Whenever we are going through difficult seasons in life, God may use a variety of means by which to bring us comfort. God often brings comfort directly through His Word, and He will also often use people in our lives to console and to speak wisdom into our lives as well. One way that God may bring comfort into one’s life, that is not a usual means, is through biographies and studying the lives of people from the past. At our church, recently, a young man walked up to me to give me a CD-ROM of 16 of biographies via talks that John Piper has given at one of his conferences over the past 20+ years. My initial, prideful reaction in my mind was, “I’ve listened to many of these biographies; I don’t need them!” Thankfully, good sense prevailed and, through courtesy, I decided to take the CD-Rom and Oh How Grateful I am that I Did take the item and that I began listening to the accounts of these great, Godly men and women, as told by John Piper. The CD-ROM has 16 biographies on them that are all over 1 hour apiece, and up until now I have listened to all 16 one time through, and now I am on number 12 my second time through the 16 talks. The blessing that I have received (and continue to receive) from these biographies is incalculable and it will only be into eternity that I will begin to see the fruit that has become of my listening to them. God has ministered to me in very unexpected ways through these biographies, and I what I want to share is the help I have received via these biographies to the readers of this blog. I plan on making this a bit of a “series,” although I am certain that I won’t go consecutively, but will post as I am prepared to type upon the person. First, I want to offer you some reflections on the value of biographies as I’ve experienced them over the past few months.
BIOGRAPHIES TAKE YOU OUTSIDE YOURSELF AND YOUR PRESENT WORLD
We are a people who can become all-consumed in the issues of our day and, particularly, the individual problems of our day. It’s very easy to think about our lives as they are now happening because it is in the present that we are currently living. However, if we are not careful, we can become myopic and think to ourselves, consciously or subconsciously, that ours is the only time that has existed. As we become overly introspective on the present, we will forget about the value of the past. Biographies can quickly transport us beyond our century to another century and help us to see our world from the viewpoint of an astronaut. Reading a biography is almost like reading fiction with the transportation to a different world, except that it’s real-life fiction! Reading about people from the past is to read about people who actually existed and have lived lives just as we are trying to live our lives now. There is a particularly healthy perspective that can be gained by rising above our own current world to another world altogether that is both very similar, but very different from our own. As we are distracted from our present world by entering another world in biographies, we will begin to see our world a little more clearly.
BIOGRAPHIES PUT OUR PROBLEMS INTO PERSPECTIVE
I can remember sitting in church history class in seminary and really struggling with a particular question about the faith. I do not actually recall that question now, but I remember it being a very deep question that, perhaps in my pride, I thought that no one had thought of before. As the professor was lecturing he began to tell us about some particular monk in the middle ages, and then he began to describe the questions and issues that this monk was dealing with, and, lo and behold, one of the very issues that this monk was dealing with was that very deep question that I, myself, was struggling with! As I think about men and women of the past, they are really no different than we are now even though they may have lived in different times. They struggled with illness, marital problems, natural disasters, crises of faith, and a host of other issues. What has been comforting to me listening to many of these men and women of faith is that they have struggled just as I am currently struggling. I am not the only one that has ever struggled before and biographies remind me that many, many others have gone through similar situations before, and there will be, Lord willing, many, many that will struggle in similar ways after I am dead and gone. Since Eden, problems are common to all of humanity, and this should comfort us in some ways.
Additionally, not only can we take comfort that others have struggled just like we now do, but there have been a great many others before us who have risen above their troubles as well. Often times I am discovering that many of these men and women went through far worse situations than I have gone through it, and gives me hope and perspective to pull out of, and rise above, my situations as well.
BIOGRAPHIES GIVE YOU THE LONG-VIEW OF YOUR STRUGGLES
Adoniram Judson (19th-century missionary to Burma) lost 2 wives and 6 children on the mission field. In his first 12 years of mission service, he only had 18 converts. To look at Judson’s life on the short view was, to possibly, look at his life, trials, and sacrifice as a failure. Today there are around 3700 Baptist congregations in Myanmar (Burma). David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia: “The largest Christian force in Burma is the Burma Baptist Convention, which owes its origin to the pioneering activity of the American Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson” (source). The struggles for Judson were difficult, and it wasn’t until the very end of his time in Burma that he began to see some fruit. Certainly, Judson did not see some of the fruit of his life until into eternity. So it is with our own work and with our own trials. Taking the “long-view” of our struggles helps us to better trust in a God that is both faithful and Sovereign (Romans 8:28). We may not see how God can work such adverse circumstances out for His glory while we are alive, but we can be sure that God will remain faithful to fulfill His promises, whether we see them fully fulfilled now or not.
Charles Spurgeon, the great British Baptist preacher of the 19th century (know as the “Prince of Preachers”) went through his own share of controversy and trials. Spurgeon, himself, admonished others to take the long-view, as he did, with his trials. Spurgeon said:
“Posterity must be considered. I do not look so much at what is to happen to-day, for these things relate to eternity. For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me. I have dealt honestly before the living God. My brother, do the same” (source).
We must not look only to now, but also with eyes into eternity to see the fruit of our labor and of our trials. God wastes no pain, no struggle, and no tears. He will bring to completion the work that He has started, and we must trust Him through it all. Let us be encouraged to look into the lives of great men and women of God from the past through biographies and find strength there to see God’s faithfulness shining through, even many years after their deaths.
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