I had originally planned to knock out all of these little reflections in a week’s time. I had five of them in mind, and the plan was to do one a day last week. As usual, my plans were sidetracked by a little bit of everything; won’t bore you with the details. Instead, I’ll just bore you with the next installment here.
One book that I took along with me on my little retreat was a biography of missionary David Brainerd by Vance Christie. I first heard of, and became interested in, Brainerd almost 25 years ago when I spent a summer on a Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota as a summer missionary. Since Brainerd may be the most well known missionary to the Indian (Native American for the PC) people, it was probably obvious for me to read about him at the time. Especially when my wife and I then went back to that same reservation for three years after seminary.
Thanks in large part to Jonathan Edwards and his publication of Brainerd’s diary, many know about this remarkable man of God. I enjoyed Christie’s arrangement of the missionary’s all too brief life and ministry. For those who don’t know, Brainerd died from tuberculosis at the age of 29, after only four short years of ministry. Yet, what an impact he made in those four years.
I don’t want to just recount his missionary exploits. I encourage you to pick up a copy of this journal or the biography or even John Piper’s much briefer version in the Swans are Not Silent series. Instead, I want to reflect on the overall lesson learned here. Actually, there are many, many things I learned from Brainerd’s life, but this one overarching theme stands out. Here it is: We’re Spoiled!
That’s it. See you next time.
Oh, I guess I should elaborate just a bit. Nearly ever other page of Christie’s book would say something like this. Brainerd fell suddenly ill and was unable to minister for several days. The man was constantly battling illness, constantly besieged by the emotional and spiritual struggles that come with such illness, and yet continued to find strength in Christ to push on.
He traveled thousands of miles on horseback, through the roughest terrain imaginable, actually becoming lost on more than one occasion, fighting the weather, living in the most challenging conditions, etc. And yet he pushed on, preaching the gospel everywhere he found people. Yes, his primary ministry was to the Indian people, but he would stop and preach anywhere to anyone. His sole desire, and soul desire, was to be a “flame for God.”
And we complain about the petty struggles in our life. We are so spoiled. And by “we” I mean primarily the American church. I know there are others out there even today who are continuing to live in harsh circumstances, even under persecution. Yet, the American church is busy fighting over worship styles and suits vs. jeans and whatever else we can whine about. We’re spoiled.
So many in this country have never known a single day of the kind of sacrifice men like Brainerd made. And yet even death wasn’t enough to frighten him. Granted, his bouts with despondency often made him wish for death, but even at the end, as his illness made death a certainty, his view was one that looked to it for what I would call the “right reason.” He said, “Oh, the glorious time is now coming! I have longed to serve God perfectly: Now God will gratify those desires!”
Lesson number four, then, would simply be this: I’m spoiled.
My response: I need to grow up and live for Christ with every ounce of my being and stop whining about whatever little tribulation might come my way. God is greater than any trial, and Brainerd is proof that a life lived in Him can overcome any of those things and have great impact on the kingdom (especially in light of lesson three in the previous post!)
Thank God for the ministry of men like David Brainerd.