My pastor preached on Genesis 11: 1-9 about the Tower of Babel. If you are not familiar with that passage, it is about people who in their self-sufficiency apart from God, wanted to build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and to make a name for themselves. They believed that they had no need for God.
Although this story took place many years ago, how much is this like many in our culture today who get their significance from their achievements – their position, title, success, status or salary? Or perhaps as having the perfect marriage, being the perfect parent, having the perfect children or the perfect home, as displayed in their Instagram posts. In his sermon however, my pastor taught that contrary to this, our true significance is in God alone.
Early in my career at a Fortune 50 organization, one of my leaders told me that I needed to make a name for myself. He intended this advice for my good. He wanted me to get my career off to a good start and to build a good reputation for myself. But the advice was not from a Christian perspective, but very man-centered, much like the people who wanted to build a city, tower and a name for themselves.
I’ve been retired for almost three years. The results and achievements that I accomplished have already been forgotten. Before long, only a few in my former organization will even remember me, and someday, hopefully many years from now, they may see my obituary in the local paper. The career phase of my life is over. If my identity had been in my work, rather than in Christ, I might be miserable. Instead, as Bob Buford writes in his book Halftime, I’m looking to what it means to move from success to significance, knowing that our significance is in God.
When I think of our significance, or to use another word, legacy, I think not of what we have achieved, but of what impact we have had on others. How have we poured our lives into others? How can we continue to do that in our church, family and community?
In Halftime, Buford recommends that you complete a personal mission statement and life commitments that will support it. My mission statement is to use my nearly 38 years of leadership experience and seminary education to serve the church and others. Life commitments supporting that mission statement include being a good husband, continuing to learn, teach, speak and serve.
I’ve always tried to leave things better than I found them. Rather than making a name for ourselves, we need to leave things better than we found them. Scott Sauls in his book Irresistible Faith, states “As the image of God, every time we participate in work that creates and restores, we also participate in God’s work of leaving people, places, and things better”.
In his sermon, my pastor used Eric Liddell as an example. Many will know Liddell from the 1981 Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire as the runner who refused to compete in the 100-meter race on Sunday at the 1924 Olympics. Instead, he ran in the 400-meter race on a weekday and won a Gold Medal. Fewer will know that Liddell went to China to serve as a missionary the next year. In 1943 he was imprisoned by the Japanese in a P.O.W. camp, where the rooms were only 9 ft by 12 ft, and each of them was occupied by four prisoners. He had a heart for the children that were imprisoned there. He would cook for them, set up a school and organized sports to encourage them. He was so selfless in his concern for others; he was offered a chance to return home as part of a prisoner exchange, but reportedly turned it down and gave his place to a pregnant woman instead. He would ultimately die of a brain tumor in 1945. Liddell didn’t waste his life, living it for God, from whom he got his significance. (Note: The film On Wings of Eagles depicts this more unknown part of Liddell’s life).
I recently watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. George Bailey had dreams of making a big impact in life – building skyscrapers and traveling the world. But his dream was never realized. Instead he helped folks in a small town reach their dreams of home ownership. He saved the life of his brother who went on to be a war hero. By being faithful in small ways he had a wide impact on his family and community.
What about you? How do you plan to leave people, places and things better than you found them?