My brother was an All-American football player in high school, and had the privilege to play both in college and at the professional level. He has a legacy in athletics and is well-known in our community because of it. In fact, whenever we are together somewhere and someone engages him in conversation (which is frequently), almost always the conversation gets around to football, especially college football.
He earned this legacy. Though he was a gifted athlete, it isn’t an accident that he is remembered even years after he had stopped playing. I moved back to my hometown with my family during his Junior year of college and I remember when he got an envelope in the mail filled with pages of required workouts to fulfill if he expected to play.
For example, He had to run a mile within a prescribed amount of time. There were specific requirements concerning his workouts with weights. They gave him a precise body weight in which to report to camp or – to quote the words of the letter – “don’t even bother to show up”. It was serious and difficult stuff! All of this was to make him strong and able to endure a season of pounding as an offensive lineman.
And he accomplished everything they asked him to do – and more. I saw him do this personally for two summers and he did the same the other years before I moved back to my hometown. No wonder he gained a legacy in football. He paid a price.
What are the components of leaving a godly legacy in the lives of our children? This is the big question: how does this happen? Are there practices and specific issues that we can address in order to pass on a godly legacy in the lives of those that outlive us? The answer is yes. The Bible is very clear concerning a parent’s responsibilities and, if followed, a legacy of godliness will result.
The question of how to leave a legacy is found in these verses – “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons; Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)
Please don’t rush past that last paragraph. In it are three requirements that God has given to us that result in a godly legacy in the lives of our children. We will only deal with one in this post.
The first requirement to impacting your children is by your personal example. The dictionary defines example as “a pattern or model that others can imitate and follow”. Providing a good example is one of the most basic principles of leadership – “people do what people see”. This is especially true in the home. It is the place where we are observed most often and at our unguarded moments.
Note in the above passage that the Bible says to “take heed to thyself” and to “keep thy soul diligently” (4:9). We are to do these things “diligently” (4:9). The truth is to be applied to ourselves first. Again, note the words “thyself” and “thy soul” (4:9).
Before we attempt to influence others with the truth, we must first be influenced by the truth. The words “take heed” (4:9) have the idea of securing or protecting a treasure. The word “diligently” (4:9) means it is to be done with great effort. It carries the idea of a focused and intentional effort to guard that which is highly valued. God wants us to value and protect our own spiritual condition. It is the primary means by which we influence others.
Our example of devotion to the Lord in our daily walk will be the foundation of our future legacy in the spiritual lives of those that follow us. There is no shortcut. If we fail at this nothing else will work. Someone said, “A good example has twice the value of good advice”. No amount of teaching, coaching, or correcting can compensate for a bad example. This is so simple, but so powerful. It is also simple to state, but difficult to practice on a consistent basis. A predictable example is crucial if you would make an impact on those around you.
The secret to personal integrity is guarding your soul. When the focus is on the heart the behavior will follow and a consistent example will result. So, the order is (1) internal – integrity of heart, (2) external – willing behavior, and (3) example – influence to those around you. This process begins on the inside rather than the outside. It is not behavior modification or reformation, but a transformation of the heart. Before I can lead my children I must be able to lead myself and I cannot do this apart from God’s working in me.
I like what Bill Gothard said, “If you will take care of the depth of your life, God will take care of the breadth of your ministry”. I believe this is true of your legacy as well. Who you are and what you do affects your children more than anything else you do. A godly legacy will not occur without a godly life and example.
This is not easy, but it is worthwhile! There will be stumbles and failures along the way, but even a heartfelt apology and expression of repentance and contrition is a part of the curriculum for influencing our kids. It is an example of humility that they will never forget.
Don’t be discouraged, Mom and Dad. There are no perfect parents or perfect children. All families have been touched by sin and to some degree, from God’s perspective, are dysfunctional. It isn’t about perfection, but direction. We won’t get it perfectly right until we are in Heaven. Until then, let’s be concerned with our personal example and, as the passage above states, let’s be diligent about it. Even when we have to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong in the way I responded to you”. At that moment you are giving (if it is sincere) a powerful example of humility and sorrow to wrong behavior. Our children need to hear this.
Who has influenced your life in a specific way because of their example? Take the time to communicate that to them through a note or an e-mail and let them know how they have done so. Better yet, take a few minutes and call or write your parents and let them know of an area in which they challenged and helped you because of their example and consistency.
Also, write down the words of Deuteronomy 4:9-10 on a 3×5 card and carry it with you to memorize it so it might be in your heart. Put it on your refrigerator or a well-traveled place at home or work to remind you of God’s way to perpetuate a godly legacy.