(this teaching can also be watched by scrolling to the bottom and clicking play)
Have you taken the time to think about the legacy you want to leave?
David, the Psalmist of Israel, reminds us of how our generosity is not only for us, but it has generational implications. Psalm 37:25-26 says, “I was young and now I’m old, yet I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.”
Did you know that based on your lifestyle of generosity, you’re actually sewing into your children’s future? As you treat others with generous kindness, generous forgiveness, and generous mercy, your children will be the recipients of a legacy of generosity that you’ve left by your actions. Your generosity today has transgenerational implications for tomorrow.
I love what Bible teacher and author Dr. Leonard Sweet said about legacy:
“What you do is your history. What you set in motion is your legacy.”
Legacy is something you consciously or unconsciously set into motion. In other words, it moves beyond your life. It moves beyond you being alive. Proverbs 13:22 calls us to think about legacy. Here’s what Solomon said, “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”
What we see here in Scripture is we have to think about not only our lives and the lives of our children but also about the lives of our grandchildren. Even if you don’t have children or grandchildren, the Bible calls you and me to think, act and behave in a transgenerational way.
God is saying to each of us: It’s biblical, it’s godly to leave a legacy. That’s the framework Proverbs 13:22 lays out for us.
I want to pose a question to you as we unpack this idea of leaving a legacy. I’m here to give you tools.
What are you THINKING?
What idea are you mulling over in your mind that helps you intentionally develop a legacy?
Let’s jump back into Proverbs 13:22 and look at it this time through the lens of the Contemporary English Version (CEV) of the Bible. It says, “If you obey God, you will have something to leave your grandchildren. If you don’t obey God, those who live right will get what you leave.”
The ability to leave a legacy behind hinges on our obedience to God. God is saying that everybody—no matter how wealthy, no matter how poor—is called to leave a legacy behind. The key here in doing so is based upon your obedience.
Allow me to share a personal story about legacy.
I never had an opportunity to meet my maternal grandfather. He passed away before I was born. On the other side of the family tree, I’ve only met my paternal grandfather once.
On his deathbed.
When I was 12 years old, after migrating to America from Jamaica when I was 8, my father took us back to the homeland because his father was passing away. After having several strokes, my grandfather was lying on his bed paralyzed and couldn’t speak.
I remember I was so timid…I had never seen someone dying before. It was so foreign to me and I remember walking into his bedroom. There was a nurse standing on the right side and I tried to stand as close to the door as possible.
And I remember my father’s hand.
It seemed so large to me at that time. He put it in the center of my back and pushed me in. I went further into the room, and as I stood there I didn’t feel I was losing something or someone because I never really knew him.
Then, with his arm that still had mobility, my grandfather pointed to a dresser that held four Bibles on top of it—one for each of us Ireland kids (my three siblings and I). At the sight of this, the nurse went over and brought the Bibles to him. One by one, we went close to our grandfather, and he handed us a Bible.
At that time, I wasn’t a believer in Jesus.
Still, I opened up the Bible’s cover and read “To David, from grandfather.”
When I returned home to New York I put the parting gift in one of my dresser drawers.
I didn’t read it.
I didn’t believe in God, and I had no conscious awareness of God until I came to Christ on July 6, 1982, at 10:00 PM; I was 20 years old at the time.
So eight years later, when I went home from college and I went into that dresser, I found that Bible. All of a sudden it had meaning to me.
This was the legacy that my grandfather left for me.
There was no money, no houses, no land, but he left this legacy as if to say, “I can’t tell you verbally, but I can tell you to let the Bible be your guide to life.”
Many people struggle with the idea that they don’t have anything to leave anybody. You may be thinking, What do I have to offer the coming generations?
There are many common myths surrounding legacy that I want to help you shatter because it’s detrimental to let them grow, develop and have anchors in your heart. If they do, they will get in the way of you being able to leave a legacy for your heirs and your descendants.
Here’s a popular myth: You have to be rich to leave a legacy.
This is totally false. In fact, our society is so cynical and jaded, I once read on one bumper sticker “I’m spending my kids’ inheritance” with a smiley face next to it.
Another common myth is that you have to be famous to leave a legacy. That’s also not true. You don’t have to be famous; you just have to be able to think about someone other than yourself.
A third misconception is you have to be perfect and squeaky clean to leave a legacy.
Actually, no. Do you remember Chuck Colson? He’s the infamous attorney who was complicit in helping President Richard Nixon commit the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s departure from office.
Back in 1974, Chuck Colson was arrested for obstruction of justice and he had to serve seven months in prison. It was unique, though, because he came to know Christ as Savior months before his incarceration.
His life was disrupted and transformed. And then he went to prison. There was a radical shift in Chuck Colson. While in prison, he grew as a disciple of Jesus, and when he came out, he became the founder of one of the most famous parachurch organizations—Prison Fellowship, and then Prison International Fellowship. Subsequently, he founded The Colson Center to help Christians have a Christ-centered worldview. In addition to all of those things, he’s written over 30 books.
In other words, he was not perfect. He had a tarnished reputation, but God was still able to use him.
You see? You don’t have to be perfect.
