What will we do in this world that will be important when we die? Little will be left to mark most of our existence. Even tombstones disappear eventually. Our names will be forgotten on the earth not long after our passing.
There is only one thing of value that will survive our death—our legacy.
It’s not what we build that we leave behind, but the legacy we leave in others that really marks our passing.
What is a legacy? Webster gives two definitions for legacy.
“1. a gift by will especially of money or other personal property:
“2. something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.”
Wealthy families work very hard at leaving behind a physical legacy. Poor families don’t expect to leave behind much of material value. But whether we are rich or poor, we need to think about our legacy. What are we giving our children? Are we helping them to survive in life?
When my children were young, I determined before they left the house that I would give them three things—my three “c’s”—college, car, and computer. It might not be an ivy league college, the computer may be an old Windows XP, and the car might not have a radio or air conditioning, but I wanted them to have all three. Mostly I achieved that. That was their physical legacy.
But in the end, physical legacies don’t matter much. They can use them to get started, but after that they are on their own. It’s the spiritual legacy we leave behind that really matters. Our spiritual legacy are the values, faith, and ethics that we want to pass down. These are the all-important part of our lives that will live on after them.
Most of what we know will be of no use to our children. Much of what I learned as a child is not obsolete. But the values that I learned as a child is still valuable. I may not need to know how to balance a checkbook or to fix a carburetor, but I still need to know who to worship.
The problem with many parents is that they are investing their time, money, and effort into building the wrong legacy for their children. They are giving them a legacy of unimportant values and things, and not investing in a legacy that is important. We are investing ourselves into things that will please them now, instead of what will guide them later.
We want them to have material things. Did you know that the mortgage debt in the United States is more than eight trillion dollars? It would be a lot less if we didn’t have bigger houses than anyone else in the world. Yet we think that we must have big houses, to give our children more space to live. Our student loan debt is more than two trillion dollars. Yet we think we must borrow this in order to be successful. Yet big houses and more education has not made us happy—if anything, it has made us less happy. The legacy we are leaving our children are massive debts and household upkeep expenses.
The psalmist says it is in vain. We work hard to get ahead, but it doesn’t make us happy. We leave behind legacies for our children to squander. The only value to our labor is the love we put into it. There’s no sense trying to claim our service as necessary. “Vanity of vanities” said the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity.”
All our planning and saving will guarantee that we will leave anything behind. But if we invest in our children’s spiritual upbringing now, then we will leave behind people who influence the future on our behalf.
The biggest part of building our legacy is having a relationship with them. The psalmist declares: “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.”
The singer tells us that “children” are our true legacy. “Children” may also refer to those we have trained and discipled for Him. We will not all produce physical children, but we can leave a legacy of people we touch. They are the ones we influence, mentor, and coach along the way. They are the keepers of our legacy when we are gone. The line of people we touch is the temple we leave for God. The greatest churches are like matchstick houses compared to the beauty of God’s grace in a single heart.
Worship and reverence are caught, not taught. Our children catch it from us when they see us behaving as if God is important. What we teach may be forgotten, but our love and character will be remembered.
The psalmist compares children to arrows. Arrows projectile weapons. They extend our power over a long distance. Our children are the arrows of our legacy. They can extend our influence over decades, and to the ends of the earth. That’s why we need to be intentional about raising them. It requires our utmost care and attention.
Here are three things to keep in mind when raising children in the faith.
First—aim them well. Intentionally attempt to influence your children in the right path from their earliest age. I don’t mean just correct and rebuke them. That may change how the child acts on the outside, but it doesn’t build a lasting legacy unless we also change their inside. Honesty, genuineness and love are more important to shaping the inner child than curfews and restrictions. We want them to want to copy our behavior.
When you aim an arrow, you don’t just learn how to point it. You first have to check your stance. You aim with your head, feet, and torso, as well as your arms and eyes. In archery, the way you stand is most of the game.
The same thing with aiming children. If we want our children to do right, we must do right. They are more likely to follow what we do than what we say they should do.
Teach your children to trust the Lord by demonstrating it. If you don’t want your children to be worriers, learn to overcome your own worries, and show them how. We do not cause them to be afraid, overcome your own fears. Don’t just take a child to church, learn to pray for your children. Don’t just buy children a Bible; read it with them and in front of them, and discuss what you read. Our children need to know we practice what we preach.
Second, let them go. What good is an arrow if it stays on the bow? Children need to have adventures. Encourage them to seek their own path. Encourage them to seek God’s will for their own lives, without dictating what we think it ought to be. We cannot always know what they will do. Our job is to build God’s character in them, not to dictate the precise path our children will take. Christians do not have to be told that the world is a dangerous place for children. We see the news daily. There are dangerous temptations everywhere. It is a mistake, however, to hold our children too closely. God did not give us a spirit of fear. If God protects and guides us, it stands to reason that He will also protect and guide our children. Controlling their lives will not protect them from the world nearly as well as praying for them and trusting Christ to protect them.
Parents ought to love their children: and children their parents. But to place the parent-child relationship above our relationship with God is idolatry. When our desire to hold our children impedes their opportunity to be independent servants of God, we have done nothing to help them or ourselves.
When the arrow is gone, get another one. “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” The Pilgrims recorded that when they first met the Indians, each warrior carried a quiver of fifty arrows! If we had a quiver full of children, that would be a lot of kids!
If you want to leave a legacy, get some more! I don’t mean physical children, but children of the faith. Those we lead to and disciple in Christ are just as much as physical children are. Once our children have been launched, we can still raise up the children of faith.
We can mentor youth. We can evangelize. We can work with the disadvantaged. These children are just as much our legacy as our physical children.
Before we can leave a legacy, though, we must receive a legacy. The legacy we have received is through God through Jesus. He has given us the legacy of eternal life. Do not neglect to receive what God has given, the gift of eternal life in Him. That same legacy is the most important thing we can leave for others, and the most important thing we may receive before we die.