Of all the books I’ve read, my hands down favorites have been the biographies of great Christians.
I know that, technically, there is no such person as a “great Christian” in the sense that we’re all made from dust and one person is just as human as the next. But that very fact is what is so encouraging about biographies. It is the record of ordinary Christians who have a great God who has used them in a great way.
Over the years, I’ve read many biographies of great Christians and have been blessed, challenged, and stirred by each of them. What are the benefits of reading Christian biographies? There are many, but here are five I’ve noticed taking place in my own heart as I’ve read:
1. Biographies strengthen our faith.
This is the single greatest reason I prefer biographies to novels. Novels have characters and plots created in the mind of an author. Biographies have plots developed and ordered in the mind of the Author. And the more unlikely the plot, the more faith-building it is!
Through the pages of biographies, I’ve watched Gladys Alyward brew coffee on the side of the Trans-Siberian railroad because she was determined enough to make it to China that she took a train that dumped her halfway through Russia.
Through the pages of biographies, I’ve watched Hudson and Maria Taylor pray for rice to serve guests when they didn’t have food for their breakfast that morning.
Through the pages of biographies, I’ve watched Darlene Deibler Rose hold to God’s promises when she learned—four months after the fact—that her husband was in Heaven.
Biographies strengthen our faith because they whisper, If God could and would do that for David Livingstone, He will do it for you!
(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)—2 Corinthians 5:7
2. Biographies encourage us to dream big—but with eternity in view.
This summer, I read the story of Charles Cowman whose coworkers were sure he was throwing his life away when he left the telegraph office for the mission field. The final act of his missionary service was a campaign to get a copy of God’s Word into every home in Japan!
I realize that not every servant of the Lord is called to such audacious acts of faith, but biographies of visionary Christians help set our sights higher. They remind us to sacrifice temporal pleasures for eternal gain—while at the same time reminding us that obstacles are real and can be overcome with the grace of God.
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,—Ephesians 3:20
3. Biographies bring perspective.
Another biography I read this summer was of Adoniram Judson. It just so happened that I read it through the wee hours of the morning during a bout with insomnia. As I began reading, I was aggravated that I couldn’t sleep. But then as I continued reading of Adoniram’s imprisonment in Burma, my sleepless night fell into perspective.
Another way that biographies bring perspective is by showing us the whole of a life contrasted with the minutia of the daily difficulties. To realize that two years of Adoniram’s torturous imprisonment—day after day, hour after hour of agony—was covered in a single chapter of a book, is a perspective-bringer, for sure.
Biographies remind us of the comparative insignificance of suffering when contrasted to the longevity of its gains—especially as biographies are often written after a portion of the fruit reached through the pain becomes visible.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.—Romans 8:18
4. Biographies deepen our resolve to press on.
It’s one thing for a friend to say, “Hang in there.” It’s another thing to hear Corrie ten Boom call back from the other side of Ravensbrück and say, “God’s grace is sufficient; press on!”
Reading of the holy ambition and thorough surrender of God’s servants serves to bolster my own resolve and encourage my faith to press on. They remind us that we have just one life and it is so worthwhile to fully and completely invest it for our Lord.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,—Hebrews 12:1
5. Biographies increase our love for souls.
A common thread I’ve noticed in the biographies of fruitful Christians is a love for people and a commitment to personally share the gospel. Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Ann Judson, Mary Slessor, David Brainard, David Livingston, Darlene Deibler Rose—these did not simply organize great crusades for others to share the gospel. Nor did they only share the gospel to large crowds. Every one of them shared the gospel with individual people. Personally. Faithfully. Lovingly.
The Christians whose stories I read didn’t suffer hardship and loss for romanticized ideas of self-abasement. They gave of themselves so others could be saved.
Reading of their love for souls increases my love for the people around me. It stirs me to see people with the compassion of Christ. It reminds me that only the souls of people last forever—and to want to invest my life leading people to Christ.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.—Romans 10:1
6. (a bonus) Biographies fan the flames of our love for God.
Currently, I’m reading The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. I’m challenged and convicted through its pages that the only sustaining motive in serving the Lord is love for Christ.
Many of these people I’ve mentioned served for years without visible results for their efforts. Many faced difficulties that would overcome the human spirit. Yet all of them kept first a close relationship with the Lord and an abiding love for Jesus that compelled them to serve Him.
In the words of David Livingstone, “Cannot the love of Christ carry the missionary where the love of money carries the slave trader?”
Yes, but only if the missionary—or any other Christian—has the love of Christ burning in her heart.
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.—2 Corinthians 5:14–15
Do these benefits of biographies sound inviting to you?
Pick up a biography—go to the library if you need to—of a Christian who loved God and made a difference with his or her life…and read.
And if you’ve already read such a biography, I’d love to hear in the comments your favorite(s)!