What’s Your Legacy?

Babysitting two grandsons Tuesday morning, I felt discouraged. Not with them; they were great. Not even with changing their diapers—although I’m a rank diaper amateur. I was discouraged because of a dissatisfaction with how my time was being spent.

I left the business world because God led me to something new. Now I sense a God-given, heart-gripping, compelling to write, to offer new perspectives on how our beliefs drive us.

So a few months ago I decided to spend more time writing. And how have I done? Rusty TypewriterThe short answer is, “Badly.” So is the long answer. Instead of writing more, I’ve written quite a bit less.

And I feel sort of useless. Hmmm, not useless; I feel wasted (no, not that kind of wasted), like I’m squandering my time, letting it be filled with activities while the mission that drives my heart lies abandoned.

Interruptions intervened, friends had urgent needs, I preached sermons and spoke at retreats, storms dumped snow, taxes were complicated, and diapers stunk. My writing was rusting.

So I re-visited my priorities to sort out how my life can make a difference. Then I read,

[Our] battle is not against sin, or circumstances, but against being so absorbed in our service to Jesus Christ that we are not ready to face Jesus Himself (Oswald Chambers).

I’ve been more interested in my ministry to God than in God himself.

What is your legacy?

When I was eight, I thought only of what I’d do that afternoon. When I was eighteen, I thought of what I’d do four years later after university. When I was thirty-five, I thought of my retirement thirty years in the future.

We value the future only as our future dwindles. And now that I’m in my mid-fifties, I consider the legacy I will leave to future generations.

It’s good to consider our legacy. There is no value in dying with the “most toys.” There is only value in the influence our lives have had. Paul wrote, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

We are designed to make a difference. Even a cup of cold water will be remembered forever. It’s a legacy. We can leave behind a word of encouragement, a financial gift to a needy cause, a life-changing insight, an open ear to a discouraged outsider. Or an attempt to write a blog on making the most of our time.

Each day we help (or hurt) the people we bump into. Each day we move others just a bit closer to (or a bit further from) knowing God. The legacy we bequeath is the impact we leave.

But legacies are spiritual

Someday, if there is no God, everything we’ve done will be lost, forgotten in the turmoil of future crises. How many of us know the names of our great, great grandparents? How many of us have heard of the kind words our eighteen-year old parents gave to their needy friends?

Someday, if there is no God, the sun will die, the world will grow dark, and every good gift we have ever given will be lost forever; the cup of cold water will be frozen in darkness along with every kind word every spoken. What we’ve done will no longer matter. Our legacies will die.

But if there is a God

Five hundred years ago, someone asked Martin Luther what he would do if he knew Jesus was returning tomorrow. He said he’d plant a tree. Because that tree would dance and sing like no tree you ever imagine (Isaiah 55). It was a legacy.

If we plant a seed of encouragement in friends (and foes) around us, it too will live forever.

If there is a God, our legacies belong to him. Some of us leave it to man, asking our leaders, “Just tell me what to do.” We bury our God-given talents six feet deep. Others say, “My life is epic.” Like the Levite and priest, we ignore the man lying in the gutter, beaten and bloody.

Let’s learn to “write” and offer cups of cold water, planting trees that will live forever.

Our legacy is rarely what we imagine

Last December, I prayed for clarity and dedicated more time to writing. (I still feel I heard correctly.) So I made a plan, committed it to God, and waited it to come to pass (Pr. 37:5).

And then he directed my paths. But those paths wandered lanes not on my map. Instead of more writing, I met thirsty people in need of a cup of cold water. Let’s make the most of our time, using the strengths God himself planted in us; let’s not bury even one God-given talent.

But let’s expect God to direct us in ways unimaginable. Let’s leave our legacy to God.

Allen Gardiner was a mid-nineteenth century missionary who planned to plant a mission in South America. On the way, he was shipwrecked. His companions suffered the painful death of hunger and thirst. Gardiner too finally succumbed, survived only by his journal. It closes with,

Young lions do lack and suffer hunger; yet they that seek the Lord shall lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10).

Beneath that verse he wrote the last words he would ever write, “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.” I’d be happy to leave half a legacy like that.

Let’s leave a legacy behind us, but not at the cost of leaving God behind; let’s remember to make the most of our time, but let’s forget attempts to make most of ourselves.

Let God work his legacy through us. It’s rarely what we expect; and there’s usually an unexpected diaper (or two) in the path.


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What do YOU think?

13 thoughts on “What’s Your Legacy?

  1. Wow, that was just what I needed. Thanks for speaking clearly from your heart and your mind. When I get discouraged about the lack of results from my ministry, I will always remember the concept of legacy and know God better.

    • Hi Bob,

      YES! When ministries seem to fail, we can be most discouraged. Just look at Elisha after the great sacrifice contest. He did all he could, and he was discouraged by the apparent lack of success.

      But … he has a pretty good legacy, doesn’t he?

      Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Well said, Sam…as per usual! I remember my grandmother reciting a well-worn but memorable maxim: ‘Only one life ’twill soon be passed; only what’s done for Christ will last.’ However, our temptation to use the world’s metrics, e.g. celebrity, toys, etc., is such a powerful presence that few of us remain content in handing out a simple cup of cold water, as you say. Yours is an encouraging reminder.

    • My folks had that same maxim on our walls. And it’s true. And it does last.

      It was my wife, a few years ago, who reminded me of offering a cup of cold water to people. So often, I simply don’t know what “life-changing significant word of wonder” to offer. But I can encourage and listen. And that’s refreshing cup of cold water.



  3. Thank-you for writing this, I’m sure I will re-read and re-think all that you’re saying here, because I think that questions about spending our time wisely and leaving a legacy are questions that almost everyone poses at one time or another. I myself am asking this question a lot lately, and wondering if faithfulness and obedience to God aren’t wrapped up in this question of being wise with how we use our time. Ecclesiastes is all about time and legacies, and I think that one of his (Solomon’s) conclusions is that it is God who determines our legacy, and it will be eternal if we spend our time loving Him and as you saying, offering a cold cup of water to others.

    • Hi Havs,

      Great comments. Thanks. You are right, it is God who determines our legacies. We SHOULD make the most of our time–let’s think and plan and analyze–but we have to avoid being one of those people who are just making a name for themselves.


  4. Sam:

    By the time I as half way through your blog I wanted to respond with the words,”Don’t stop writing.” By the time I reached the three-quarter mark I realized there was no danger. You’re in for the long haul, and I’m glad to be one of your readers.

    I began writing in earnest about fourteen years ago and have walked a similar odyssey—always writing to a smaller audience than what my inner voice told me I deserved, and almost always with a faith conviction that I must tell myself is more than a consolation prize.

    But like you, I’ve kept at it—a couple paying articles, a few anthology inclusions, a self-published book, and another manuscript in the works. I have big plans, bigger prayers, and a lot of baggage. Recently I’ve had to do the same exercise that you have, to cull all the little writing projects and concentrate on the legacy, the place where the Lord appears to be doing the work.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Hi Doug,

      Love your line, “I have big plans, bigger prayers, and a lot of baggage.” Don’t we all have lots of baggage.

      I’m glad you keep on writing as God puts it on your heart.

      God sometimes allows bloodied victims in our paths for us to help; and sometimes we just have the daily distractions of TV and the Internet.

      May God give us wisdom to know the difference.