When thinking about your legacy, it is important to think beyond just the next generation or two, but to consider your legacy in the view of what you will leave behind that will have eternal significance. What impact are you making in this life that will last forever, long after this life and this world have passed away? How will your life be remembered and what will you be recognized for not just at your funeral, but for a thousand or even a million or billion years from now when everyone you know will be long passed into eternity? That question does lead to some deep thinking doesn't it?
I was recently reading information from an organization encouraging members to "leave their legacy behind" by having their names engraved in granite pavers and flower pots along a walkway leading up to the organization's office. This reminded me of man I once knew who was obsessed with having his name engraved in huge bold letters in the impressive granite gateway entrances to every property he owned (which was a lot of properties). Everywhere you went in his county and surrounding counties for that matter, you saw magnificent granite gateways that had his name engraved in huge letters on large granite stones, even if the gateways only led to a vacant pasture or woodland.
I personally knew this incredibly materially wealthy man and even had opportunities to talk with him about his physical and spiritual life and his many financial accomplishments. He was a very friendly man and would talk to anybody. He loved to entertain and he received a lot of recognition for doing so. The last time I spoke with him before he died at an early age with an incurable disease, he was doing all he could to make a name for himself. His hope for leaving a legacy was to put his name everywhere he could and to have as many people as possible remember him. Putting his name everywhere, engraved in granite, would surely last for a long time. It would at least lead people in the future to ask who that person was whose name was everywhere—but what good is a name on a rock if the impact of the person's life behind the name does not outlive the rock?
I often wondered how lonely this man who had everything money could buy truly must have been, even though he was rarely alone. He wanted so much to be loved, but a deep resentment toward some who professed to be Christians but who had hurt him so badly, left him living a life of resentment toward God and Godly pursuits. Instead, he tried to make his own legacy in his own way—grasping for ways to leave something behind that would outlive him. I have met many men since then who seem to be taking the same approach, investing so much money in, and so much value on all the recognition, awards, plaques, bronze sculptures and granite stones they receive in this life bearing their names, as if they really expect these things to a leave a legacy that will actually have any eternal significance or value.
King Solomon is a good example in Scripture that tried this approach. Second only to Jesus of Nazareth, King Solomon was probably the wisest man to ever live and was undoubtedly one of the richest materially. He is believed to be the author of three books in the Bible: The Song of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. "The Song of Solomon represents Solomon as a young king—virile, energetic, and full of zeal for God. Proverbs seems to represent Solomon's mature years as a king—the height of his literary output, scientific inquiry, and kingly stature [1 Kings 4:20-34]. And Ecclesiastes represents Solomon's reflective, sunset years, when he looks back and summarizes.
Somewhere along the way, Solomon set out on a journey to find meaning—in money, possessions, wisdom, being king, his works and accomplishments, and being smarter than anyone else. Perhaps his most blatant attempt for meaning is recorded in 1 Kings 11:3: 'And [Solomon] had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines.'" (David Jeremiah Study Bible: Worthy Publishing).
Solomon's conclusion: Pursuing ultimate meaning in wisdom, position, power, material possessions, recognition and works does not bring lasting satisfaction. Not one of these pursuits on its own give meaning to life. Solomon called all these things "vanity"—just a vapor or a breath that have no eternal significance in themselves. Pursuit of these things for the pleasure they bring or the power and prestige that comes with them is all in vain.
At the end of his life, when he reflected back on all the possessions, wisdom, wealth and power that he had accumulated, he said the secret to living a successful life and leaving a legacy of eternal significance is to: "Fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil." (EC 12:13-14).
The one who fears (or loves) God recognizes that He gives meaning to every area of life and that no area of life has meaning apart from Him. David Jeremiah went on to comment on the lessons from King Solomon: "Life is like the blink of an eye compared to the scale of eternity. Life certainly does have meaning—God created it and uses it to accomplish His purposes. But the brevity of our years is a strong reminder not to seek ultimate meaning in things that are 'here today and gone tomorrow'. It is the reason Jesus counseled against laying up treasures on earth as opposed to heaven (MT 6:19-20)."
I have sat by the side of many people who were lying in deathbed facing their final days and taking their final breaths. Never once has anyone, when reflecting on their life's regrets or successes, ever said that they wish they had collected one more award, had produced or acquired one more great cow, or had completed one more business deal. Without exception, when facing the end of life, people voice their regrets concerning the time and opportunities they missed spending time with their family, building their relationship with God, and most importantly, having not properly invested their time and resources in things that would have had eternal value. They tell me that their jobs, large houses, cars, boats, their names being carved in granite, and everything else material they spent their life seeking—are all vanity and without meaning when compared to what is most important at the last moments. "What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul?" (MT 16:26)
Some people try to avoid thinking about, talking about, or preparing to die, hoping or thinking that it will not happen, or if it does, it will not be anytime soon. Solomon teaches us to approach death differently by recognizing that it is coming and because it is, we should live differently. We should embrace every day that God gives us and live it to the fullest investing it in what will outlive us and outlive the world as we know it. We should live preparing to die.
I refer often to a line by C.T.Studd: "Only one life, 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last." What will your legacy be? What will you leave behind for others to follow? I hope it's more than having your name on a rock!