Todd Pierce enters the horse pen slowly, calmly. Inside, a tan colt that has never been ridden trots in constant circles, nervously keeping his distance from Pierce.
“Over the next 45 minutes,” Pierce tells the crowd, “This three-year-old colt … is going to figure out what he was created for.”
It is the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Finals. The competition is over for the evening, but many in the crowd have stayed for “Faith Night.” Pierce, who for 10 years has served as pastor to many on the professional bull riding tour, is using a horse-breaking demonstration to make a powerful point.
As worship leader Jeremy Riddle sings about belonging to God, Pierce lets the colt run. But by the end of the song, it stands quietly, watching Pierce. Pierce approaches slowly, explaining that the horse fears losing his freedom, just as people may fear losing their freedom if they turn their lives over to Christ.
Pierce’s hand reaches out to touch the colt’s forehead. The horse allows it. Pierce’s hand moves down to the horse’s cheek as he explains, “The Bible says that all men, by nature, have a desire to live apart from God. They want to live their lives on their own terms. And somehow they’ve figured, If I can just keep busy enough, make enough money, pursue enough dreams, somehow I’ll find my purpose. The Bible says it’s impossible, that apart from God we can do no good thing. Our lives are going to be empty and purposeless unless we come to a submitted relationship with the Father.”
Pierce pets the horse’s neck and shoulder.
“The horse is starting realize that running isn’t near as nice as this,” he says. “He’s starting to realize that I’m not his enemy. And I love him so much that I’m not going to leave him to his own self.”
As Riddle sings another worship song, the horse allows Pierce to gently tie a rope around his neck and nose. “See, this horse doesn’t really have a meanness about him,” Pierce explains. “But he doesn’t understand what I want. The Bible says, ‘All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory'” (Romans 3:23).
To illustrate the desire of humans to run from God, Pierce removes the neck rope and lets the horse run again. Then another calm approach, and the horse is still once more.
“I want you to trust me,” Pierce says. He’s not talking to the horse; he is explaining how God wants us to trust that He has a purpose for us that we won’t see until we let Him have control.
Pierce explains that our sin separates us from God, but we can be born again when we confess our sins and receive Christ. Finally the horse, which minutes earlier had been running away, allows Pierce to bridle him, saddle him, sit on him and ride him.
Pierce urges the crowd to respond to God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation. He leads them in a prayer of repentance and invites people to speak with counselors stationed around the arena.
It’s an amazingly effective illustration. Last year, Pierce presented it to inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, which holds an annual spring rodeo. At the invitation, nearly every inmate and guard in attendance came forward, either for salvation or for healing of relationships.
A Change of Direction
The life-change that Pierce calls people to experience is what he himself experienced as a freshman at Idaho State University. At the time, Pierce says, he was a partier, a girl-chaser, a fighter and an athlete.
“I grew up in a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching family,” Pierce recalls. “But by the time I was in my early teens, religion kind of faded away like the Easter bunny—until I was in college and had a run-in with a guy named John Mitchell.”
Mitchell, who served with a campus ministry, made an appointment with Pierce after Pierce filled out a questionnaire about his spiritual beliefs. The two met one day in the student union. The conversation started with small talk.
Then, as Pierce puts it, Mitchell dropped the bomb: “God loves you, and He has a plan for your life,” Mitchell said.
“I believed him,” Pierce says, “and that was the beginning of the end of Todd Pierce as I knew him.”
Pierce did not receive Christ that day. But for two weeks, he says, he couldn’t get drunk or stoned enough to forget what Mitchell had said.
He phoned Mitchell.
“Alright,” Pierce said. “You’ve ruined my life. What’s next?”
The two met again, and Pierce prayed to receive Jesus Christ as His Savior.
And life got hard. Pierce had walked on to the school’s track team as a pole vaulter and had done well enough to be promised a scholarship for the following year.
“I was popular, had a nice truck, was getting decent grades and had girlfriends,” he recalls. “Now everything that my life had been built on was crumbling. I didn’t know how to have fun anymore. I didn’t know how I was going to fit God into my world. But over the next couple of years God showed me that He didn’t intend to have me fit Him into my schedule. He wanted to be my Father, and I would now be a part of His kingdom.”
A car wreck and a broken pelvis ended his pole vaulting career. When he recovered, he embarked on a surprising new path—the professional rodeo circuit. “It became a joke that track was too dangerous, so I went and rode bucking horses for a living,” Pierce says.
He was good—he ranked third in the world as a rookie and later won three championships in the Wilderness Circuit, which comprises Idaho, Utah and Nevada.
While still in college, he married Leslie, whom he had known since high school. Leslie had grown up in the Mormon Church, and at one time, she had said that no conversation could ever convince her to leave that faith. But the changes she saw in Pierce accomplished what no conversation could, and she gave her heart to Jesus Christ.
A Blank Check
Leslie and Todd were convinced that God wanted Todd to ride bucking horses, and they learned to trust Him as they pursued a career marked by constant travel and the risk of injury. Still, it wasn’t until Todd met again with John Mitchell—six years after his conversion—that he completely committed his life to Christ.
They met at a restaurant, and during the discussion, Mitchell drew on a napkin a picture of a blank check that said: “Pay to the order of Jesus Christ in the sum of my entire life.”
Mitchell said, “If you ever decide you want to fill that in, date it and sign it.” Pierce didn’t keep the napkin, but the message hit home.
“I realized that I didn’t want God to be part of my life. I didn’t want my life anymore. Whatever He had for me, that’s what I wanted.”
Not long after that, Pierce suffered an injury that would keep him out of competition for several months. While recovering, he was invited to speak about Jesus at a professional bull riding event. “Public speaking was horrifying to me,” he says now. “But I got asked to come back to another event the following week. And after that event, Leslie and I looked at each other and knew that this is exactly what God had prepared us to do. We’ve been doing that for 10 years now.”
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