“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim Elliott
All of us desire to leave a legacy, to know that we mattered. And our legacy is determined by how we spend our days, just as a building is determined by the quality of the materials used in its construction. The Apostle Paul was well aware of the correlation between the building materials we use and the quality of construction. In 1 Corinthians 3:12-14 he wrote, “If any man builds on this foundation [Jesus] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.” Every day we get to choose the materials – either temporary or eternal – we’ll build our lives with. If you want to ensure a legacy that will outlast you, that can withstand the ultimate fire drill, you need three key materials:
The first one is your convictions – what you stand for. Convictions are those core values from God’s Word that never change; they’re eternal. Trends and styles – they come and go, “but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8). You only have to glance at the news occasionally to see that even so-called scientific studies can fluctuate or differ dramatically in interpretation. This week, coffee is good for you. Next week, it contributes to hypertension. This week, protein diets do more harm than good; next month, they’re all the rage. But, God’s Word is solid and secure, without shifting in the slightest. It was the truth a thousand years ago, it’s the truth today, and it will remain the truth a thousand years from now.
If we are to build an eternal legacy, our convictions have to come from God’s Word. If your core values come from God’s Word, they will never change. They are rock solid in a shaky world. The key to their effectiveness, however, is that we live them out. We must display congruence between what we believe and how we live. I like the way The Message puts this: “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach.” (Matthew 7:26).
Studying the Bible isn’t enough; we have to incorporate the Bible into our lives for it to be a conviction. You don’t really believe something unless you live it out. There is a critical difference between beliefs and convictions: a belief is something you hold on to, but a conviction is something that holds you. A conviction is a core value from God’s Word that anchors us, shapes us, permeates our lives, and becomes an integral part of who we are.
The next eternal building material emerges in our character. When we die, we don’t take anything with us except our character, who we are at our core. From the very beginning, God has always had a plan; it’s to make you and me more like Jesus Christ, His Son. His plan is to put into our lives the very character traits of Christ. “God knew what He was doing from the very beginning, He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him along the same lines as the life of His Son.” (Romans 8:29, MSG).
There are several methods God uses to cultivate Christ’s character in us. The first comes with the problems of life. As difficult as they are, problems always have a purpose. Sometimes, God allows distractions in your life, those little irritations that rub off the rough edges of your character. Other times, He gets out the jack-hammer and starts chipping away those huge chunks that don’t look like Jesus. If we embrace the problems of life as opportunities to trust Him and become more like Christ, we don’t have nearly as much room to worry, feel sorry for ourselves, or get angry.
God also uses the pressures of life to smooth our edges. We learn patience under pressure. The most Christ-like people I’ve ever known were experiencing tremendous stress and responsibility. Situations where we’re squeezed always bring out what’s inside us, be it bad or good. We can acknowledge our limitations and invite God to work in our lives, or we can get in the way and insist on doing things our way, even as our efforts crumble around us.
Finally, He likes to use the people in our lives to enrich our character, to chip away at our selfish edges that prevent us from loving others the way Christ does. Every one of us has people in our lives who are hard to love. Just because we love someone doesn’t mean that the relationship will go smoothly. Remember that God is using people as His chisel to chip away everything in your life that doesn’t look like Christ so He can make your life a work of art.
Eternal legacies are built on our convictions, our character, and our community. Godly convictions and godly character last forever, and our relationships with God’s people last forever as well. Let’s get personal for a moment. If you’re too busy to commit to ongoing time with a group of like-minded individuals, then you’re just too busy. You remember the sisters, Mary and Martha, who were friends of Jesus. One night, they invited Him over for dinner, and Martha was running around in a frenzy trying to make sure everything was perfect because the Son of God was in her house. But, Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him, relaxing, and enjoying some quality time. Needless to say, Martha was pretty ticked about the whole situation. She was mad at Mary, and I think she was really mad at Jesus because He wasn’t setting her sister straight. “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.’” (Luke 10:40-42).
Jesus has this way of tender-heartedly driving the knife of truth into our hearts and twisting right where we need it. His words must have hurt Martha. She was thinking, Lord, do You see all I’m doing? I’m working as hard as I can, and look what You’re letting Mary do. You know, You’re God’s Son. Why don’t You tell her to help me? Jesus kindly told her, “My friend, you’re missing the boat. Your priorities are all wrong, Martha. Mary is doing the thing that’s most important and that will last, the only thing that’s eternal. You’re making the Christian life too complicated! It’s really pretty simple. All that really matters is a relationship with Me and a relationship with others.”
Most of the material possessions we’ll leave behind won’t last much longer than we will. Our money will be spent, our homes and property will deteriorate or be sold, and our personal belongings will become items in an antique store. But, if we build our lives on convictions, character, and community, then we will have established an eternal memorial that will benefit countless lives for untold generations.
- List five convictions that you hold and believe are timeless. Go back over each one and reflect on its basis. How is it reinforced by God’s Word?
- Now, list five character traits you would like to be remembered for after you’ve left this earth. How have you seen God cultivate these in your life? Which ones does He seem to be concentrating on right now?
- Write down the names of five people – not family members or co-workers – who share your convictions and commitment to godly character. How often do you see each other? How could you encourage them? In what areas could they hold you more accountable?