I’ve been working on a sermon focusing on the work of prayer in living on mission (from Matthew 9:35-10:4), and there’s no better example I can think of than the life of David Brainerd. Over the past couple of days, I have been reading over his journal, and I wanted to share with you some excerpts where he expresses his passion for God and the “conversion of the heathen” as a result of God enlarging and warming his heart through earnest, pleading prayer.
Consider these journal excerpts of a life of “constant devotedness to God.”
“After this, in he vacancy, before I went to tarry at the college, it pleased God to visit my soul with clearer manifestations of Himself and His grace. I was spending some time in prayer and self-examination, when the Lord by His grace so shined into my heart that I enjoyed full assurance of His favor, for that time; and my soul was unspeakably refreshed with divine and heavenly enjoyments” (71).
“One day I remember in particular, I walked to a considerable distance from the college, in the fields alone at noon, and in prayer found such unspeakable sweetness and delight in God that I thought, if I must continue still in this evil world, I wanted always to be there, to behold God’s glory. My soul dearly loved all mankind, and longed exceedingly that they should enjoy what I enjoyed. It seemed to be a little resemblance of heaven” (72).
“Then God gave me to wrestle earnestly for others, for the kingdom of Christ in the world, and for dear Christian friends. I felt weaned from the world and from my own reputation amongst men, willing to be despised and to be a gazing stock for the world to behold. It is impossible for me to express how I then felt. I had not much joy, but some sense of the majesty of God, which made me as it were tremble. I saw myself mean and vile, which made me more willing that God should do what He would with me; it was all infinitely reasonable” (77).
“I retired early this morning into the woods for prayer; had the assistance of God’s Spirit and faith in exercise. Was enabled to plead with fervency for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world and to intercede for dear absent friends. At noon, God enabled me to wrestle with Him and to feel, as I trust, the power of divine love in prayer” (80).
“I set this day for fasting and prayer to God for His grace; especially to prepare me for the work of the ministry, to give me divine aid and direction in my preparations for that great work, and in His own time to send me into His harvest. Accordingly, in the morning, I endeavored to plead for the divine presence for the day, and not without some life. In the forenoon, I felt the power of intercession for precious, immortal souls; for the advancement of the kingdom of my dear Lord and Savior in the world; and withal, a most sweet resignation and even consolation and joy in the thoughts of suffering hardships, distresses, and even death itself, in the promotion of it. Had special enlargement in the pleading for the enlightening and conversion of the poor heathen” (80).
“Oh, it was blessed company indeed! God enabled me so to agonize in prayer that I was quite wet with perspiration, though in the shade and the cool wind. My soul was drawn out very much for the world, for multitude of souls. I think I had more enlargement for sinners than for the children of God, though I felt as if I could spend my life in cries for both. I enjoyed great sweetness in communion with my dear Savior. I think I never in my life felt such an entire weanedness from this world and so much resigned to God in everything. Oh, that I may always live to and upon my blessed God! Amen, amen” (80-81).
“This morning I spent about two hours in secret duties and was enabled more than ordinarily to agonize for mortal souls. Though it was early in the morning and the sun scarcely shined at all, yet my body was quite wet with sweat” (81).
“Felt something of the sweetness of communion with God and the constraining force of His love. How admirably it captivates the soul and makes all the desires and affections to center in God! I set apart this day for secret fasting and prayer, to entreat God to direct and bless me with regard to the great work I have in view, of preaching the gospel; and that the Lord would return to me, and show me the light of His countenance” (88).
“While I was pleading for more compassion for immortal souls, my hearted seemed to be opened at once and I was enabled to cry with great ardency for a few minutes. Oh, I was distressed to think that I should offer such dead, cold services to the living God! My soul seemed to breathe after holiness, a life of constant devotedness to God” (89).
“Felt some compassion for souls and mourned I had no more. I feel much more kindness, meekness, gentleness, and love towards all mankind, than ever. I long to be at the feet of my enemies and persecutors; enjoyed some sweetness in feeling my soul conformed to Christ Jesus, and given away to Him forever” (99).
“I am, of late, most of all concerned for ministerial qualifications and the conversion of the heathen. Last year, I longed to be prepared for a world of glory and speedily to depart out of this world; but of late all my concern almost is for the conversion of the heathen, and for that end I long to live” (170).
“In prayer I was exceedingly enlarged and my soul was much drawn out as ever I remember it to have been in my life, or near. I was in such anguish and pleaded with so much earnestness and importunity that when I rose from my knees, I felt extremely weak and overcome—I could scarcely walk straight. My joints were loosed, the sweat ran down my face and body, and nature seemed as if it would dissolve. So far as I could judge, I was wholly free from selfish ends in my fervent supplications for the poor Indians. I knew they were met together to worship devils and not God. This made me cry earnestly that God would now appear and help me in my attempts to break up this idolatrous meeting. My soul pleaded long; and I thought God would hear and would go with me to vindicate His own cause. I seemed to confide in God for His presence and assistance” (173).
“In the first discourse I had scarce any warmth or affectionate longing for souls. In the intermediate season I got alone among the bushes and cried to God for pardon of my deadness, and was in anguish and bitterness that I could not address souls with more compassion and tender affection. I judged and condemned myself for want of this divine temper, though I saw I could not get it as of myself any more than I could make a world” (183-84).