In 1904, 16-year-old William Whiting Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. He was heir to the Borden family fortune. As a graduation gift, before beginning his Ivy League education, his parents sent him on a trip around the world. As he traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he developed a deep burden for the hurting people of the world.
William Borden wrote home about his desire to become a missionary. Some expressed skepticism that he would be wasting his life if he committed himself to the mission field. Many thought he should assume his place with the family empire. In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No Reserves.”
Borden arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905. His classmates quickly noticed something unusual about him and it wasn’t that he was wealthy. One student wrote: “He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ… We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration.”
It didn’t take long for Borden to notice what he described as “moral weakness and sin-ruined lives” at Yale. Surveying the faculty and much of the student body, Borden mourned what he identified as empty, humanistic philosophy. During his college years, Bill Borden made an entry in his personal journal; it said simply: “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”
Borden started a small prayer group at Yale that ended up transforming campus life. This prayer group gave birth to a movement that rapidly spread through the student body. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting weekly for bible study and prayer. By his senior year, 1000 of Yale’s 1300 students were meeting in prayer groups.
Borden’s ministry was not confined to Yale. He also cared about widows, orphans, and the disabled. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven and founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of Borden’s friends wrote that he “might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ.”
Borden’s missionary call narrowed to the Muslim people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, he never wavered. One of his classmates said: “[Borden] certainly was one of the strongest characters I have ever known… There was real iron in him. I always felt he was of the stuff martyrs were made of…” Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: “No Retreats.”
William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.
When the news of Borden’s death was cabled back to the U.S., nearly every American newspaper carried the story. Sorrow over the loss of this amazing young man was felt around the globe. Many believed Borden wasted his life, arguing that he should’ve focused on the family business rather than becoming a missionary.
Upon receiving his things Borden’s family discovered that prior to his death, while laying sick in Egypt, he wrote two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No Reserves” and “No Retreats,” Borden wrote: “No Regrets.”
As a young man William Borden made a conscious decision to give up his wealth, influence, claim to the family business, and all the advantages that came along with it. So, was his untimely death a waste? No way. God used Borden’s story to call thousands of young men and women to give their lives to missions. Borden’s life became an inspiration to people around the world.
Many of us are tempted to play it safe with our life and ministry. We often retreat from difficulty. When we look back, we frequently have many regrets because we fail to live ‘all in’ for God. Let me remind you, Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it.
So, live with no reserve. Whatever it is, or whatever you are facing, don’t hold back. You’ve only got one life; give it all you’ve got. Live with no retreat. Don’t take the easy path just because it’s easy. Move forward in what God is leading you to do no matter how difficult. Live with no regret. Follow Jesus wherever he leads without caution.
Like Borden, say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time. Then at the end of your life, you too, will be able to say that you lived with “No Reserves, No Retreats, and No Regrets.”
(Sources: Mary Taylor; Howard Culbertson; Alan Taylor; Daily Bread 1988)
(Disclaimer: This encouraging story was shared with me over 10 years ago by a pastor via email; I’ve shared it many times in sermons and lessons, but am unaware of where this version originated)