Learning From Those Who Have Gone On Before


As you may have already guessed, I love to read. I have been reading books since I learned my alphabet. The first series I remember reading is the Boxcar Children. I loved solving mysteries with them! Next I went on to Nancy Drew and then onto Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr (same author, different pennames; don’t really recommend overall). Are you seeing a pattern here? Mystery was my genre of choice. I remember, as a teenager, staying up late one night to finish Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The rest of the night I went in and out of a terrible nightmare, sure I was the next one to be murdered. I think I only ever read one Agatha Christie novel after that and that was just a few years ago! I was not anxious to repeat that experience!

As I got older, my tastes leaned towards Christian romance novels. I read Francine Rivers, Lori Wick, Lawana Blackwell, Karen Kingsbury, and Janette Oke–to name a few. I enjoyed them and they were easy to read, usually complete with happy endings. I still enjoy reading some of these once in awhile. They are easy and entertaining.

When I started homeschooling, I developed a love for the classics and I started reading books I never had an interest in before. In that phase, I read most of Jane Austen’s books, Jane Eyre, Count of Monte Cristo, Robison Crusoe, Oliver Twist, and Ivanhoe. I loved every single one of them. There is a reason they are called classics, and I really would like to read more from this category during my lifetime.

And then one year, I read the story of Gladys Aylward to the kids and I was hooked! I have been reading missionary biographies ever since. About that same time, I picked up a Christian Classic called Humility by Andrew Murray. These two genres strengthened my faith by leaps and bounds.  So, while I still do read some fiction and classics, I read mostly biographies and Christian classics now.

Have you ever thought how incredible the written language is? Dave Ramsey puts it this way: “We will be the same person in five years that we are today, except for the books we read and the people we meet.”

Books change us. So it is not only important that we actually read full-length books–something fewer and fewer of us are even doing–but it is critically important what we read. If we are satisfied with always reading junk food or–worse yet–the heretical stuff of modern times that leaves scripture out or twists it into something it is not (such as The Shack, Jesus Calling, Love Wins), then we may be changed but it certainly won’t be in a biblical way.

Romans 8:29 says this: For whom He {God} did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

These verses show that God has planned for us to grow more like Jesus every day. This should be the underlying passion that drives us if we are believers.

Ask yourself this question: Did any of the last three books I read teach me to look more like Jesus? Keep in mind that I am most certainly not talking about the world’s “Jesus”–the one that has been created to pacify their dull consciences. No, that isn’t Jesus. They just call their false god the same name as my Savior. I am referring to the One who is kind, compassionate, just, prayerful, loving, truthful. The One who denies Himself for the will of the Father. Who takes up His cross. The biblical Jesus that we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

If not, why not?

I have thought of a few reasons why reading the words of those who have gone on to glory before me have helped me to grow in my faith. I am hoping that these reasons may compel you, too, to pick up a classic or a biography and get started. As I’ve already said, books change us. Because this is true, it is critically important that we read books that are in line with scripture.

Here is my short list of why you, too, should develop the habit of reading old books–

1.   They encourage us. Some of these people have gone through the worst circumstances possible and, yet, they faithfully continued to walk with Jesus.

2.  They teach us to turn to God and His Word in trials. If we listen to the world–and even the modern day church– around us, we will soon be convinced that God’s Word is irrelevant in this day and age. We need medications and doctors and therapists if there is ever going to be true change. But this just isn’t true.

3.  They teach us that our “Happy Ending” will be in eternity. We have this expectation as Westerners that we deserve a good life. And, yet, I am amazed at how few people really do have a good life. They are women born in middle-eastern cultures or children sold into the sex slavery trade by their own parents. Even more amazing yet are those that choose a hard life. Missionaries that give more than they can afford for little–if any–reward. Men and women who purposefully choose to live without any modern-day conveniences in order to reach the lost. Men and women who stand up for Truth, even if it means persecution and death. All because they aren’t constantly grasping and reaching for happiness and fulfillment here on this sin-splattered planet like the rest of us tend to do.

4. They teach us how to walk with God. I love God’s Word and this should be our first and foremost place to go for learning and studying. But God has gifted certain men and women with insight to exposit and explain scripture. Their works are wonderful companions to what we are learning in God’s Word. Currently, I am reading through the Gospels, following the schedule my pastor gave us at the beginning of the year. My study has been so enhanced by reading Expository Thoughts on the Gospels by J.C. Ryle and Why Four Gospels? by A.W. Pink. These books really are helping me to understand the scriptures better. I have gained such insight from these great men of God.

5. They show us that God controls the things that are outside our control. Oh, the peace and comfort that I have drawn from reading about the miraculous ways of God in seemingly impossible circumstances. Even now, as we face an impossible election with two of the worst candidates imaginable and the future looks increasingly bleak, I know that my God is in control. God’s Word says this and I have seen the truth of these words in the lives of those who have gone on before us. He will make a way for us to go through the upcoming deep waters. “He will make a way when there seems to be no way.” (Anyone else remember those lyrics from the 80s worship chorus??)

6.  And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, these books give us perspective. Oh, precious perspective. We can become so myopic and self-focused. These books teach us to look outward and upward. They remind us of the many lives that have been lived well before us. They remind us of what matters. And why it matters.

I am currently reading Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards. I think the thing that has struck me most is how similar his battles are to ours. He, too, was persecuted for standing up for truth. He, too, was battling against experience-based religion that took hold of his culture. And yet, he kept on serving the Lord by preaching and writing. And here we are–hundreds of years later–still reading his words and benefiting from his insight because he remained faithful in the midst of the fire.

I want to do the same. And these books encourage me to do that!

