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What We Leave Behind: Building a Lasting Legacy

Updated on March 30, 2019
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

Leaving a Lasting Impression

Hudson Taylor, who lived between 1832 and 1905, was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China and the Founder of the China Inland Mission. He spent 51 years in China and the Society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who, in turn, began 125 schools. His work also directly resulted in 18,000 conversions to Christ.

Several years ago the Communist Government of China commissioned a man to write a biography of Taylor in order to distort the facts and present him in a bad light. They wanted to discredit this man of God.

As the writer was doing the research he became extremely impressed by Mr. Taylor's saintly character and godly life. He found it increasingly difficult to carry out his assignment with a clear conscience. At the risk of losing his life, the author laid aside his pen, renounced his atheism and gave his life to Jesus Christ.

Whether we realize it or not, our lives leave an impression on people that they will never forget. Whether it be a good or a bad impression, that is your legacy. Hudson Taylor left a profound impact on millions of lives that is causing a ripple effect to this very day. But, in many ways, we all do. The good thing is that we can choose the impressions that we will leave behind.

Yet It amazes me how many people in this world fritter their lives away. For example, by the time the average American dies, he or she will have watched around nine years of television. I wonder how many of those same people will wish that they had 9 more years to live when they find out they are near the end?

The truth is that we were all created by God for a purpose. None of us is here by accident. And we cannot find ultimate fulfillment in life unless we are living out our God-designed purpose. Our lives should be an example of what it truly means to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Proverbs 13:22 tells us:

"A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children. And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous."

While this is speaking primarily of money and physical wealth, the same is true of our spiritual lives. We need to leave a spiritual heritage for our children's children to follow. As Christians, we should do our best to leave a legacy of faith for our posterity to follow.

What Will Be Your Legacy

I. What is a Legacy?

There can be more than one kind of legacy, for the word means “something received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past” (Webster). In legal terms, this could include things such as money or property. However, it also means how someone is remembered, and what contributions they made while they were alive.

One of the greatest legacies that a person can leave is one of faith and obedience to the Lord. A person like this is one to which God will truly say someday: "Well done thou good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21). This is the type of person that can truly say, like the Apostle Paul: "Follow me as I follow Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1).

With that in mind, let us look at what a person who leaves a good spiritual legacy looks like.

II. The Portrait of a Legacy Builder

When we think of the billions of people who are or have inhabited this planet, it is sad how few will lead lives worth emulating. Most, I dare say, will leave this earth without giving a moments thought as to what their actions will do to leave this planet, and especially the people on this planet, better for their having been here. But the truth is, we are our brother's keeper. It is our responsibility to set an example for those who are coming after us. We must light a path for them to follow. That is especially true in the spiritual realm. We must blaze a trail that they can and should choose to follow.

A. One Who Has Priorities Straight

A true man or woman of God has their priorities straight. It is so tempting in this world to seek the things that money can buy. Wealth can buy comfort and ease, and what many would call the "good life." It is also tempting to try to get to the top in order to have a place of prestige and honor. While there is nothing particularly bad about money, or even fame and honor, they should never be sought out for their own sake.

People who leave a legacy put their priorities in order. They seek first God's Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Whatever they do is done to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).

These people also see the family that the Lord gave them as their top priority and ministry. The family never gets neglected for any other thing in life. A person who seeks to be a spiritual leader must first lead in their own home and provide for their welfare. As Paul told Timothy:

"But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (I Timothy 5:8).

And finally, people who leave a legacy always put people over things. God and people are the only two things in this universe that are eternal. All else will pass away. We all need to live life accordingly.

Probably the greatest example of all of this was our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He put the Father's will first and then people's needs ahead of His own constantly in his ministry. And even during his death on the cross, He made sure that his mother was taken care of by his disciple John. With all that our Lord was going through, you would think that he'd be preoccupied with something else. However, this is what the Gospel of John tells us:

"When Jesus, therefore, saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother: "Woman behold your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home." (John 19:26-29).

Jesus was dying for the whole world, yet took care of His family until the end of his earthly life by making sure Mary was to be cared for the rest of her life. Jesus had his priorities straight.

B. A Person Of Prayer and Bible Study

Next, anyone who seeks to leave their spiritual mark on this world can never do so unless they are the type of person who follows the Word of God and is a person of prayer. It is impossible to develop the character necessary to leave any kind of legacy without being close to God. The Bible is God speaking to us. And prayer is us speaking to God, and allowing His Spirit to communicate with us as well. These are essential disciplines to develop if we want to make a difference.

When thinking of this characteristic, it is hard not to remember Daniel, who in chapter 6 of the Book by his name, was thrown into a den of lions because he refused to follow the decree of Darius the Mede that nobody should pray to any god or man but Darius himself for thirty days. As soon as he heard this edict by the king, the Bible tells us this:

"Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." (6:10).

Though he knew that it meant sure death, Daniel would not compromise his faith or his time with the Lord for anyone, even the king. And God rewarded him by closing the mouths of the lions and saving his life.

C. One Who Finishes Well

Another characteristic of one who is a legacy-builder is one who finishes well. There are so many who begin things in life with all good intentions. But because of various reasons, they don't finish. Whether it be a marriage, a business or a commitment to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, we have many more beginners than completers.

