There’s something about seeing David Brainerd quotes posted online that makes me smile. Not a discrediting smile (I love his quotes!), but a sympathetic smile.
Brainerd’s journals have moved me profoundly. In fact, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd is the only autobiography I remember setting down mid-reading—not just once or twice, but almost every time I pick it up—moved to fervent prayer. His heart for God freely (and rawly) expressed in those pages, which he believed no one would read as he penned them, is that real and that convicting.
I smile, however, when I see his quotes because his journal was often so contradictory. Like some of us, he encountered extreme highs and lows. But the posted quotes rarely even hint of the contradictions Brainerd lived with.
Take for instance, this quote:
“O, I long to live to God!”
That would sound awesome on Twitter. You read it and get the sense that every breath of his life and space in his heart was consumed with the desire to fully and freely give all to the Lord.
But then the next entry in his journal reads:
I exceedingly long to die; and yet, through divine goodness, have felt very willing to live, for two or three days past.
It kind of puts that first quote in perspective, doesn’t it? At the time of these entries, Brainerd was not only struggling through the pain of tuberculous, but he was also fighting a deep depression.
It’s not just Brainerd, however. I’m sure if we had the private journals of Spurgeon, Moody, Judson, Taylor, or any others, we would find something similar. We read a single well-shaped statement and assume that it represents their entire life. But the reality is that their lives, as well as ours, are stories, not quotes.
And the same goes for modern-day leaders. We read a book they’ve written or a social media post they’ve shared and assume their lives are a continuous upward climb in growth, fervency, and grace.
And our own growth, by comparison, seems anemic and futile. We may even assume God is hardly even at work in our lives. But this is undoubtedly not true.
So what do you do with other people’s snapshots of victory?
Learn from spiritual giants, but don’t compare yourself to them.
Actually, comparing ourselves to anyone is unwise.
For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.—2 Corinthians 10:12
Comparison usually leads to pride or discouragement for two reasons: First, we don’t know the whole story. (We don’t know if we’re seeing the other person’s best moment or worst moment or a true ordinary snapshot.) And second, we don’t have a big-picture perspective of our own lives. (We don’t know how God may be already developing that very same work of grace in us.)
Appreciate and learn from others’ strongest statements and best-articulated expressions of truth. But don’t be discouraged if your life doesn’t match theirs. Let their victories be signposts of encouragement rather than measurements of defeat.
Remember God is writing your life as a story, not as a snapshot.
Part of the reason I use Brainerd as an example is that we have his raw, unfiltered “other” days recorded as well. But truthfully, I would venture to say that every quote we love has some life surrounding it that is comprised of less quotable material.
The sentiments Brainerd wrote that we love were true expressions of his heart. And so were the ones we like to pretend he never said.
The problem for us comes when we compare our full-life picture to that one moment in his (or anyone else’s) life.
God is writing your life as a story, so don’t get discouraged with the moments.
Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.—Psalm 143:10
And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.—Isaiah 42:16
Trust God’s perspective, and receive His grace one moment at a time.
God meets us with His grace in the moment, but He sees the whole story He is writing.
This means that we should trust God’s perspective and that we should receive His grace one moment at a time.
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.—James 4:6
So trust Him. Trust that He is working in your life. That He will conform you to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28–29). That He will finish this good work He has begun (Philippians 1:6).
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.—Proverbs 3:5–6
I remember as a young teenager reading biographies of men like Jim Elliot and assuming that spiritual fruit could be developed basically as fast as I could recognize my need for it and want it. I need more faith? Great! I’ll start using more faith then.
But life doesn’t work that way. And neither does God. He develops His fruit in our lives over time.
Even as God calls us to look to the great heroes of faith in Scripture and to learn from how He worked in their lives, He tells us this should encourage our patience and give comfort as we see the ups and downs of their lives as well.
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.—Romans 15:4
So let the victories and insights of others be encouragements to your faith. Learn from their quotes. Be challenged by their lives.
But continue to let God write your story.