And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Heb. 11:4
“Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aid to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.” – A.W. Tozer
When I was about mid-way through my journey as a college student I stumbled upon something that would become significantly more valuable for my soul than the education that would take many years to pay off. No, it was not the Bible. I was familiar with the Scriptures from early on and would even read my Bible before going to bed throughout my middle and high school years.
Nor was it prayer, as I had been praying to God for several years at that point. It was also not the latest best-selling Christian book. The “Left Behind” series was a big deal in those days and, fortunately, I did not read one of them. How in the world did those do so well anyway? Strange times those were.
What I happened to stumble upon at 21 years young that has forever changed my spiritual life was biographies of men and women in the Lord who had gone before me and blazed a trail for me to follow.
Some folks call these people heroes of the faith, while some call them spiritual giants. It doesn’t really matter what we call them, as long as don’t forget about them. As long as we are, at the very least, aware of some of the men and women that have radically changed the world and have brought the reality of heaven to earth through their lives and ministries.
With that in mind, I will share three reasons why you should start reading Christian biographies as soon as you finish this blog.
1. As you follow the lives of a wise man and women, you will become wise.
I remember talking with an older lady in the Lord from my hometown when I went home to visit one weekend from school. I was sharing with her some of what God was teaching me in my reading of biographies, and she shared something profound with me that stuck.
She said, “Brian, Proverbs tells us that he who walks with wise men will be wise (Prov 13:20), and when we read biographies we are literally walking through the lives of wise men and women and, in so doing, we become wise.”
Wisdom has been defined as knowledge applied to life. As we read stories, we get more than information transfer. Stories speak to our heart and give us a glimpse of what knowledge and truth look like when they are applied to real life.
2. It is biblical to remember the examples of those who have gone before us.
Men and women who have lived lives worthy of being recorded and passed to the future generations still speak to us. This is what the author of Hebrews tells us. In chapter 11, we get a run down of the biblical hall of fame of faith.
The author reminds us of 16 saints of old who changed their world by faith. Among many other exploits in the passage, we hear about men who by faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war and put foreign armies to flight (Heb. 11:32.) Every one of the examples listed by the author had been dead for centuries, yet the example of their faith lives on.
The author doesn’t end with telling of the deeds of men and women of old. He is actually building towards the critical exhortation in Hebrews 12:1.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
After sharing stories of great faith, the author goes on to tell us ALSO to lay aside everything that is hindering us from living out our purpose in the earth. The point is the author of Hebrews spends the necessary time sharing about the great men and women of faith in order to inspire us to run our race well. Which leads me to my third and final point.
3. You will be inspired by the lives of men and women who have lived well.
Some of the most inspiring God-moments in my life have taken place as I’ve been reading through a biography of a pioneer missionary who paid an unbelievable price to bring the Gospel to an unreached people.
I remember reading through a biography of Adoniram Judson during my senior year in college. He was the first protestant missionary to leave the shores of America to bring the Gospel overseas. He created a Burmese written language and single-handedly translated the entire Bible into a language he created. He started a Gospel movement that continues to this day some 200 years later. And the Bible translated by Adoniram Judson is still one of the only versions of the Bible in the Burmese language.
I distinctly remember reading his story alone in my room one night. I was hanging on every word describing this remarkable man’s life. I remember weeping as I read about him burying child after child while bringing the light of the Gospel of Jesus to the land of Burma. I remember a deep desire welling up in me not to waste my life, but to make it count.
I wanted to be used by God build His kingdom on the earth like Adoniram did. It released in me a commitment to consecrate my life for the Gospel. It was an incredible experience before God. I was and continue to be so inspired by the life of Adoniram Judson that Steph and I chose to name one of our boys after him. Don’t worry, we chose his last name.
As we look to the men and women who have gone before us, to those who have spent their lives for the Gospel, and who have run their own race well, we will gain inspiration to run our own race with all of our might!
I believe Christian biographies should inspire us as well as cause us to grow in wisdom. It is for this reason that most nights find me reading a biography to my children as I put them to bed. They absolutely love stories, and although they are only eight, five and three years old, they are getting to learn about men and women who have changed the world for Jesus.
My children could tell you about Amy Carmichael and Gladys Alward. They remember stories of George Mueller and John Wesley. They know the names of Hudson Taylor, Eric Liddell, and Corrie Ten Boom. My prayer is that my ceiling in the spirit would be the floor on which my children stand. I am sowing into them during these formidable years in hopes that they would get a vision for what a life looks like that is fully lived for Christ.
Whether you grew up to bedtime stories of the heroes of old or this is the first time someone has challenged you to invest time in reading Christian biographies, it is never too late. God has used the standards of men and women who have been dead for hundreds of years to give me a greater vision for my life. Through them I have gained wisdom for my journey, and from their lives I have gained inspiration to run my race well.
So if you are interested in biblical concepts, if you want to grow in wisdom and if you want to be inspired to make your life count, pick up a biography and start reading today!
Below is a list of Christian men and women that I think everyone should know about. You can access many of their biographies online for no cost at all, or better yet, you can invest some money and start building your own libraries. Contrary to popular church belief, libraries are not just for pastors. Also, feel free to email me if you have any questions or would like more direction on where to begin reading at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Men and Women to read about:
- Hudson Taylor
- George Mueller
- Praying Hyde
- Jonathan Goforth
- Rees Howells
- C.T. Studd
- David Brainerd
- Corrie Ten Boom
- Gladys Alward
- David Livingston
- John Bunyan
- George Whitfield
- John Wesley
- E.M. Bounds
- Martin Luther
- William Wilberforce
- Eric Liddell
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- William Burns
- Henry Martyn
- John G Paton
- William Carey
- William and Catherine Booth
- Mary Slessor