Learn from a Life Well Lived: The Power of Christian Biography
A few years ago, a dear friend and I were both feeling discontent in life. Neither of us were where we wanted to be at that moment relationally, vocationally, or even spiritually. We found ourselves voicing our discontent more often than we'd like in our weekly conversations over the phone. Rather than just sitting in that discontent, we had an (what I now see as a Spirit-inspired) idea. What if we read the biography of Henrietta Mears together? This friend and I had forged our friendship while serving at Forest Home, the Christian camp that Henrietta founded many years ago, and had already gained much from her legacy of faith. So we purchased copies of Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story and started meeting each week to discuss one chapter at a time. As we read about Henrietta's life and ministry, we found ourselves spurred on to "live a life worthy of the calling" (Eph. 4:1) just as she did. This is the power of Christian biographies.
What is it about Biographies?
So many of us look to those around us for inspiration in how to live the Christian life. While that is a good and holy practice and one commended often in Scripture (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:1), it also contains some danger. I'm sure we can all think of Christian leaders in our modern era who, quite unexpectedly, fell into sin or disrepute. While many of their teachings may be commendable still, it's hard to say the same about their life as a whole. The benefit of learning from those who have gone before us—those saints "dead in Christ" (1 Thessalonians 4:16)—is that we can look at their entire life and learn from it while knowing that they finished well (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Biographies can also help us learn from a diverse set of voices. Many of us will live our whole lives in one kind of community, but biographies can help us learn from believers all over the world. In this way, we are not bound to one culture or people to see examples of how to live faithful lives to the Lord, but are able to see how God can use any person from any place for his glory...maybe even us! One of my recent favorites is Out of the Black Shadows by Stephen Lungu. I might have never gotten the chance to learn about Stephen's incredible story and be spurred on by his faithfulness.
Another benefit of reading Christian biographies is seeing how the spiritual disciplines are lived out in a fellow believer's life. For instance, I was so encouraged and inspired as I read Evidence Not Seen and saw how Darlene Rose's time in a prison camp was made easier by her ability to meditate on verses and hymns that she had memorized earlier in life. In part because of this, I started afresh my own efforts to memorize Scripture.
Most importantly, Christian biographies help us realize that the same God working in those believers is still at work in us today. Rather than primarily being stories about the believers, the best Christian biographies are stories about God's great power and faithfulness portrayed in the simple obedience of those that say "yes" to his call. May he find us faithful servants like those that have gone before us!
Some of our other favorites:
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
We Died Before We Came Here by Emily Foreman
Everyone a Child Should Know by Clare Heath-Whyte
Gladys Aylward: A London Sparrow by Phyllis Thompson
Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England by Faith Cook
An Open Door by Maud Kells
War and Faith by Don Stephens
A Cause Worth Living For by David Hamilton
Don't just take it from us...read what others have to say about the importance of reading Christian biography!
John Piper: Brothers, Read Christian Biography
Nate Pickowicz: The Importance of Christian Biography
Faith Cook: Why Read Christian Biography?
by Brianna Smith