The same is true in the spiritual life. So many start out with great intentions of living a godly life and making a difference in the world, but end up being saved, "yet so as by fire." Their lives end up with more wood, hay, and stubble than gold, silver and precious stones.

A legacy-builder is a person who remains faithful their whole life, despite trials and tribulations. In fact, the trials and tribulations make them stronger in faith and cause them to be more determined to lead a life that matters.

By all of this, I don't mean that a person worth following is perfect. All of those in the past have been far from perfect if we had gotten to know them. However, they were consistent. They were quick to admit sin and turn from it. And they could be counted on to do the right thing more often than not.

Job was such a man. We find out this about this godly man in Job 1:1 when it says of him:

"There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. And that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil."

For those who are familiar with the story of Job, we know that there was a contest between God and Satan. Satan told God that the reason that this man served Him was that the Lord had placed a hedge of protection around him. Satan said that if he were allowed to afflict Job that this man would curse God to his face (1:11).

As we read this true story, we learn that Satan indeed afflicts the righteous Job. He loses his children, his possessions, his health, and his wife is so upset that she tells Job that he might as well curse God and die. Yet despite all of this, Job remained faithful to his God. And the Lord rewarded him by giving back his health and double what he'd lost (42:10-17).

III. The Faith of a Legacy-Builder

The greatest characteristic of a legacy-builder is that of faith in God. In the book of Hebrews, we have a whole list of legacy-builders in, what has become known as the Hall of Faith or the Faith Hall of Fame. Chapter 11 tells us:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (11:1).

The Hebrew Christians in this book were being persecuted for their faith, and the writer of Hebrews wanted to encourage them to remain strong and not abandon Christ. So he gave them many examples of those who continued in their faith throughout history, even though they never saw the full outcome of their belief in their lifetimes.

If we read through the book of Hebrews, we see that faith isn't just a blind following of the Lord. More than half of the verses in this book are dedicated to reasons why the people should not abandon the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. He has given us enough evidence in the past to see that He keeps His promises so we can trust Him for our future.

It is not gullible or senseless. It is rather taking what we already know of God and then applying it to an eternal perspective. God loves us and wants the best for our lives. He alone can provide, both for our present and for our future needs. He has already proven that to be so. Godly faith looks forward, relying on what we have seen to inform what we don't as yet see.

All of the examples that we read of in this passage carry through with this theme of trusting God in this manner.

We have at least three major types of examples here. The first is a group who trusted God throughout their whole lives, such as Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:8). There is Enoch, who so closely followed God that the Lord took Him to be with him without facing death (Genesis 5:23-24). And there was Noah who built the Ark that saved him, his family and preserved humanity. Further, we also have Abraham and Sarah who trusted God for an inheritance. (Hebrews 11:1-12)

The writer of Hebrews made sure he stated that these people weren't thinking specifically of this life. They were looking forward beyond their personal death to the "city whose architect and builder is God. (11:10). They were looking to "a country that is a heavenly one." (11:13-16).

The next group talked of were those who had immediate challenges. A major example of this is Abraham again, who was asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had promised that it was through Isaac that He would fulfill the promises made to Abraham. It tells us that he had faith that God could raise the dead, even if Isaac was killed (17-19).

There were others mentioned, but another major example was Moses who, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents to keep from being killed by Pharaoh. (23). And when he was grown, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, Rather, he chose to endure the ill-treatment with the people of God than to: "enjoy the passing pleasures of sin." (24-25).

The Scripture goes on to tell the whole story of how, through faith, Moses lead the people of God out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, leaving the armies of Egypt to drown. (27-28).

It records how, 40 years later, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down because of the faithful obedience of God's people, and how Rahab the harlot, by faith, helped them to accomplish this by hiding the spies in the land of Canaan (30-31).

The whole chapter is just a litany of the faith of believers that God used to bring about His purposes.

The third and final group are the ones who suffered and were martyred for their trust in God. The writer tells us:

"And others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted and ill-treated. Men of whom the world is not worthy. wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect." (36-40).

Somehow, the faith of these great men and women is linked to our own. None of us will experience all of what God has in store for His people until we all gather and live it out together in the New Heaven and the New Earth. In the meantime, there is this great cloud of witnesses of those who have gone on before us, and completed their faith journey on this earth. They should encourage us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and finisher of our faith, and complete our own journey (Hebrews 12:1,2).


I love the words in the song by Steve Green entitled 'Find Us Faithful.' He tells us:

o may all who come behind us
find us faithful,
may the fire of our devotion
light their way.
may the footprints that we leave,
lead them to believe,
and the lives we live
inspire them to obey.

o may all who come behind us
find us faithful.

Dr. Joseph Stowell wrote a book in 1986 entitled Fan the Flame. In it he told us that the Greeks had a unique race in their Olympic games in which the winner wasn't the person who finished first. He was the one who finished with his torch still lit. We desperately need people who, at the end of their race, have their torches still lit for Jesus Christ today.

This generation of people in which we live is dying for a lack of godly examples. We who are believers need to be concerned about what will happen after we're gone. God has placed us on this earth for such a short time compared to eternity. And the reason we're still here is that He isn't finished with us yet. We can still leave a godly legacy upon which our children and our children's children can build. It's not too late. Let us begin today so that they may find us faithful!.

© 2013 Jeff Shirley


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