Read biographies to strengthen your soul

Colleen Elisabeth Chao is an editor and author. She enjoys dark-dark chocolate, side-splitting laughter, and half-read books piled bedside. She makes her home near Boise, Idaho, with her husband Eddie, their son Jeremy, and Willow the dog. 




Read biographies to strengthen your soul

Read biographies to strengthen your soul

Read biographies to strengthen your soul

This morning I woke up in a warm bed with a roof over my head. I took a hot shower, brewed a pot of coffee, and enjoyed breakfast made from my well-stocked fridge and pantry. Electricity, phone, and plumbing worked at my beck and call.

Compared with most people around the world and throughout history, I am spoiled rotten.

These comforts and conveniences are a gift, yes; but they can also be a grief. Gift because God appoints us our particular place in history, geography, and culture (Acts 17:26-27)—so this very location and set of circumstances are from Him. But gift quickly turns to grief when my passion for eternal realities is dampened by an all-needs-met existence. This physical wealth can numb my soul, and I’m daily at risk of living in spiritual poverty.

And what good is it to have everything I need at my fingertips, yet lose the very essence of who I’m created to be? (Luke 9:25) I was made to love and serve others for Christ, to joyfully spread God’s fame in my little corner of the world and beyond.

Whenever I sense this sluggishness of soul—a craving for all things convenient, a reticence to do hard things—I revisit “old friends,” Christian men and women who have long since passed into glory but whose lives have indelibly shaped my own. Even as a young teenager, I was spellbound by their stories. Reading Christian biographies became the kindling of a fire in my soul that would spark countless decisions and desires for years to come.

These were real people with real frailties and failings (sometimes embarrassingly so), but they lived in such a way that showed the surpassing greatness of Christ. Their faith was rugged and resilient, unashamedly rooted in the hope of the gospel. They considered their sufferings and sacrifices well worth the eternal rewards awaiting them, and proved it by giving up all manner of comfort, success, even life itself.

They didn’t expect life to be easy, fulfilling, or successful. They expected to lay down their lives for the sake of their God and His Kingdom work.

It’s hard to conceive of a life of selflessness, of utter self-denial, in a culture that promotes its antithesis. We vehemently value our autonomy, our rights, our health, our comforts. We’re tempted to live in the superficial and act as if this is our permanent home. For the sake of our souls, we need a bigger view, an historical perspective, and the company of those who have gone before us.

However, Christian history has largely (and sadly) been relegated to theological seminaries and Bible colleges, and most of us rely wholly on modern advice and methodologies, neglecting a wealth of sound counsel and proven wisdom in what Hebrews 11 calls “so great a cloud of witnesses.” If we were honest, many of us would admit that our culture, our peers, and social media hold more sway on our life trajectory than does any influence pre-1980.

Today there are thousands of blogging, book-writing Christians on the scene, and many of them have good things to say. Biblical insights to share. Counsel to impart. But a diet consisting largely of blogs and books written by modern-day men and women who have lived a mere three, four, or five decades in affluent America—it’s a recipe for spiritual malnutrition. We’re glutted with writing on God’s love, our personal griefs and journey to recovery, applying the gospel to our modern-day messes, and buzzwords like community, authenticity, and wholeness. But when is the last time you read an author who wrote like this?

Nothing will seem too much to have done or suffered, when, in the end, we see Him and the marks of His wounds; nothing will ever seem enough. Even the weariness of deferred hope will be forgotten, in the joy that is not of earth.” – Amy Carmichael, 1867-1951

Or this?

I remember, when I have preached at different times in the country, and sometimes here, that my whole soul has agonized over men, every nerve of my body has been strained and I could have wept my very being out of my eyes and carried my whole frame away in a flood of tears, if I could but win souls.” – Charles Spurgeon, 1834-1892

Not only does reading Christian biographies put iron into our souls, it is also extremely practical for daily life—giving us a richer, broader perspective on relationships, education, career, marriage, parenting, spiritual disciplines, politics, and ministry. As C.S. Lewis said, it gives us eyes to see “the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.” Lewis argued passionately for the reading of old books, for

My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see.”

These flawed-but-faithful believers are not meant to be the object of our gaze, but rather, they serve as a looking-glass through which we see Christ more clearly. Our sights are lifted beyond our present circumstances and we are strengthened to run our course well.

God has gifted us with a cloud of witnesses—because our own eyes are not enough. Don’t let the testimony of these lives be lost on you. Walk with them awhile, learn from their mistakes, consider their counsel, imitate their love and obedience to God.

To encourage us in this pursuit, the True Woman blog is featuring a new biographical series called “25 Women Who Impacted the World for Christ.” These inspiring life sketches are posted on the blog every Thursday.