Someone else's story
I’ve been to a lot of cemeteries. It’s an odd claim to fame, but my family enjoys travelling and history so we often find ourselves exploring historical cemeteries. Therefore, considering my love of reading and history, biographies should be right up my alley. I’ve struggled, however, to be excited about reading them. I prefer ‘practical’ books on theology, Christian living, discipleship—content I can sink my teeth into, learn from and apply. But because I have diligently put Christian biographies on my reading list each year, I’m ready to admit I’ve been wrong. I’m learning to not just appreciate biographies, but to enjoy reading about the lives of Christians who have gone before.
Author Rachel Jankovic tells a story in her book You Who of her grandfather who came to Christ when he was a young man in the navy. He had given his life to Christ, but he had no community of believers around him to teach him how to live as a Christian. So he read stories. He got his hands on all the biographies he could find and learned what it meant to be a Christian from the pages of these books. He learned from stories of people like himself, yes, but also from men and women who had lived in different circumstances, in various countries and in past centuries.
My young Christian life was different. I became a Christian at a very young age and was surrounded from the beginning by generations of faithful Christians who modeled Christ-like living first hand. But having that background makes the reading of Christian biographies no less valuable. Reading the story of a Greek missionary to the Philippines in the early 1900s helped curb my tendency to seek comfort over gospel proclamation. Reading about Susannah Spurgeon’s love for pastors and her desire to equip them with good books reminded me to seek creative ways to support struggling gospel workers.
My life has been marked by Western comfort and normalcy, so learning about a wide variety of people, in various places and time periods, is essential to having an accurate perspective on the context in which I am living my Christian life. I can read about brothers who have sacrificed comfort or their very lives for the sake of the gospel. I can read about sisters who broke the cycle of generations of unfaithfulness and raised families for God’s glory. I can read about Christians who were brought to Christ through unlikely means and those who lived uncommon lives.
Most importantly though, reading these biographies has taught me about God and the building of his church. Reading these stories about other Christians is really reading about the many ways God works in the lives of those he calls to himself and how he uses all types of people to share and spread the gospel in a wide range of places and ways. By encouraging myself to read biographies, I’ve seen that it’s important not to just read what Christians have to say, but to learn about how they lived.
Recommending biographies of faithful Christian men and women to friends and family who are new or not-yet Christians can also be a discipleship tool. Recommending or reading together is a great way to start conversations about what it means to live differently because of what we believe. Like it was for Rachel’s grandfather, the lives of others are witnesses to the transforming work of Christ in us and can teach us by example what it means to live for Christ. We can be inspired by their courage and sacrifice and encouraged to live bold, generous, God-glorifying lives as well.
Some recommendations to get you started:
-A collection of smaller biographies such as Iain Murray’s Heroes or Eric Metaxis’ 7 Men: and the Secret of their Greatness (or his parallel title 7 Women)
-A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Huffman Rockness
-A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot
-Biographies by noted authors Iain Murray, Arnold Dallimore and Faith Cook