no reserves. no retreats. no regrets.

William Borden was born in 1887 to a very wealthy family in Chicago. After graduating high school at age 16, his graduation gift was a trip around the world. While on his journey, his eyes were opened to the need all around him. This, combined with the teachings of the evangelist R.A. Torrey, caused William to write home to his family from college with a “desire to be a missionary.” His friends were absolutely astonished and claimed that he was “throwing himself away as a missionary.” Yet William was not discouraged from the calling he had been given. After William renounced his inheritance in his family’s fortune, he wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “no reserves.”

Reserve – n. something held back, to keep, to withhold from present use for another purpose. Antonyms - give up, hand over, surrender, yield.

When William said that he had no reserves, he was acknowledging that he was going to give God everything. He wanted his life and his money to be completely relinquished from his own hand and given to God. His desire was to keep nothing for himself, but to surrender it all, with no reserves.

William didn’t just hope and pray for that kind of life: he lived it. As he attended Yale, he started a prayer and study time with first one friend, but soon more people joined. By the time he finished his first year there were 150 freshman meeting together every week to study the Bible and pray, and by the time he graduated, 1,000 of the total 1,300 students were participating in such meetings. In the biography Borden of Yale ’09, it says, “In his sophomore year we organized Bible study groups and divided up the class of 300 or more, each man interested taking a certain number, so that all might, if possible, be reached. The names were gone over one by one, and the question asked, ‘Who will take this person?’ When it came to someone thought to be a hard proposition, there would be an ominous pause. Nobody wanted the responsibility. Then Bill's voice would be heard, ‘Put him down to me.’”

After he graduated, he was once again faced with the things of this world. He was offered many high-paying jobs and his father reminded him that he would always have a job in the family company. He turned down them all. And he wrote two more words in the back of his Bible: “no retreats.”

Retreat – n. place of safety or security; v.i. to move back to a place before occupied, the act of retiring or withdrawing oneself, especially from what is dangerous or disagreeable. Antonyms: progress, advancement, onward motion.

William wasn’t going to step down from what God had called him to do. Even with all the things that this world desires being laid at his feet, he refused to take anything less than a Heavenly commission. He would not back away and settle for temporary success.

And so he continued on. In early 1913 he sailed for China, the place where he knew God had called him to minister to the Asian Muslim people. He was ecstatic, overjoyed to be finally setting out to fulfill his dreams of mission work. William stopped in Egypt to study Arabic before continuing his journey, but while there he contracted spiral meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden died.

This sudden end of life seems a horrible shame to us. But in a biography, it is said that “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.” His gravestone is engraved with these words: "Apart from faith in Christ there is no explanation for such a life." A short biography on a missions website ( puts it this way:

“Was Borden's untimely death a waste? Not in God's perspective. 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.’

Regret – n. a feeling of disappointment or distress about something that one wishes could be different; sorrow, grief, remorse. Antonyms – contentedness, satisfaction.

So, what is the key to living the best life possible? William Borden demonstrates for us that all we must do is follow God’s will and calling, no matter where it leads. First, leave nothing to fall back on, cut all your worldly ties (live off balance), and don’t reserve anything for any purpose other than God. Then determine to never back down from what God has called you for. There is no better life than God’s adventure, no retreat that will compare to His plan. If we do this we will truly feel the contentment and satisfaction that William Borden felt as his life came to a triumphant close. We will be able to say with him:

No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.

Thanks to Lauren Reavely for introducing this extraordinary man to me through her incredible Persuasive speech. God has used you.


  1. ::has added William Borden to my list of people I want to be like::
    Thanks for sharing the story Shelby. And to Lauren, of course, for introducing us all to him.


  2. Wow. This is a truly inspiring story; thank you for sharing it.


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