No doubt, there are many people who read biographies out of curiosity. With the release of a biography of some prominent historical figure, there are those who pick up the book off Amazon because they are fascinated by the individual and they want to know more. Why was this person the way he was? What made him tick? Why did his life end so tragically?
There is nothing wrong with such curiosity, but I think there is a reason for believers to consider reading biography (Christian biography, in particular) that is of greater value. Read Christian biography as a balm for your soul and to help you respond to your problems in a way that’s pleasing to the Lord. While there will be much in a good Christian biography that will fascinate you, there will also be much to stimulate godliness. Consider these four reasons to read Christian biography when you are struggling spiritually.
1. The Comfort of Empathy
First, reading Christian biography can bring comfort of empathy. We can easily begin to believe the lie that we are alone in our struggle. This is a dark place to be. It’s a place where we can convince ourselves that it will do no good to talk to anyone about our trouble because they won’t understand, and so we keep ourselves in spiritual isolation.
Christian biography can remind us of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” There is a certain degree of hope that is given when you discover that Charles Spurgeon battled depression or that Adoniram Judson experienced deep-seated grief over the death of his wife. It is not that you are happy for their pain itself, but it is a blessing from God to know that you are not alone in your experience.
2. A Challenge and Motivation to Change
Second, reading Christian biography can bring challenge and motivation to change. The empathy you feel in realizing that you are not alone in your trouble is really a stepping-stone to the greater hope of change. Largely, good Christian biographies show us that while these saints struggled, they were not content to respond faithlessly. Their stories give us solid examples to follow in our sin and suffering.
The author of Hebrews expresses our need to have spiritual heroes and study their lives of faith: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7). Christian biography presents us with lives that are lived in the pursuit of Christ so that we may follow their example. That includes the way their faith is expressed in response to trouble.
One of the greatest benefits of Christian biography is that they are often filled with personal journal entries. These entries detail Scriptures, truths of the gospel, attributes of God, and personal prayers that give us kindling to start a spiritual fire in our own hearts as we walk through similar circumstances.
3. A Proper Perspective
Third, reading Christian biography can help us have the proper perspective of our problems. Because our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9), we can deceive ourselves into thinking that our trials are insurmountable.
In many cases, the biographies we read describe hardships that make our jaws drop (think of Joni Eareckson Tada’s quadriplegia or the torture of Richard Wurmbrand), and yet their testimonies herald the grace of God in causing them to persevere and trust his good plan. The lives of these saints, then, become for us evidence that God truly is “a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1) and he really does use our suffering to produce hope (Rom 5:4). Seeing this helps us believe that our trials are not beyond the grace of our great God.
4. Dispels Short-Sightedness
Fourth, reading Christian biography dispels our short-sightedness. When we read a biography we get the benefit of seeing what an entire life looks like that is submitted to Christ. Too frequently, our unbelief stops us from seeing further than two feet in front of us. What I mean is that we can give up too easily on living obediently before God, thinking that we don’t see any fruit and that we aren’t changing. Christian biography shows us what a life characterized by day-to-day faith looks like after 40 years.
It has been said that sanctification is like a crockpot and not a microwave. True change takes place over months, years, and decades as we engage in the spiritual disciplines and trust God to work through them to make us holy for his glory. Perhaps, in your sin struggle you are tempted to stop reading the Bible, stop praying, stop confessing sin or stop participating in the worship service because you don’t see how it is making a difference. Reading a good Christian biography can help you see the difference that a lifetime of hours and days given to God will make … the difference of the Spirit transforming you in the image of Christ “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).
As we strive to fight for faithfulness in our trouble, we have much to gain from the living, breathing saints of our church family, but consider also how much we have to gain from saints of old who are no longer with us. We can’t have a conversation with them this week after the worship service, but through the written testimony of their grace-empowered lives, they tell us and show us what it means to live by faith in the midst of life’s problems.
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