The Power of “No”

I’ve been using this story in sermons and inspirational talks for years. It’s sorta my “go-to” illustration, especially with young people.

It’s from long ago, yes, but every time I share it, there’s a palpable resonance and it usually strikes home with more than a few. It always gets to me.

William Whiting Borden was born into affluence in Chicago, Illinois in 1887, the third child of William Borden and Mary Degama Whiting. The Bordens made their millions producing milk and dairy products and in real estate.

After Will’s mother converted to Christianity in 1894, she began taking him to Chicago Avenue Church (now The Moody Church). He soon responded to the gospel preaching of Dr. R. A. Torrey, turned to Christ and was baptized.

From then on, prayer and Bible study became hallmarks of his life. After graduating from the Hill School in Pottstown, PA, at age 16, he traveled to Europe, Africa, and Asia – a graduation gift from his wealthy folks. This, we can rightly assume, awakened his heart to missions.


Sensing the call of God, Will matriculated at Yale University in 1905, graduated four years later, then entered Princeton Theological Seminary. The calling to foreign fields never subsided, but consumed his heart and, while in Princeton, Will was stirred to go back to the Muslims of Northern China, and focused all his efforts and energies there.

Here’s where the story turns and gives rise to being given Hebrews 11 status.

Will left home, kith and kin, fortune and power – all for Jesus – but never got to the field to which his heart was drawn. Before he could share the Gospel with his first would-be Muslim convert, Will died of cerebral meningitis while in Egypt at language school at the tender age of 25!

Some would say ‘what a waste.’

Others, ‘did he miss his true calling?’

Let me tell you what Will said.

He said NO.

After his death, Borden’s Bible was found and given to his parents. In the fly leaf they found the words “No Reserves” and a date placing the note shortly after he renounced his fortune in favor of missions.

At a later point, he had written “No Retreat”, dated shortly after his father told him that he would never let him work in the company ever again.

Then, quite stunningly, young William Borden – on his deathbed – mustered what strength he had, took his Bible, opened its cover, then, in steady hand wrote beneath




the words:


You see, Will did not see his work (or lack thereof!) as failure. Instead, he understood that nothing – no matter how big, small, short-lived or insignificant – invested simply by saying YES to Jesus and NO to self

…is ever wasted in eternity.

Oh! And before he died, William deeded his entire inheritance ($1,000,000) to the China Inland Mission (the work of Hudson Taylor) and other ministries. Also, there’s a hospital in Lanzhou, China named after him, so you see, great good came from great waste after all.

And all because a 25-year old said NO.

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