A couple of years ago, when author J.I. Packer preached at the memorial service for the famous British pastor and writer John Stott, he began with a reading from Hebrews 13:7-8:
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
His reason for going to this passage was clear, coming as it did in the memorial service for a Christian leader. Here the writer encourages us to remember those who have gone before us in the Faith. And at the same time, here we see why remembering our past, and especially our older brothers and sisters in the past, is significant: the Lord we serve is the same Lord they served, and he is the same yesterday, today and forever.
We are not the first to do this. We are not the first to follow in the way of Jesus. But if we act as if we are the first Christians, we’re missing a lot. We can learn from the things our parents in the Faith learned. We might learn from their joys, and we might learn from their missteps. And we can be inspired by those who went before us—we can, as it says, “imitate their faith.”
Our predecessors are people who “finished the race” well (2 Timothy 4:7), and they can be a huge encouragement to us. In the words of the writers of the recent book Common Prayer, “we need new heroes.” We have been celebrating the wrong people: the powerful people, the famous people, the rich people. While we must always remain devoted solely to Jesus Christ, we can benefit greatly by finding some role models in the Christian past. They can be our mentors pointing us to Jesus by example.
Lately I have started reading Christian biographies (right now I’m reading Alister McGrath’s A Life of John Calvin, and I recently read the “young readers” biography of John Stott himself, pictured above). I have found this to be a very beneficial use of time. In a world where the media constantly pushes its vision of what a “successful life” looks like, we could all benefit from “remembering our leaders,” and “imitating their faith.”