Another myth is that you have to be proud. You know, someone who is self-centered and egotistical. That’s a lie. You don’t need to have that perspective. Legacy is not for proud people. Legacy is for generous people. Legacy has little to do with you and more to do with others who will follow you.
Related to this, Maya Angelou once said, “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.”
When you think about leaving a legacy, you can start with the question, “What are you thinking?”
Then, you can move on to the question:
“What are you DOING?”
What are you doing about building a legacy? What are you doing about building something that others would want and cherish?
Here’s what the Apostle Paul told his spiritual son Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2, “You should teach people whom you can trust the things you and many others have heard me say. Then they will be able to teach others.” Paul helped Timothy understand legacy is not about tangible things alone—money, land and other physical resources—legacy includes intangible assets.
Paul left an intangible asset with Timothy. He left Timothy with the truth of the gospel. He told Timothy, in essence, “Timothy, I’m entrusting this to you. I’m depositing this priceless commodity.”
Timothy was to live in light of what Paul had worked hard to get a handle on. Paul passed along the revelation of who Jesus was and how Jesus wants to work in societies today.
Legacy is something that you set in motion and pass down to make someone else’s life easier or to help them have a better starting point than what you had.
Legacy is about intangible things so you can move further along than you’ve ever done without the assistance of others.
In the early days of our church, Christ Church, I saw that I was deficient in many things as a pastor. Truth be told: In various areas of my own formation and development, I needed spiritual development and spiritual training. No one took me under their wings and said, “Let me train you and let me mentor you.” I didn’t have that.
I remember in those early days, I cried out to God about how I needed a spiritual father. I needed someone to develop me. I needed someone to come alongside me, answer my tough questions and train me.
And I remember after a couple of years of praying this prayer, the Holy Spirit spoke to me one day and everything changed. The Holy Spirit said, “David, stop asking for a father and be a father.”
What God downloaded into me in terms of traits, practices and disciplines of a spiritual father can now pass on to the sons and daughters under my sphere of influence. That is a legacy as well.
Here’s another set of questions to consider: When it comes to legacy, what’s important to you?
What are the areas that you have mastered? Paul mastered the truth of the Gospel.
What mysteries have you unlocked?
Don’t make light of it. It’s not silly. It’s not a simplistic question. The question isn’t intended to insult you.
Paul passed on an intangible asset to Timothy in the truth of the gospel. And I’m asking what’s important to you because when you discover what’s important to you, there’s another question you must answer.
Will you pass it on?
Will you pass on what’s important to you to the next generation?
Will you pass it on to those whom you influence?
Will you treasure that?
And then you come to this final question. (Leaving a legacy sure does open up a spring of questions, doesn’t it?)
Lastly, what are you going to LEAVE?
We are all working on our legacies. Whether you’re consciously thinking about legacy or it’s an unconscious issue and not even on your mind, you’re still creating a legacy. Let me show you how you can not only create tangible assets, but how you can also create intangible assets for the legacy you leave behind.
Let’s journey back to what Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:3, “You know that I’ve been called to serve the God of my fathers with a clean conscience. Night and day I pray constantly for you, building a memorial for you with my prayers. I know that you have wept for me, your spiritual father, and your tears are dear to me. I can’t wait to see you again! I’m filled with joy as I think of your strong faith that was passed down through your family line. It began with your grandmother Lois, who passed it on to your dear mother, Eunice. And it’s clear that you too are following in the footsteps of their godly example.”
Bible scholars say it was by observation Paul was reminded of Timothy’s strong faith that he inherited. It was this immeasurable intangible asset handed down to him from his grandmother Lois to his mother Eunice, and now to him.
Some things you can wrap your hands around.
Other things wrap themselves around you—like this strong, abiding faith in God, passed down three generations.
I’m sure there are times you’re facing trials or have gone through a whole bunch of stuff. But if you remain solely in the privacy of your bedroom, seeking God and never saying anything to anyone about your crisis and how God brought you through, you are missing the opportunity to pass along a legacy.
If your family can’t connect the dots between a crisis in your life, prayer and then the provision of answers from God—I want you to see you may not be someone who is handing down this legacy of faith…like Lois did to Eunice, like Eunice did to Timothy.
Think about how much further along you’d be today if your ancestors handed down to you a trust and a faith in God—a God consciousness.
You would have had a better starting point. I know I would have.
Don’t rob from your children and your grandchildren because of you not leaving them a legacy of faith.
Paul shared with us as well by this example, it’s not just leaving a legacy of faith and telling family members what God has done and what God is doing. It’s also about making sure you can entrust it to them. It’s important they value, hold and cherish it. Spend time training your children to value money and understand it properly, so that when you leave them an inheritance—a tangible asset—they won’t squander it. You’ve worked hard for what you’ve acquired. You don’t want to see them lose it because they don’t have the same values towards tangible assets as you do.
The heart of the matter is this:
Generosity is not just about you. It’s about others.
May I encourage you today to be a part of this generosity journey? Don’t let generosity be an episodic experience in your life, but let it be something that shapes you consistently.
Do this so you can establish and leave a legacy of tangible assets and intangible assets.
Do this so that tomorrow your heirs—those that follow after you—will be much further along when they start their race because of what you have done.
Because leaving a legacy and generosity is about loving.
It’s about thinking about the future.