Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The best Ebenezer stories

My favorite books and the most inspiring Ebenezer stories I know are biographies of ordinary, but faithful women who did extraordinary things because they followed an extraordinary God (thanks to Noel Piper for that characterization). The lives of these women have served as encouragement, and their examples have provided me with pictures of how to live my life as a Christian woman. Reading the story of a life teaches me in a way that a “how-to” book never could. Life stories show me the way by showing me a life well lived in faith and service. These women have become for me some of the Hebrews 12:1 “cloud of witnesses,” cheering me on to “run with endurance the race that is set before me.”

John Piper wrote, “Hebrews 11 is a divine mandate to read Christian biography. The unmistakable implication of the chapter is that, if we hear about the faith of our forefathers (and mothers), we will "lay aside every weight and sin" and "run with perseverance the race that is set before us" (12:1). If we asked the author, "How shall we stir one another up to love and good works?" (10:24), his answer would be: "Through encouragement from the living (10:25) and the dead" (chap. 11). Christian biography is the means by which "body life" cuts across the generations."

When I feel weak and tired, I think of Gladys Aylward trekking across the mountains in China with 100 children to get to safety. When I feel lonely, I think of Ann Judson boarding a boat to travel to Burma with the thought that she would never see her loved ones again. When I wonder how God will use the gifts and desires he’s given me, I think of Lilias Trotter who gave up an artistic career to go to Algeria but whose artistic gifts God used for his glory among the Moslem people to whom He sent her. When I need encouragement in my schooling endeavors, I think of Charlotte Mason, who labored for many years “for the children’s sake,” in her efforts to mentor a generation of teachers. When I feel helpless, I think of Amy Carmichael, flat on her back in bed in pain, writing words which would inspire her helpers at Dohnavur and her friends around the world. When I feel overwhelmed with my responsibilities as a mother, I think of Susannah Wesley whose brood far outnumbered mine and who faithfully labored and prayed year in and year out for her children. Helen Roseaveare, Elizabeth Prentiss, Sarah Edwards and others have, through their biographies, lived their lives before me and taught me about courage, creativity, steadfastness, humor, grief, devotion, vision, faithfulness, tenacity, compassion, forgiveness, weakness, and more.

Piper also wrote, "Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C.S. Lewis calls it). It is also theology - the most powerful kind - because it bursts forth from the lives of people like us. It is also adventure and suspense, for which we have a natural hunger. It is psychology and personal experience, which deepen our understanding of human nature (especially ourselves). Good biographies of great Christians make for remarkably efficient reading."

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order. I’m sure there are many, many more worthy of our attention. If you have a favorite, please share it. And if you've never read any of these, won't you join me in learning from these amazing women!

A Chance to Die: The Biography of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot

My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma by Sharon L. James

A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Huffman Rockness

Though Lions Roar: The Story of Helen Roseveare, Missionary Doctor to the Congo by Mary Beth Lagerborg

More Love to Thee: The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss edited by George L. Prentiss

The Charlotte Mason Story by Essex Cholmondley

Good Seed by Mariana Slocum and M.B. Steele

And the Word Came with Power: How God Met and Changed a People Forever by Joanne Shetler

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess (about Gladys Aylward)

Nothing Daunted: The Story of Isobel Kuhn by Gloria Repp

Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God by Noel Piper


Amber Benton said...


Thank you for sharing with me some of your favorite stories through Noel's Book for my b'day! AND I have begun again 'A Passion for the Impossible', and this time I will finish it!! (My reading has been gaining ground again in the last couple of weeks since Joseph was born.)

Much love you you, and sorry I missed seeing you last night.


Anonymous said...

Gladys Aylward, and Amy Carmichael have really impacted my life too. I think about them so much when I am tired and feeling weary. Thank you Beth, for posting this list of books! I have only read about half of them and look forward to digging into the rest. Biographies are my very favorite readings. By the way- I still have your Gladys Aylward book. I will try to remember to bring it to you on Sunday.

Unknown said...

Great post, Beth! I am about to begin my annual reading of Stepping Heavenward...not really a biography, but a thinly-veiled autobiography, maybe?

beth said...

I should re-read Stepping Heavenward. Haven't read it in years. Have you read More Love to Thee? Elizabeth Prentiss also wrote a book called A Home at Greylock that I'd love to get my hands on...having lived in the Shadow of Greylock. She has so many connections to that part of New England which you learn about in More Love...

Enjoy Stepping...what a great annual tradition.

Amber Benton said...

We read Stepping Heavenward two years ago in my book club and I enjoyed it. I have been thinking about getting my own copy. I'll have to look for her other books, too!

Anonymous said...

The Word Came with Power is one of my favorite biographies too! Here is another one, not a book but a DVD of stories (through interviews) of Christians in China who have suffered for Christ, some in their 90's and others in their 20's. The title of the DVD is The Cross: Jesus in China.