Review: The Life of David Brainerd
Canton, Ohio houses the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a memorial honoring the best football players for their impact on the sport. The Hall showcases the accomplishments of talented, disciplined, and hardworking men.
But behind the fame and glory, the Hall conveys an additional message about these players. They put in long hours of practice, overcame obstacles, and endured challenges for one reason—these men valued football above everything else.
Unlike other heroes, the lives of Christian heroes reveal a value for God above all else. These men and women usually possessed little talent, lived quiet lives, and demonstrated more weakness than strength. Yet Scripture reveals that God works powerfully in weak, surrendered servants, and receives glory because of it. God chooses the weak things of the world to humiliate the strong.
David Brainerd is one of those surrendered servants through whom God demonstrated His gracious power and love. His life clearly communicates that all he endured and suffered was worth it for the opportunity to advance the gospel.
Just over 80 miles northeast of Canton, Joe Tyrpak of Church Works Media has provided a showcase of the life of David Brainerd through a concise yet clear documentary. Church Works Media is a ministry that seeks to “provide resources for intentional church ministry.” And through their music, devotionals, and now this documentary, they have faithfully fulfilled this ministry.
How then can a documentary of David Brainerd’s life benefit Christians? Brainerd’s life reflects the description of faithful saints in Hebrews 12:1–2. Brainerd joined the heroes of the faith who, by the witness of their lives, testified of God’s sufficiency through their suffering and sacrifice. Their lives reflect Christ, the ultimate picture of joy in suffering. Brainerd’s example of genuine love for God and focus on finding joy in Him despite life’s circumstances has challenged and blessed many believers.
And Brainerd’s life was full of difficult circumstances. His parents passed away during his childhood years. He was expelled from Yale, wrestled internally with crippling doubt and discouragement, and struggled with a persistent sickness which eventually took his life at the age of 29. His ministry also suffered setbacks and discouragement. We remember Brainerd now for the way God used him to begin a spiritual awakening among the Native Americans in New Jersey. However, Brainerd’s earlier ministry, produced little to no evident spiritual fruit.
Brainerd’s life shows us the value of enduring difficulties. Through his struggle we see reflections of Christ who was the ultimate picture of joy in suffering. Brainerd testifies that the gospel will relieve our hurting souls and illuminate our darkened hearts. His faithful love for God and passionate pursuit of Him challenges us in our own walk with God, spurring us on to spiritual discipline and endurance. Even in death, David Brainerd reminds us that life is short, yet well spent in complete service to God for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. David Brainerd’s life magnifies the grace and mercy of God, and challenges us to follow his example.
Jonathan Edwards stated in the introduction to his classic edition of the journal of David Brainerd that his purpose for publishing this work was not to show what a great missionary looked like, but to highlight an exemplary Christian. Tyrpak’s documentary does the same. While Tyrpak documents Brainerd’s spiritual successes, he also shares Brainerd’s weaknesses. Joe, along with other scholars of Brainerd’s life, clearly identify Brainerd’s struggles while marveling at God’s grace evident in his many battles of discouragement.
I would encourage you to get this documentary and watch it together with your family. Older kids may grasp its message better than younger ones, but children of all ages can benefit from a discussion of Brainerd’s life. This documentary provides a great opportunity to talk about suffering, spiritual disciplines, ministry, and the value of seeing Christ reflected in saints who have gone before us.
Teachers, you can use this video as a great tool to help your students see God’s continual grace through church history. Pastors and youth workers will benefit from learning about this hero of the faith while gleaning sermon illustrations and wonderful quotations. Church congregations can receive encouragement from the video’s message about spiritual disciplines and evidences of God’s grace through difficulties.
The story of David Brainerd reminds me of Asaph’s words in Psalm 78:5–7.
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.
This documentary of Brainerd’s life is a great resource to teach the next generation. Use it to encourage them to hope in God, remember His works, and keep His commandments.
You can purchase this documentary here.
Born in Chicago but raised out West in a pastor’s family, Jason Ehmann has been involved with ministry all his life. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Bible and a master’s in Counseling, Jason has served as youth pastor, senior pastor, and now president at Positive Action. Today he helps pastors and teachers show God’s glory and grace to their students. A big fan of coffee, Jason also enjoys skiing and football, as well as art and design. He and his wife live in North Carolina with their four children.