In the spring of 1747, a young missionary showed up at the Edwards family home. He was quite ill, and seventeen-year-old Jerusha took up the task of caring for him. For nineteen weeks, she cared for this young man. In October of 1747, he died of tuberculosis, which he had previously contracted while proclaiming Jesus’ love to the Native Americans of New England. Due to her care, the young missionary was able to complete his diary and leave it with Jerusha’s father for publication. That diary has never been out of print in over 250 years. The young missionary was David Brainerd, whose diary has inspired many Christians over the last two centuries.
I wonder how often David Brainerd, as he lay in bed during the final weeks of his life, was tempted to think his life was a waste. He was prevented from completing his education at Yale. He never became an ordained minister. He had only four years of ministry, and even that was of questionable value in the eyes of others. Nevertheless, it is David Brainerd who is now remembered more than the famous instructors of Yale who made the decision to expel him. Brainerd is remembered for his diary and the experiences he wrote in it more than the sermons he preached to the Native Americans.
It might be that thing we do in secret, that sacrifice we make when we don’t think anyone notices, which becomes the real reason for our life.
The way we think, day in and day out, gives to us a foundational key to sustaining joyful living on a daily basis. Joy is built upon the foundation of daily thinking in a manner that reflects our Father’s heart. In order to remember what we’ve been given, we need to think in a correct manner. I believe this is what Paul is telling us to do in Philippians 4; we are to think in a way that does not come naturally to us. Remember that Jesus told his disciples that what comes out of our mouth reveals what is in our heart. What Paul is doing is revealing to us a different thought language. It is a language that reveals the heart of God through the Spirit.
While most of us agree that we should think in this manner, I believe that there is subtle opposition to this way of thinking. I saw this when we were living in Rome. One day, I was speaking with our neighbor. I don’t remember the topic of our conversation, but at one point, I commented about how our children enjoyed good health. Quite seriously, she told me not to speak in that manner. She believed talking about the positive aspects of our life brings a curse on us. It struck me how different that type of thinking is. If you live in a culture that discourages speaking about positive aspects of life, then you might be tempted to think negatively so that you don’t somehow curse yourself.
I think we subtly have the same tendency in our culture. Recently, I was speaking with someone at work. I mentioned that we had not had any problem calls that day. He responded, “tongue in cheek,” by saying, “let’s not jinx it.” Let’s knock on wood so that it will continue. Now he was joking, but that line of thinking has a belief foundation from somewhere, otherwise it would not exist in our language. This type of speaking can discourage us from thinking in the manner Paul described, because we might fear “jinxing” the good things in our life. So, we subtly begin to think negatively and hope that positive things will occur. Not much different from how our Italian friend would think. However, Jesus did not teach us to live, speak or think in this manner.
A number of times in his writings, Paul referred to running a race. This would have made sense to the Greek mindset that was accustomed to athletic games which included running. Paul emphasizes how important it is to keep the goal or finish line in mind. Several years ago, I ran in the Helvetia Half Marathon in Hillsboro, Oregon—thirteen point one miles. My goal was to run the race at a pace a little faster than an eight-minute mile pace, or to finish the race in under an hour and forty-five minutes. Fortunately, the race had pacers who ran with helium-filled balloons attached to them so that you could see them. Since there were so many racers, I could not get up with the eight-minute mile pacer, so I began with the eight-and-a-half-minute mile pacer. I realized that, since I was starting after the eight-minute mile pacer, if I could catch her by the end of the race, then I would have accomplished my goal and would have run under one hour and forty-five minutes. At the seven-and-a-half-mile point, I reached the highest elevation of the race and could see far ahead. That was when I saw my goal, the balloons of the eight-minute mile pacer. For the rest of the race, I kept her in my sight, running to catch up to her. At twelve and a half miles, less than a mile from the finish line, I caught and passed her. As I did, she encouraged me to keep going and finish under an hour and forty-five. I did, finishing a bit under one hour and forty-four minutes.
On the other hand, several years after I ran that half marathon, I ran in a five-kilometer race—just three point one miles. My goal was to run it under twenty minutes. When I started, I had a glitch with my watch, so I didn’t have an accurate time of when I began. When I finished, I knew I was close to twenty minutes. When the results came, I finished at twenty minutes and two seconds. Two seconds over twenty minutes, I had missed my goal. If I had a clear idea of my goal as I got close to the finish line, I believe I could have cut two or three seconds off my time. As we run the race of life, we must keep Jesus firmly in our sight, because he is our goal; otherwise, we can become distracted and miss our goal. The purpose of our life is to become like him.
In 1980, a movie came out called Little Lord Fauntleroy. It was about a little American boy, Cedric or Ceddie, and his aristocratic English grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt. At the beginning of the movie, it was believed that Ceddie was the last surviving heir to his grandfather. He was brought from America to England and began to learn what it meant to be an Earl. Actually, it was Ceddie who taught his grandfather what it meant to be an Earl, but that is another story. At a certain point, there entered another boy whose mother claimed that he was Ceddie’s older cousin. This boy’s mother, who had been married to Ceddie’s uncle, claimed her son was the legitimate heir. When the grandfather told Ceddie that he was not to be the Earl, Ceddie was not saddened by the loss of the title, but was gripped with fear that he would no longer be his grandfather’s little boy. It was the relationship with his grandfather that little Ceddie treasured, not the title or the benefits of that title. My friends, knowing Jesus is our great treasure, much more so than the blessings he gives to us, the greatest of which is eternal life.