my mind, emotions and faith. With God’s help, I started intentionally doing the things that brought about a perfect peace (Isa. 26:3) that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7). I strived to see the challenges of ministry from the perspective of God’s work in people’s lives, and to stop taking everything so personally!

Find a mentor with the wisdom to confront any wrong perspectives you may have.

Eventually, I got to the place I could thank God for giving me these challenges while I still had the “security blanket” of a ministry mentor, so that I could be prepared to face them when I was on my own.

How This Verse Can Transform You

You may not have thin skin, but there are many ways that “footmen” may wear us out. Some people are overly harsh when confronted. Some have underdeveloped leadership skills or poor Bible study habits. Some Christians have not taken definite steps to overcome their faith-sharing inhibitions. Some might find themselves always at odds with people and can’t understand why. These opportunities for personal development, when not seen and handled as such, are ministry-inhibitors, potential-limiters. 

God’s call to us, as to Jeremiah, is to recognize how our own attitudes and behaviors may be delaying God’s full use of us, and to change how we see the challenges of ministry. Rather than only being headaches to avoid, they are opportunities for us to grow in our ability to overcome future challenges. Doing so can drastically affect our ministry longevity and joy.

So, let’s equip ourselves to compete with horses. Let’s get our eyes off annoyances and hindrances, and on the calling God has given us. Let’s adjust our definition of ministry faithfulness to one that requires faithfully giving God the best possible return on His investment in us. Let’s do great things for God! Let’s celebrate, like Peter and the apostles in Acts 5, when we are counted worthy to suffer for Christ, and not cease teaching and preaching Christ when faced with adversity.

The challenges of ministry are opportunities for us to grow in our ability to overcome future challenges.

If footmen are wearing you out, the answer is not to look for an easier path, assuming that being in God’s will means the absence of challenges. Rather, there are definite steps you can take to increase your capacity to succeed in adversity.

  1. Find a mentor with the wisdom to confront any wrong perspectives you may have. The most valuable relationships in my life provide more than a sympathetic ear; they show me where I need to see my life from a more Biblical perspective.
  2. Expect God to use ministry hardships to accomplish the “good” of your growth. God’s design is not to use those situations to destroy us, but to equip us. “God, what do you want to teach me through this? How might I handle this situation more graciously next time a similar one arises?”
  3. Recognize that your suffering has value. Colossians 1:24 shows us that there is suffering that remains to be experienced for the sake of the gospel. Christ suffered. We suffer (to a much lesser extent!). That suffering has value, and you have been counted worthy to suffer alongside Christ for the sake of the kingdom! 
  4. Pursue personal growth in reflecting the character of Christ. Some of my most challenging moments have been ones that I have contributed to bringing about through my own abrasiveness or immaturity. Increasingly reflecting the love of Christ will further enable us to live at peace with all men, thereby decreasing the heartache of friction with other believers.
  5. Choose joy. James 1:2 tells us it is possible, even when facing various trials, to choose joy. That joy, based on what God is producing through your trial, can be what sustains us when embracing a bitter spirit would have ruined us.
  6. Be faithful. If God has called you, then He has the grace you need to persist. Giving our best now will be rewarded with greater opportunities for faithfulness in the days and ages to come (Mat. 25:21-23).
Joey Ratcliff
Joey Ratcliff
Joey Ratcliff is Campus Pastor at Aldersgate Christian Academy in Cincinnati, OH, where he resides with his wife, Andrea, and his five children. He is pursuing a Master of Divinity through Wesley Biblical Seminary.