Practically speaking, I know that these books are not the enjoyable fodder we want to read on the beach or during our summer vacations. We like light stuff this time of the year, and I, too, usually pick a novel to read. But I truly do hope you will consider picking up a serious book or two to read along with your novels. I will list a few of my favorite authors below. Many of these authors’ books are public domain, which means they are free or very inexpensive for Kindle.

Here are a few of my favorite Christian Classic authors with some titles–

J.C. Ryle (Holiness; Practical Religion)

A.W. Pink (The Attributes of God; The Sovereignty of God)

Charles Spurgeon (Lectures to My Students; Twelve Sermons on Humility)

Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment; A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness)

R.A. Torrey (How to Study the Bible)

Elisabeth Elliot (The Liberty of Obedience; Discipline: The Glad Surrender)

While I have read (or am reading) most of these books, I have not read all of them. A few of them are on my Kindle awaiting their turn. However, the specific biographies below I have read and have been changed by reading them. I highly, highly recommend–

Anything by Iain Murray. He writes biographies of great Christian men; anything by him will be of great benefit to you. As I mentioned, I am currently reading his biography on Jonathan Edwards.

Isobel Kuhn has written several autobiographies and biographies. They are excellent! By Searching is a good place to start.

George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer

Gladys Aylward by Sam Wellman

Under His Wings by Stephen Lehmann

The Story of John G Paton or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals by John G Paton


I hope these will give you some ideas of a place to get started. I promise you–I PROMISE YOU–you will not be sorry if you purposefully develop the habit to read books like those listed above. You will grow in ways you never thought possible. Your faith in God will deepen and you will be changed. Let’s purpose to fill our minds with biblical books that deepen and enhance our understanding of the Bible rather than those that relegate the Bible to the background or eliminate it altogether.

Happy Reading!


7 thoughts on “Learning From Those Who Have Gone On Before”

  1. Leslie, I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and with each one I keep thinking to myself, wow, it’s amazing how you can put into beautiful words what I am thinking. Every time! You are truly gifted as a writer to tactfully put your beliefs into words, something which I’ve always wanted to do, but know I am not as gifted at. So I enjoy reading your blog, especially when you talk about books, such as this one, because I, too, love books (I am our church’s librarian) and especially enjoy Christian biographies. I bought the book Green Leaf in Drought that you had recommended and reviewed it for my library newsletter. I enjoy reading lesser known biographies such as that one, it’s like finding a diamond in a haystack (am I mixing my metaphors?:-). My newsletter this month focuses on the legacy of Billy Graham’s family. I just finished Rebel With a Cause by Franklin Graham and highly recommend it! So I just want to encourage you to keep recommending more books as you read through them. I for one, will benefit.

    1. Good to know! Thank you so much for telling me this. I confess that sometimes I wonder if I am making a difference. Comments like your are so encouraging and God uses them to keep me writing :) Under His Wings is another one of those biographies very much under the radar. Let me know what you think if you read it. I was very challenged by it!

  2. Leslie, I just want to thank you for all the wisdom and encouragement you share with me…and all your readers, in each of your blogs. I read many different blogs written by wise and talented Christian women, and for some reason I really connected to you..maybe because I have 4 children and if we lived in the same town we would probably be friends. But I just wanted you to know I really appreciate the truth you impart, and the transparent heart you share with us readers.
    I have loved reading since I was a young girl. I read the similar authors and books you did as a child…so I can really relate to you. As my maturity and faith changed and grew in Christ, so did my book selections. I now hunger to read books by authors and topics similar to the ones you recommended that you have read. I have written down the books you have recommended and look forward adding them to my list.
    I have a vast library of Christian books that I gladly loan out for others to read and to enjoy, but unfortunately many people I know don’t have the same enthusiasm as I do for reading. There were seasons in my life that God ministered to me through the different books I read…and I really think they made such a difference in helping me get through some very difficult times.
    I just want to encourage you that you are making a difference in the lives of your readers…like me, and I will remember to lift you up in prayer. Thank-you for your gift of writing.

    1. Thank you, Catherine! Your words are such an encouragement to me! I, too, am always a bit sad for how little appetite there is for Christian books that have some depth to them. And I, too, have read some books that God has used mightily at specific times in my life. Two of them were Francine Rivers’ first two books from the Mark of the Lion series. They really challenged and changed me. When I went back to read them again just a few years ago, I didn’t have the same interest. But I read them when I needed to read them. I sure do hope that we get to meet someday, Catherine–if not here, then in heaven. I am sure we’d have lots to talk about! :) I am so humbled by your kind words and God has certainly used you to encourage me to keep writing!

      1. Leslie…you are most welcome! I so look forward reading whatever you write; like in the movie…”You’ve got mail” …I look forward seeing if there is another blog you have written in my inbox…they all have such substance and things to ponder, and even convict me on some truth you are imparting. Some people choose not to respond to what they have read…I usually do because I want the writer, such as yourself, to know I appreciate their effort and hard work. I am in awe of people being able to put words together so eloquently…to weave a story or put thoughts onto paper that convey the heart. I do not have the gift of writing but I greatly respect those that do. It appears to me that not only is this one of your gifts but it is a wonderful ministry that encourages it’s readers to grow closer to the Lord in the many ways you suggest.
        In closing I want to suggest an author to you that has meant so much to me; her name is Bodie Thoene; she writes non-fiction but from an authentic historical perspective…her series of books transport me to ancient days in Israel as if I am right there with them. You might have already read them but if not, the Zion Chronicle series are great, as are all her books. Blessings?

          1. Thank you! I have not read any of her books but they sound like something I would enjoy. I will definitely look into that :) Thank you again for your kind words! I LOVE to write and am so honored if someone can actually learn and grow from what I write. To God be all the glory :)

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