David Brainerd was a frail young man, tubercular, sickly, and easily depressed. He longed to reach the Indians of Colonial America, but his first venture to a tribe in Massachusetts was fraught with danger. Unknown to him, his every move was monitored by warriors intent on killing him. But as they raised their bows, they saw a rattlesnake slithering alongside him, lifting its head, flicking its tongue, preparing to strike. Suddenly the snake uncoiled and glided away. The warriors attributed Brainerd’s safety to the “Great Spirit.”

But the incident didn’t lead to sustained evangelistic fruitfulness, and Brainerd’s missionary work in 1743 saw little success. His despondency increased during Christmas. He wrote, I was very fatigued with my journey, wherein I underwent great hardships; much exposed and very wet by falling into the river. The next year was no better; he grew even more depressed.

On January 3, 1745, Brainerd set aside the entire day for fasting and prayer, pleading for an outpouring of spiritual power. He claimed the promise in John 7: Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving waters flowing from deep inside you. …

Then he preached repeatedly from John 7, and the unfolding year proved the most fruitful of his ministry. His interpreter, an alcoholic named Tattamy, was converted. An immediate change seemed to transform Tattamy’s life and his translating of Brainerd’s sermons. Scores of Indians were saved and baptized.

Brainerd grew weaker, and in 1747 he died at age 29 in the home of Jonathan Edwards. But his story moved his generation—Henry Martyn, William Carey, Adoniram Judson—toward missions. His diary became one of the most powerful Christian books in early American history, containing such entries as this one: Here am I, send me; send me to the ends of the earth; send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort on earth; send me even to death itself, if it be but in Thy service and to promote Thy kingdom.

On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink! Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you, just as the Scriptures say.” Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit …(John 7:37-39a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan.3.

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