In 1883, a country boy from Marshalltown, Iowa arrived in Chicago, Illinois wearing a newly purchased sage-green suit. The small town boy was named Billy Sunday and was destined to not only be a great baseball player for the Chicago White Stockings (now called the Cubs), but was about to be used of God as the most successful evangelist of his day… but first things first.
Cap Anson, the captain of the team, had heard about this young ball player from his favorite aunt and had invited him to Chicago for a strange tryout. With a twinkle in his eye, Cap said, “Billy, they tell me that you can run some. How about putting on a little race at the ballpark this morning against Fred Pfeffer, our crack runner?” “Anything you say, Mr. Anson,” Billy agreed. Someone found an oversized uniform for Billy and the race was on. At the finish Sunday, running barefoot against Pfeffer, had won a place on the team by winning the race with 15 feet to spare.
But getting on a professional baseball team wasn’t the prize God had in mind for young Billy.
Like many of us, Billy’s race through life had a rough start. His father had died just a month after his birth so Billy and his two brothers lived in poverty until they were placed in an orphanage, where they remained for two years. He received minimal schooling, and worked as a janitor for a time before finally arriving in Chicago.
As a professional baseball player, he wasn’t an exceptional hitter, but his base running put gray hairs on the heads of opposing managers. One year he stole 95 bases and held the record of just 14 seconds for his speed in circling the bases.
But the most memorable run for baseball’s speediest player, occurred not on the field but when he ran to the foot of the Cross in 1887.
In later years Billy recounted the experience in these terms:
“I walked down State Street in Chicago one Sunday afternoon with some baseball players whose names were world renowned. We entered a saloon and drank and then walked to the corner of State and Van Buren Streets, which was then a vacant lot.
Some men and women were in a wagon playing instruments and singing Gospel hymns that I had heard my mother singing in our log cabin back in Iowa. We sat on the curbstone and listened. An ex-gambler and counterfeiter named Harry Monroe stepped out and said, ‘Don’t you want to hear the story of men who used to be pickpockets, safe-crackers, burglars, second-story men, drunkards, and have done time in the big house, and who today are sober, honest, have good homes, and are trusted and respected… and of women who used to sell their womanhood to whoever would buy, who were slaves to dope and drink, and are now married and have children of their own? Come down to the Mission and hear stories of redeemed lives that will stir you.’
I turned to [my friends] and said, ‘Boys, I bid the old life good-bye.’ Some laughed, some smiled, some shrugged their shoulders, and some looked with mingled expressions of admiration and disgust. One fellow said, ‘All right, Billy, if that’s the way you feel about it.’ I went to the Pacific Garden Mission that evening and liked what I heard and one night went forward and publicly accepted Christ as my Savior. I have followed Jesus from that day to this very second and will continue until He leads me through the pearly gate into the presence of God and the gate closes on its jeweled hinges.”
In 1891 Sunday declined a $500-a-month salary, top pay in those days, to work at the YMCA in Chicago for $83 a month. He was a poor speaker with a lot of stammering and stumbling according to biographer William T. Ellis, a contemporary of Sunday’s. But God had a plan that was bigger than sports for this young athlete.
By 1896 he was preaching full-time and, in his remarkable ministry through the 1920’s, spoke to 100 million people, with over one million people accepting Christ in his many revivals. Even though he lacked any formal education, Billy Sunday spoke eloquently of Jesus all across America including many university campuses.
Billy Sunday was indeed one of a kind. He was not an original thinker, and admittedly drew sermon outlines from other ministers of the Gospel. He was unconventional, to the point of smashing chairs and standing on the pulpit to make his point in a sermon. But God used this man of humble origins to impact his world for Christ. He was indeed a Sunday to remember.
Just think what God can do with you and me if we willingly and faithfully run the race God sets before us… we might be a Monday, Tuesday, or even a Wednesday to remember.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1–3
Think about it…