Two Sundays ago, as I had just finished preaching a sermon and was standing in the lobby of my church, a young man approached me with tears in his eyes and shared some of his story with me. It was heartbreaking. He had five siblings, of which three had taken their own lives. His cousin had just been convicted of murder and was serving life without the possibility of parole. This tear-filled young man was facing four to 16 years of prison himself, not to mention his wife had left him and he wasn’t legally allowed to see his children. He wanted to know if there was hope.
Could God still use him? Would God even want to?
Then last week I had the opportunity to do my fourth funeral in as many months. Often when preparing a funeral, I spend so much time piecing together what I hope will be the most honoring and respectful tribute of one’s life, that I start to think about my own life. I start wondering how I will be remembered. Did I allow God to use me the way He wanted to? Was I the husband He wanted me to be? Or father? Or pastor?
Perhaps one of the biggest questions we wrestle with is one that has existed far longer than any of us. It’s a question that resonates on the pages of Genesis and Exodus. We see it echo in 1 Kings and Daniel. From Adam and Eve to Moses, Abraham and the prophets. It’s a question that lingers in the gospels with Peter, James and John.
The question is simple yet profound: What will your legacy be?
Maybe the best example of what it looks like to leave a legacy is found in the lives of David and his son Solomon. David was a man who, although he was far from perfect, is best known for having the kind of faith that could strike down giants. He exemplified what it looks like to have a repentant heart and was a leader who, because of his commitment to God, reaped the blessings of his Father in heaven.
And then there’s Solomon. Solomon’s story plays out a little differently than David’s. Where David made some mistakes, learned from them, repented of them and sought God through them, Solomon seemed to make all the right moves, at least at first. Instead of asking God for great wealth or power, he simply asked for wisdom, which pleased God greatly. He built the temple where the ark was placed so that God could dwell among His people, and God was happy to consecrate it.
Yet there’s some foreshadowing in the early pages of 1 Kings. Every time Solomon did something that pleased God, he was reminded, “If you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever.” Solomon heard these words repeatedly throughout his life. Over and over and over again.
Yet Solomon must have stopped listening. 1 Kings 11 states, “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter … He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 9:4-5).
Solomon was led astray, no longer loyal to God, and God kept His word, tearing the Kingdom of Israel from Solomon’s hands. Solomon’s is a sad legacy to leave. It started out well but turned sour. As David is known for being a man after God’s heart, Solomon in known for his unfaithfulness.
Then there’s this passage right in the middle of the Ten Commandments. God declares, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).
I’ll be honest: I never really understood or liked this passage. It didn’t seem fair that God would punish children for the sins of their parents or grandparents, or great grandparents for that matter. It didn’t seem fair that God would bless someone for something their grandfather did, either. And there is much to learn here in the way that this verse is now Old Testament law, though we live today in the new covenant of Christ.
But then I started to think about alcoholics and addicts, and how their children are more prone to addiction because of their parents’ afflictions. Or how those who are abused are more prone to be abusive themselves. It dawned on me that, although I still don’t fully understand God’s blessings and curses, we do a pretty good job of cursing those around us on our own.
If God would grant me the opportunity to determine how I want to exit this world, I hope to be an elderly man at home lying in bed. Seated next to me on the edge of the bed, my bride is holding my hand, while all around the room are my children, now grown, who are there with their spouses—godly men and women. Also in the room are my grandchildren with their spouses, godly as well. And maybe, if I’m old enough, there are a few great-grandchildren starting fires and destroying things while no one’s looking.
When it’s all said and done, I hope to see my legacy lived out in my children, and their children, and their children. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I have the opportunity to shape future generations, not necessarily through sermons I preach or things I write but through something as simple as loving my God and my wife, thus showing my family what it looks like to seek God in their lives and relationships.
The truth is, many of us believe that in order to change the world we have to be famous or celebrated. We believe we have to be authors or athletes or have people shout our names in auditoriums with large gatherings of people. But what if God’s plan for you is to be simply the best husband or wife, mom or dad, soup kitchen volunteer or after-school tutor you can be?
What if God’s plan is for you to break a cycle of abuse or addiction in your family, to set a new course for future generations, to be hope to the hopeless or to love someone others would consider unlovable?
That’s not too bad of a legacy to leave, if you ask me.
Ryan Rasmussen is a teaching pastor at Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Frederick, Colo. He is a husband, father, preacher and writer. He has also recently started cutting his own hair. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanRRasmussen.