Growing up, I always enjoyed reading about different people in history. I was particularly drawn to the Second World War era, since my grandfather had fought in both theaters and had brought home many fascinating items from Europe and the South Pacific. In addition, given the patriotic home in which I was raised, I would seek out books about the forefathers of this nation. Then, there were the books about people who were just plain interesting. There was something that was very encouraging about seeing how so many men (and women!) started life with very few resources, yet through Providence, hard work, and perseverance achieved great things.
As Christians, we benefit greatly when we spend time reading about the heroes of the faith, both past and present.
The Bible gives us many examples of biography (everything from the short examples of the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 to the longer descriptions, and indeed provides us with the model of biographies that we should seek out. I’ve always found it interesting that Scripture does not whitewash the heroes of the faith. Noah, the only man who found favor with the Lord in an evil world, gets drunk and passes out naked
after the Flood. Jacob (whose name is later changed to Israel) connives, cheats, and steals. David, the man after God’s own heart, commits adultery and then murder to cover it up. Peter shoots off at the lip and promises more than he can deliver. Paul persecutes the early believers. There’s a reason for this (perhaps the point of another blog!), but the point I want to make here is that each and every human being is flawed. Do not look for biographies that ignore the imperfections of the subject; rather, look for those that seek to present the person in a loving manner, which includes recognizing the weak points for what they are.
While there are many reasons why one should read biographies of the men and women who have faithfully served the Lord, I want to focus on just three:
- Entertainment. Reading is supposed to be fun, and it is my hope that school has not ruined this for you! Our imaginations are engaged as we create images of what the words are conveying to us. Almost all of us, I think, have had that experience with a book that we couldn’t put down. There was joy in turning those pages, anticipating what was going to happen next. That same experience can be found in a well-written biography. Be entertained by the life stories of fellow believers. When we are engaged in such a work, the next two reasons happen almost without effort.
- Encouragement. Have you ever been at a point in your life when things just don’t make sense? You are trying to follow God, but your circumstances just go from bad to worse. You might even be questioning God Himself, wondering if He hears you. Then, you start feeling a tremendous amount of guilt and shame for these thoughts, because surely if you had the faith of Elijah (how bold was he on Mt. Carmel!) or Billy
Graham, you would be a rock. Would it surprise you to know that after Mt. Carmel, Elijah ran away from Jezebel into the wilderness and threw himself a pity party? Would you be shocked to know that Billy Graham experienced doubt as to whether the Bible was the inerrant Word of God? When we read the biographies that don’t cover up the weaknesses, we can be encouraged that these great men and women of faith remain men and women, complete with the struggles, questions, and temptations that you and I possess. We will see that they slip from time to time. But most importantly, we’ll see that they remain loved by God, who forgives their failings when they repent and turn back to Him. We’ll see that God really meant what He said through Paul in II Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (ESV). Guess what? Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Lottie Moon, D.L. Moody, Billy Graham, John Piper, Adrian Rogers…each and every one of them would tell you that anything great that they accomplished happened in spite of themselves, not because of themselves.God used the heroes of the faith in spite of themselves, not because of themselves. He wants to use…
Be encouraged by the fact that God can – and wants to – use you just as He has used the men and women you read about to further His Kingdom, and that He can use your weaknesses to do so.
- Example. As we read about various believers in different times and places, we can find wonderful examples for our own Christian walks. We will discover that these brothers and sisters often faced obstacles and challenges not dissimilar to our own. They will have endured the “dark nights of the soul.” Yet, in most instances, they will have been carried through by the grace of God. Such instances allow us to “watch” their Godly examples of obedience, submission, and faith in the God who sees them through all things. We will find modeled the life
that is victorious in and through Jesus Christ.
Now, the next question that ought to be on your mind is this: which one? Who should I read about? If you are not a natural reader, I would encourage you to read about someone whose story you would find interesting. Does the mission field intrigue you? Do you wonder how someone is able to go overseas for, in some cases, the rest of their lives to share the Gospel with people groups who have never been touched? Or maybe you are fascinated by an evangelist such as Billy Sunday or Billy Graham. There are a great many books I could recommend if this situation applies to you. If you are someone who is a more voracious reader, I would suggest that you branch out in your choices. In this case, perhaps the lives of those evangelists have never quite piqued your interest before, but now may be the right moment to learn more about their service to God. Maybe there is a book on the shelves of your church library about someone you may never have heard or known about before (perhaps Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for instance). Regardless of which situation applies to you (or even if you lie somewhere in between), read and be encouraged by the heroes of the faith, so that you might “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).