October is of course most notable for the celebration of Halloween. And the phrase most associated with Halloween is certainly the words: “trick or treat!” Now we are all familiar with the Halloween practice of children wearing costumes and going from door to door in neighborhoods. As they proceed from house to house, children yell “trick or treat” when a door is opened to ask for treats, with the implied threat of playing tricks on those who refuse to cooperate.
I don’t know about you, but at times God seems to play “trick or treat” with us His Christian children. The problem, however, is that He turns the tables on those knocking on His door by playing an apparently diabolical trick on His children, rather than providing a delicious treat to enjoy. Now we all know that God is good and is never the author of evil, and He certainly never attempts to deceive us. The Scriptures assure us of this (e.g. James 1:13-17). It is not in His holy character to do so. But having said that, when we encounter various, difficult, and lasting hardships in life, whether financial, physical, emotional, relational, or otherwise, we are tempted to believe that God leans more toward tricking rather than treating us.
At least on the surface, to the unaided spiritual eye, it appears that way.
Consider the life of William Whiting Borden. Borden converted to Christ as a young boy after listening to the preaching of his pastor in Chicago, the famed R.A. Torrey. In 1904 William graduated from The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania—a prestigious boarding school known for sending its alumni to Princeton University. As heir to the Borden Dairy estate, William was already a millionaire. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave him a yearlong trip around the world. As he traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, Borden felt a burden for the world’s hurting people. He wrote a letter to his parents and informed them he wanted to spend the rest of his life as a missionary. At the same time, he wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”
During Borden’s college years at Yale University, he was a solid rock in the Christian community. One entry in his personal journal that defined the source of his spiritual strength simply said: “Say no to self and yes to Jesus every time.” During his first semester at Yale, Borden started a small prayer group that would transform campus life. This little group gave birth to a movement that spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting for weekly Bible study and prayer. By the time he was a senior, 1,000 of Yale’s 1,300 students were meeting in such groups. Borden also strategized with his fellow Christians to make sure every student on campus heard the gospel, and he was often seen ministering to the downtrodden in the streets of New Haven, Connecticut.
Borden’s real passion, however, was missions. Once he narrowed his missionary call to the Kansu people in China, William never equivocated. Upon graduation from Yale, he wrote two more words in the back of his Bible: “No retreats.” In keeping with that commitment, Borden turned down several high-paying job opportunities, enrolling in seminary instead. After graduating, he immediately went to Egypt to learn Arabic because of his desire to work with Muslims in China. While in Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Whiting Borden was dead. Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he had written: “No regrets.”
On the surface, Borden’s death appears to be a tragedy and perhaps a divine, diabolical trick, resulting in a wasted life. But God took the tragedy, the apparent trick, and made it as it were a delectable, divine treat. How so? When young men and women read Borden’s story in newspapers across America, it inspired thousands of them to leave all they had and put their lives on the line to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. All things considered, God did greater things through Borden’s story than He may have ever done with Borden’s life in China.
God took an apparent trick and made it a treat through the life of William Borden. Guess what? He can do the same in your life and mine, if we will just trust that He knows more about “trick or treat” in our lives than we do.
And He does.
Your friend & pastor,