To God be the glory: Jacob Kirkwood finds his strength in the Lord
As you walk around campus at Faith, it’s hard not to notice Jacob Kirkwood. The junior, All-American shot put thrower and competitive weight-lifter does not look like your average, every day, pastoral studies student. He’s a lumberjack of a man—brute in strength, yet gentle in spirit. Being noticed is something that Jacob is used to, but it hasn’t always been easy.
“When I was nine, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome,” said Jacob. “You won’t see it now, which is just God’s grace. When I was younger, things like blinking, twitching and making noises were common, so school was difficult.”
Jacob was raised in a Christian home in Dorchester, Illinois, an hour south of Springfield, and attended public school from kindergarten through senior high. He was in church every time the doors were opened and was saved at the age of seven. As a youngster in the tiny, rural town of fewer than 200, he distinctly remembers people at his church who asked if he’d ever thought about becoming a pastor.
The truth was, the idea of full-time ministry was an intense fear for Jacob, mostly because of the effects of his disorder. As he hit puberty, with all its hormones and changes to one’s body, the effects of Tourette’s got worse, peaking at the age of 15.
“I knew God, and I understood that He was sovereign,” said Kirkwood. “Understanding that sovereignty, I was like, ‘God, why did you do this to me? Why can’t I be like everybody else? Why are things harder for me?’ And, really, there was some bitterness that I harbored for a while.”
While Jacob’s growth spurt was wreaking havoc on his Tourette’s, the changes to his physical build and muscle mass were a true blessing. It was around that time that sports became an emotional outlet for him—something he could focus on to take his mind off of the twitching, blinking, and everything else that comes with the disorder. When it came to sports, Jacob could just be himself—especially underneath the mask of a football helmet.
“Sports were always a great outlet for me,” said Jacob. “At that time I was really getting into football. I was lifting, I was throwing, and I was very focused on being strong. But God actually used Tourette’s to break me, to bring me to a point of yielding.”
Jacob came to a realization that, no matter how strong he was physically, he would never be able to conquer Tourette Syndrome without God’s help. He came to a point in his life, through reading Scripture, when he began to understand he wasn’t alone in his journey.
“I was walking through 2 Corinthians 12,” said Jacob. “That whole passage was talking about Paul and his thorn. It doesn’t go into specifics about what Paul’s thorn was. Whatever it was, it was so bad, that even someone with the faith of Paul had to ask God to please take the thorn away from him. Verse nine says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Paul says, when I am weak I am made strong.”
At the age of 16, during a summer church camp in Illinois, Kirkwood’s life changed. It was at this time, while meditating on the passage in 2 Corinthians, that Jacob completely yielded himself and his battle with Tourette’s over to Christ.
“I was at church camp in Illinois and that’s when God used that passage and that time in the Word,” said Jacob. “Using that passage, and some other Godly influences in my life, I finally felt this tug towards ministry that I was resisting because I was terrified of preaching and being up in front of people. I realized it wasn’t going to be me, but it would be God’s strength that carried me through.”
Shortly after Jacob’s decision to yield his battle with Tourette’s over to Christ, his pastor came calling, asking Kirkwood to preach his very first sermon. It would be the supreme test–a test that would, ultimately, shape Jacob’s future calling into ministry.
“I was absolutely terrified,” said Jacob. “I was blinking and twitching like crazy. I was only 16. I just yielded to God and started to preach. It wasn’t the best sermon you’ve ever heard, but for a time, it felt like I didn’t even have Tourette’s. God gave me clarity that I’d never had before. I loved it and I knew it was something I wanted to do the rest of my life. I love people and I want to share the gospel. I knew that God was going to enable me beyond that which I was capable to preach.”
As he drew nearer to graduation, Kirkwood began to consider his options for college. Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary was high on his list.
“I knew some people that had gone to Faith, so I started looking into it,” said Jacob. “I was able to visit for Scholarship Weekend my senior year. Once I got here on campus, after meeting people, building connections, and getting to talk with a few professors, I was hooked in the first twenty minutes.”
Since his decision to attend Faith, Kirkwood has blossomed as a student-athlete and he mentioned the discipleship mentality on campus as one of his favorite things about Faith.
“The accessibility of discipleship is second to none,” said Jacob. “Men from the Faith faculty and staff began to disciple me. You don’t get those personal relationships at other colleges. It’s not normal. And the theology and classes that they teach here are amazing.”
Throughout the last three years, his strength (both spiritually and physically) has continued to grow. The spiritual strength and conditioning are built through his classes, discipleship, and his time in God’s Word. The physical strength comes mostly from his workouts at his favorite gym in Ankeny: MuscleBoundUSA. His training there is a big reason for his success in the shot put and discus.
Jacob trains as a powerlifter and has done some competitive events at MuscleBoundUSA. While he focuses on building muscle mass most of the year, he changes focus a few months before track and field season, focusing instead on agility and quickness.
“I can’t just be strong and slow,” said Jacob. “I have to be explosive in order to put myself in a good position to put the most force I can on a shot and disc.” Kirkwood finished third in last year’s NCCAA National Championships in the shot put, and fifth in the discus, earning him All-American honors as a sophomore.
While Kirkwood enjoys strength and conditioning at the gym, he also loves to share the gospel with others who are there. He uses the unique talents God has given him, along with a touch of craziness, to make an impact for Christ—like the martial arts demonstration he did with his grandfather last summer in his community.
“We had about 150-200 people at a block party we put on. We put up ads all over town, and in the paper, and offered all kinds of free items like haircuts and school supplies. We tried to provide a service to the community to get them out and then to share the gospel,” said Kirkwood.
Jacob’s “block party” included demonstrations of how to break concrete blocks with strength and martial arts. He added some flare to the routine by punching through blocks engulfed in flames.
“Don’t try this at home,” said Jacob, regarding the routine. “It only hurts if it doesn’t break. Then you’re just punching concrete. I’ve never broken any bones. I’ve done some things that didn’t feel good, but I’ve never had a serious injury. I got pretty close to setting myself on fire a couple of times, but we learned to temper our lighter fluid usage. It just burned a few hairs.”
As he finishes up his junior year at Faith, Kirkwood understands that a four-year Bible education might not be the right path for everyone, but he encourages all high school seniors to consider at least one year at Faith.
“Even if your track isn’t vocational ministry, you still need to come to Faith,” said Jacob. “Spend a year or two here and get yourself grounded. It’s going to equip you to have the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word and how to apply it. I’ve talked to so many students who just planned to spend a year here and told me it changed their life in how they viewed God’s Word.”
Kirkwood looks forward to his senior year and a future career as a pastor. As an attendee of Trinity Baptist Church in Des Moines, he’s had regular opportunities to preach and lead worship, strengthening his skill set to one day lead his own church. He plans to attend Seminary at Faith after graduating with his four-year degree.
“I know I’m called to preach and disciple people,” said Jacob.
Kirkwood’s ability to overcome a serious disorder, the fear of public speaking, persecutions, and bitterness towards God, is the perfect example that all of us can overcome weaknesses if we, like Jacob, yield them to the Lord and His strength.
To God be the glory.
2 Corinthians 12:10: Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.