Biographies-Life in Words, Word in Life

Janet Halford
Good Christian biographies can work deeply in a reader’s heart; consolidating faith and, at the same time, expanding knowledge of God

Why read a Christian biography? I have read many, mostly autobiographies—to be accurate—as they have the immediacy and insight into thought, emotion and relationship with the Lord that has an impact on the reader. For me, autobiographies are vibrant and life-giving; they are personal testimony to the ways of God and His character, and they exemplify in a flesh-and-blood form the interaction between God and a believer. 

In comparing my life to that of the author, I can follow themes and common experiences, no matter how different the events may be to those of my own life. Isn’t that what happens when we read accounts of those many and diverse believers in the Bible? So far removed from us in time, culture and experiences, and yet our common humanity, need of God and desire to walk closely with Him, enables us to receive much from their stories.

I could list over twenty very good autobiographies, but my highest recommendations would go to these writers:

Between Heaven and Ground Zero and Held are Leslie Haskin’s accounts of leaving one of the Twin Towers as it fell on 11th September 2001, and then the months after as she handled the extreme trauma. Her ability to convey what is next to impossible to describe is extraordinary. It helps me that she puts into words what escapes my imagination so that I can appreciate a little more what happened, and what it is to witness the unimaginable, shock, and horror that immobilises mind and body. Both books left me in wonder at the way God has designed the human body, mind and emotions, and His healing presence. Leslie weaves into her books the presence of God in unusual ways. There is hope and redemption in the midst of the inexplicable.

It is encouraging to read of God at work in adversity and times of great trial, giving us a sure hope

Kisses from Katie and Daring to Hope document how God called Katie Davis as a young woman to care for many children in Uganda. Brought up in Tennessee, U.S., she went on mission trip in 2006, at the age of 18. Her books tell of the way that she was convinced that she should settle in Uganda, which led to her giving homes to children, adopting children and creating a small community. Obviously, there were huge challenges, not least her youth and being alone. Through what she writes we witness her growing dependence on the Lord and faith in Him. Her practical and emotional struggles were great, but in them she grew in her knowledge of God.

The Hiding Place is one of many books written by Corrie Ten Boom—famous for having sheltered Jews in the Holocaust during World War Two and then being imprisoned in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Corrie is humble and honest in describing herself through the very difficult experiences of Ravensbruck in particular. This is yet another book in which we can see how the person grows in their trust and faith, and in the knowledge of God. It is an old book now, but still bears reading in this generation. It is encouraging to read of God at work in adversity and times of great trial, giving us a sure hope.

In comparing my life to that of the author, I can follow themes and common experiences, no matter how different the events may be to those of my own life.

Two rather different autobiographical accounts are worth including here. Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting, explains both his experience, and his reasoning and theology, regarding what he terms ‘same sex attraction’. A rare honest account of pursuing God and godliness which is all the more helpful because it is bringing together scripture, theology and experience. Then Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi—how as a devout Muslim he encountered Jesus. Nabeel writes movingly, in detail and depth, about the intense struggles to walk with Jesus whilst loving his parents, family and community. His is rare insight into the challenge of converting from Islam—and the book is beautifully written. Both Wesley and Nabeel enable us to understand a little more of these specific circumstances about which we are often ignorant. They also write in a way that allows us to expect the Lord to be involved in communities that are likely very different to our own.

The subtitles to some of the above titles tell us so much about what the authors received from the Lord through their life experiences, and through walking with Him:  

Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful

One Woman’s Struggle for Survival and Faith

To be comforted, to be loved

That’s what I hope you would gain by reading these and other biographies—faith in God’s goodness, love and comfort in your specific circumstances.

Wendy Mann, in her book Naturally Supernatural, writes: 
‘Biographies …. stir my faith and provoke me to ask God for more… but most of all they remind us of who God is and what He loves to do through normal men and women who choose to say yes to Him.’  Such authors as I have referred to would count themselves as ‘ordinary’ —so I am sure that thousands of other ordinary believers are living an extraordinary life with God. Why not find a biography and see yourself reflected in its pages as you read? I believe you will be encouraged, and your view of God expanded.

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