I have a confession: I want to be great.
I want people to look at me and be wowed with what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished.
I want the oohs and ahhs of thousands, maybe millions.
I want millions of pageviews on this blog and hundreds of retweets and thousands of likes.
I want a legacy that bears my name.
But God doesn’t.
What God wants
God doesn’t want these things for me. He wants these things for Him.
He wants a legacy that points to Himself. He wants the fame and the glory and the honor of every person on the planet from the dawn of time until the coming of Christ.
And one day, He will get it (Rev. 5:13-14).
Before that Day, everything on this planet will disappear in a flash of light. All our organizations and governments and corporations will cease to exist, leaving us with nothing to show for ourselves. Just like the Tower of Babel, God will reach down and flick over our pathetic excuses for fame and glory and they will come crumbling down.
What really lasts
There’s only one thing in all of creation that will live on when the earth is once again united with heaven – us. Besides God, we are the only thing that’s eternal. We are the only thing that’s lasting. That means people are the only thing that will be able to testify to how we spent our lives.
And if, like me, you believe what the Bible says about heaven and hell, then the real legacy we’ll leave is how many people are in each place because of the life we lived. Or better yet, how many people are in each place because of the way God lived through us.
Which means the only way to truly build a legacy is to build people. And not just people, but people that love God. People that love God so much that they can’t help but love other people. Because people that truly love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind are compelled to love the people around them as much or more than themselves. If we really follow Jesus, if we really get his heart, that’s just how it works.
What really matters
If you listen to someone at the end of their life, particularly a Christ-follower, you’ll hear a common thread. When someone asks them about their legacy, they inevitably point to the people they impacted with their life. The people they helped to build as they were willing to be used by God. If being at the end of our lives gives us a sharper focus on what matters, then this requires our attention.
And it means I’ve been going about this legacy thing all wrong. Maybe you have been too.
Instead of trying to build something that declares my greatness, I should be pouring into others in a way that points them to His greatness. Instead of trying to form a legacy for my life, I should be trying to form people that believe in His life.
I can’t build a legacy that matters if it’s all about me. After all, everything I produce, create, dream up, and help build will one day disappear. Only people will be left to tell the story of my life.
As a father, this idea holds special significance as I think about the unique position I’m in to impact my three children. If it takes time to build people and to invest in their lives in ways that matter, then our children can be the most significant beneficiaries of that investment. In a recent episode of The Calling podcast, Andy Crouch reflected on his decision to become a father, saying,
“I thought, ‘How do I maximally commit myself to participation in God’s love?’ Most of the people I’m going to love will forget me very quickly. Almost everything I do will be forgotten…. So I realized there’s only one way I could invest my life that would have the most endurance, and that would be if I ever had the chance to have children…”
The bedrock of a legacy that matters
I can’t build a legacy that matters if I lack the character of someone willing to be formed into the image of God, because the bedrock of a legacy that matters is character. It’s the willingness to be used by God and to be marked by God. The willingness to believe in His promises against all odds. To go for broke when nothing adds up and no one else believes in you, but you know your God is sure.
We look up to Moses and Rahab and Peter and Paul because of their faith. Because of their belief that the God who is in control of everything is also the God who is good. They knew that their life would matter to the degree that they believed in His promises and did whatever He told them, no matter how impossible it seemed.
People that leave lasting and mighty legacies like the biblical examples or Martin Luther King, Jr. are those whose character is built on the cornerstone of Christ. Those whose actions flow out of their character. Those who actions prove their character.
How to leave a legacy that matters
Which means if I want to leave a legacy that matters I have to stop running from character-forming opportunities. To stop hiding from the refinery God wants me to enter into. He tells us that the testing of our faith produces endurance (James 1:2-3).
It’s time for me to believe that. It’s time for us to believe that.
It’s time for us to joyfully enter the furnace and to trust God for the outcome, no matter what it looks like and no matter what it might cost.
It’s time for us to stop building our own kingdoms when we should be building His.
It’s time for us to invest everything we have into the people around us with love and patience and generosity.
It’s time for us to build a legacy that matters.
It’s time for us to build people that matter.
More of Him, less of us
According to Jesus, John the Baptist was the greatest person to ever live. John’s advice for leaving a legacy that matters is simple: “He must become greater; I must become less.”
If we really want to leave a legacy, it’s time to get out of the way and make much more of Jesus than we do of ourselves.