Archive for June, 2011
David Brainerd spent his 25th birthday in a most unusual way. Instead of eating birthday cake or lunch at his favorite restaurant, instead of spending the day with his friends and family, the young man went into the woods to be alone with God for the entire day. Here’s what he said about it in his diary:
“Set apart for fasting and prayer, to bow my soul before God for the bestowment of divine grace; especially that all my spiritual afflictions and inward distresses might be sanctified to my soul. And endeavored also to remember the goodness of God to me the year past, this day being my birthday.”
That year was 1743, and Brainerd would live only another four years before leaving this world and entering eternity. In his 29 years, Brainerd certainly knew his share of hardship and suffering. His dad died when he was 9 years old. Five years later, his mom died as well. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for someone so young to lose both of his parents.
As a young man, Brainerd had sensed God’s calling to be a pastor, and he enrolled at Yale University to get the education necessary to pursue that calling. In his second year at Yale, he was sent home with a sickness so bad he was spitting blood. The culprit was tuberculosis, which would eventually claim his life.
He returned to Yale but then violated a university rule when he publicly questioned the salvation of the rector and one of his tutors. That indiscretion led to his expulsion from the university. Though he later apologized for his actions, Yale would not let him return. Since ministers in Connecticut had to graduate from Harvard, Yale or a European institution, his expulsion was a tremendous blow – because it meant he could never fulfill his dreams of a life as a minister.
There will undoubtedly be times in your life when you will face disappointments like Brainerd did. As he left Yale, Brainerd must have felt a deep sense of loss and wondered what the future held for him. He may have questioned God’s goodness in the face of shattered dreams. I must admit, I’ve been there myself many times, and I’m sure you will be as well. It would be wise, as you grow up, to prepare yourself for the inevitable disappointments that will come your way in life. Things will seldom turn out exactly the way you want them to, and you must learn to trust God’s hand even when you don’t understand where it is leading you. Heed the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
In Brainerd’s case, God certainly did have plans for him – plans that had eternal blessings for thousands of others. Brainerd ended up working among Indian tribes as a missionary in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The work was excruciatingly difficult at times. Brainerd suffered through loneliness, cold, hunger and multiple physical ailments. But he didn’t let such afflictions discourage him: “Such fatigues and hardship as these serve to wean me more from the earth; and, I trust, will make heaven the sweeter,” he wrote.
His ministry led to the conversion of several Indians to Christianity, so in a small sense he was able to see some of the fruits of his work. But the greatest impact Brainerd would have upon the kingdom of God came after he died. The great preacher Jonathan Edwards took Brainerd’s diary and published it in 1749 – and the book has never been out of print since. Brainerd’s accounts of his difficult ministry and the way he trusted God through all his trials served as fuel for the missionary zeal of countless others, including the likes of William Carey, David Livingston, John Wesley, Andrew Murray and Jim Elliott, just to name a few.
As John Piper has written, “ .. Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.”
So, Daniel, as you celebrate your 8th birthday, my prayer is that you would be as faithful to the Lord as David Brainerd was – that no matter what difficulties and challenges you face in your life, you would put your hope solely and completely in our gracious and loving God. I pray that the Lord would draw you to faith in Christ while you are young and stir in your heart a desire to see the gospel spread among all the peoples of the earth. In short, my prayer for you echoes what Brainerd himself wrote so long ago on his 25th birthday, that day he spent in the woods: “Oh, that God would enable me to live to His glory for the future!”
Happy birthday, buddy. You make me so happy, and I love you very, very much.