Here in Egypt there are many graves to see. You can, of course, start with the pyramids, the tombs of the Pharaohs. The world wonders at these wonders – these monuments to lives so shortly lived, whose magnificent artifacts are displayed in the nations’ museums. Many precious objects were sealed in the tombs of these kings to accompany the monarch on his journey to the afterlife. Thousands of years later they are still here! They went nowhere. Sadly, the same is true of the Pharaohs. Furthermore, their deaths also meant death for many people who, along with the precious objects, were also sealed in the Pyramids to accompany the kings. Most of these famous Pharaohs died in their teenage or early adulthood and in their deaths, the Pharaohs took life.
But, the pyramids are not the tombs I want to talk about. Today we were pilgrims to two other tombs. While here in Cairo, Egypt, my husband Stuart and I visited the graves of Oswald Chambers (1874 – 1917) and Bill Borden (1887 – 1913). You can “Google” both names and read more, but in summary they were two brilliant young men, one from the U.K. and one from America, who had one thing in common. They both lived short lives, but unlike the Pharaohs, they left life with no reserves, no retreats, and no regrets. To their graves they took not objects of pottery or precious stones, or the corpses of slaves or wives, but glory and heavenly treasure – the precious souls of men. In their deaths, they gave life.
Both these young men were privileged to benefit from the top scholastic training of their nations. Both came to Christ in their youth. Chambers struggled with boredom reading the Bible even after his conversion. Finally, after four years of “spiritual dryness,” Chambers realized he couldn’t force himself to be holy. He came to see that the strength, peace, and transformation that he was looking for was Christ Himself. The secret was in the “exchanged life” – Christ’s life in exchange for his sin. He experienced a revival of grace in his heart and described it as “radiant, unspeakable emancipation.” (1)
Then came the First World War. Chambers became a chaplain for the YMCA and was assigned to Zeitoun, Egypt, where he ministered to Australian and New Zealand troops that were later part of the disastrous battle of Gallipoli. Many met Christ through Chambers.
On November 15, 1917, he suffered a ruptured appendix. In extreme pain, he refused a bed in the hospital that was overrun with wounded soldiers, allowing them to be treated first. It took him three days to die. Standing by his grave, I paid a spiritual tribute to this man whose life and writings have enriched my life and the lives of thousands.
I thought about his education in art, archeology, and English literature. Some would say, “What a waste of a life!” But there is nothing wasted in the economy of God. From this heritage of learning he became a wordsmith for God, making every day count. He died so young, but at exactly the right age. For God says that “our days are numbered.” If we will commit our lives to him, He will work through us to bring people to heaven and God’s Church will be revived. No Reserves. No Retreats. No Regrets.
This first grave of Chambers was beautifully kept. Not so the second. A very different sight met our eyes as we went in. A sister from the convent next door had a key and let us into the cemetery. Here the graves had been forgotten. This was not a war cemetery as the other, but a small rectangle with very old graves of American citizens. In a corner, under debris and weeds, we found the flat gravestone of Bill Borden.
From a Chicago high school to Yale, Bill Borden (heir to the Borden Dairy estate) put his love for the Lord into a lifestyle that, as his diary recounted, summed up his life. That entry said simply, “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.” (2)
As a young man travelling the world, Borden knew God was calling him to serve hurting people. On hearing Borden’s missionary plans, one friend commented that he was surely throwing his life away. In response, Bill wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”
At Yale he began a prayer time that ended up affecting the entire campus. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, 1,000 of Yale’s 1,300 students were meeting in Bible study groups. He also founded Yale Hope Mission and ministered to drunks from the lower parts of the city streets.
Borden’s heart turned to China and the Muslin Kansu people. Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers and headed for Princeton seminary. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: “No retreats.” From here 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.
The story of his death was carried by nearly every American newspaper. “A wave of sorrow went round the world… Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice,” wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography.
Is there such a thing as an untimely death? Not in God’s economy. Not in God’s plan. Prior to his young death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he had written: “No regrets.”
So what impacted me as I stood in the heat of Cairo today and looked at that old, flat gravestone with those words engraved across its face? First, I realized how privileged I have been to live such a long life for God. Then, I was gripped with a necessary urgency. While I still have time, I want to reach the next generation with the challenge and message of these two lives. And thirdly, I want to pass on the words God has taught me about our interior life in Him. For words are weapons for good or ill, and in the hands of the Spirit, words can be honed and polished and winged to many a heart – as Chambers and Borden’s have done!
Oswald Chambers and Bill Borden had no way of knowing how long they had on this little spinning planet – nor do we. May each and every day be lived as our last for Him with no reserves, no retreats, no regrets.
Just Between Us Magazine