When I was an idealistic fourteen-year-old, I read a biography of David Brainerd. I loved reading about missionaries like David Livingstone, C. T. Studd, and Amy Carmichael. They seemed to have no trouble inspiring devoted converts who made every sacrifice visibly worthwhile. But Brainerd’s story got off to a tragic start. The reason I remember so clearly how old I was when I read about him is because by the time he was my age, he was an orphan. I still had both of my parents, with many happy years left to enjoy both of them.
As I read on, I was staggered by the depth of his suffering. Yet his journals and prayers were characterized by a determination and passion to glorify God and devote his whole self entirely to His service. Reading his thoughts on the hardships of imparting the Christian faith to Native American communities that were troubled with alcoholism and destructive pagan practices caused me to marvel at how easy my life was in comparison and challenged me to aspire to greater spiritual devotion. The rugged path he chose to tread drew him to pursue intimacy with Christ, and he didn’t let the pain harden his soul.
In addition to spiritual struggles, his body was wracked with intense pain due to severe tuberculosis, which was badly aggravated by his poverty and strenuous lifestyle. His initial evangelistic efforts failed to make much of an impression, and the lack of success caused deep despair to cloud his earnest heart. Nevertheless, through his frequent bouts of the disease that would take his life, and the depression that at times drove him to the brink of suicide, Brainerd persevered.
By the time I finished Brainerd’s biography, I found that while my previously favored illustrious-hero-style biography was inspiring in its own way, Brainerd’s story had a finer beauty. Years have passed since I first discovered Brainerd’s courageous spirit and undivided devotion to Christ, but I’m still encouraged by his dedication when my own Christian walk looks more routine and common than fruitful and successful.
Brainerd was a missionary at a time and place drastically different from my own, and I may never face the incredible amount of adversity that he did, yet I have the same mission—to reflect God to a world in need of His love and light—and the same God who can help me overcome whatever obstacles I face.