Stories have always played a significant role in my life... from the moment I could read, I had my nose in a book... there was something about immersing myself in an epic story which truly captured my mind and my heart and my emotions. I have learnt so many lessons through the years from story characters - both real and fictional.
Perhaps the best kind of characters are the imperfect ones... the ones who make mistakes, who are real flesh and blood people, but who appear to achieve something incredible. Something that inspires us, gives us perspective and helps us to long to do more with our lives.
Which is perhaps why, for me, biography will always hold a special place in my heart. And Christian biography perhaps most of all. Because those biographies are not about the greatness of the man or the woman, or their particular giftedness, but instead about the greatness of the God they serve, and how He uses weak and very normal people.
I can resonate with that. I am a very normal person. But I do serve a very great God.
This past week, I threw myself back into one of the stories of my youth, roaming the gang-ruled streets of New York with young Pastor David Wilkerson. "The Cross and the Switchblade" was a book which had a huge impact on me as a teenager, and reading it again, 15 years later, the impact was no less.
Do I exercise that kind of dependence on the Lord? Am I prepared to take risks for the gospel? Am I ready to step out of my comfort zone? Do I pray for people with that kind of fervour and commitment and faith that they truly can change?
These are the stories I want my children to feast on... stories in which very normal people, living Spirit-empowered lives, take the gospel to the nations. Stories where cost and discomfort are very real... and yet where breathtaking beauty emerges from brokenness as Jesus transforms lives.
Because that is how the Gospel works!
"The Cross and The Switchblade" is not a story I will be sharing with my kids any time soon - I will wait until they are old enough to begin to fathom and process the detailed reality of street life, drug addiction and gang warfare. But there are plenty of stories, plenty of heroes and heroines of the faith who I am already having the joy of sharing with them, so I thought I'd share some of our favourite resources and books which truly display God's work in the lives of men and women throughout history, and then at the end, I will share the five biographies which I feel have had the most impact on my own walk with the Lord...
In times of spiritual hardship in my own life, or times where my walk has felt dry and distant, connecting with someone elses walk of faith can be life-giving. This is biblical. God calls us to be cheered on by a "great cloud of witnesses"... christian life is meant to be done in community... and some of these men and women, have revived a struggling soul many times before. Not because of their own greatness, but because of their deep reliance on the One who is truly great.
Biography for the 0-4s
Everyone A Child Should Know by Clare Heath-Whyte
This book is honestly SUCH a gift to parents of littler people. Each character has a double page spread, one side with a picture, the other with a side explaining their story. Each character has a verse to accompany it, which summarises the hope and motivation of that character's life. The book has 52 different characters - one for each week of the year - and is filled with the stories of missionaries, martyrs, writers, reformers, politicians and poets. From Martin Luther, to CS Lewis, from Mary Slessor to C.T. Studd, this has been such a gift of a book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. There are also accompanying cards which you can buy separately, which our children have loved. Despite the fact that it is geared at younger ones, our older girls have also really enjoyed and fully benefited from this one! So whatever age your kids are, I thoroughly recommend this one!
Biography for the 4-7s
Little Lights Series by Catherine Mackenzie
Our Heidi (5) has absolutely adored these books. They are really nicely illustrated, simply told with a simple sentence on one page which the child can read themselves, and a more extended version of the story on the other. She had two of this series initially, and she took to them so much that we have gradually extended and now own most of them! She reads them on repeat, and would be very easily be able to tell you the stories of Corrie Ten Boom, George Mueller, Mary Slessor and others in a child-appropriate way! These are fabulous for Key Stage One age!
Biography for the 7-10s
The Lightkeepers Series by Irene Howat
These have been around for a while, but our Ava devours them! There are two box sets, each containing five books, all with different themes such as "Ten Girls who Made a Difference" and "Ten Boys who used their Talents", all told in the context of their relationships with the Lord and the impact the Gospel had on them. Between the two box sets, 100 different lives are covered, from John Newton and Eric Liddell to Edith Schaeffer and Joni Eareckson Tada... These have also been a nice addition for the older ones off the back of the "Everyone a Child Should Know", as they can then go away and read the story in more detail.
Biography for the 10+
The Trailblazers Series from a variety of authors
These are much more in depth biographies telling the full stories of some of the heroes and heroines of the faith throughout history, and are a great final stepping stone before moving onto the autobiographies of the characters themselves.
For us adults!
I thought I'd share the six biographies (I couldn't pick five!) which have had the biggest impact on me over the years... If you havent given any of them a read, I highly recommend!
The Cross and the Switchblade - By David Wilkerson
The story of a country preacher who is called by God in the 1950s to the gang-owned streets of New York. An incredible story of transformation, sacrifice and gospel power.
A God-entranced Vision of All Things - By John Piper and Justin Taylor
A collection of ten essays exploring the lives of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. A very normal couple who walked alongside an extraordinary God. Jonathan Edwards is cited as one of the greatest theologians of all time, and this is the story of their life in the East Coast colonies of America. This book made me rethink my whole perspective on life and is one I highly recommend! (You can read it for free online by clicking on the title above)
No Compromise - By Melody Green
The story of Keith Green's Life - of how his life was turned upside down by the Lord Jesus, and the determination of his short life to share Jesus' love through music and radical living... He was known in his day as a "spiritual revolutionary" and challenged the status quo, calling people back to real and honest life in Christ. A deeply challenging read.
Through Gates of Splendour - By Elisabeth Elliot
Written by Jim Elliot's wife Elisabeth, this is the story of five missionaries who sacrificed everything to share the gospel with a bloodthirsty tribe in Ecuador. They lost their lives, but the Gospel went on to transform the tribe they worked with. This is a must read for Christians.
The Hiding Place - By Corrie Ten Boom
The Watchmaker's daughter who hid Jews in her bedroom in Holland during World War II. Her perseverance and hope in suffering make her voice one which we surely must listen to from the 20th century. A challenging and deeply moving story.
Meeting God at Every Turn - By Catherine Marshall
I read this book at a turning point in my own life, when I found myself in a dark place spiritually, and this book truly helped me to remember truth when I had nearly lost my way. I wil forever be thankful for Catherine Marshall's honest and helpful insight into the Lord's work in her own life - in the joys and the hardships - and how she helped me to reconnect the dots of my own life and realign my sight on Christ. This one will always have a special place in my heart!
Some other favourites - Moody (John Pollock) Joni (Joni Eareckson Tada), Patricia St John Tells her own Story, Amazing Grace (John Pollock), A Passion for the Impossible: Lilias Trotter (Miriam Huffman Rockness), The Swans are not Silent Series (John Piper), Run Baby Run (Nicky Cruz), God's Smuggler (Brother Andrew)
I realise this has been long... I seem incapable of writing short blog spots these days... but I ruly hope these resources will be as much of an encouragement to you as they have been to me. And that they will help to fix your eyes on the author and perfected of our faith.
PS - this post is totally non-sponsored! I've linked so that the books are easy to find, and I'm not receiving any compensation!