“… For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
It’s a very simple truth – our lives are short. Human existence is but a breath, a moment. The wisest man in history pointed out that our days are numbered and that we should never forget this uncomfortable truth (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
Perhaps we should pray along with King David,
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.”
It appears there is something in the human spirit that draws us to seek meaning, destiny, and purpose with the time we have being given on this earth. Don’t we all want to be remembered for the right things? Don’t we want our lives to matter and leave a God-honoring legacy? What our lives are remembered for is, in effect, our “story.”
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be present at your own funeral, to hear what your friends and family say about you? The pastor, miscellaneous friends and relatives all say nice, publicly acceptable things about you. But then, your children begin to reminisce about you. Whatever they say, whatever they remember of your life and your effect on people is your actual legacy. At that point, many people would listen and reflect somberly on their lives, and may realize they’ve wasted their years.
If you see yourself in that place, be encouraged! You are still here, alive and breathing. And if you are still alive, your life story has not been fully written yet. You have that precious gift of time still on your side to create a life that is celebrated by friends and family.
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Writing a New Story
How do you fill in the pages of your life with a God-honoring legacy, one that you would want to be shared at your funeral?
We have been given this precious gift of time, and it’s never too late! It all begins with saying the right words. King David, in his parting wisdom to his son Solomon advised this:
“My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:20-24).
That is, words matter, and they matter because they reveal what’s in your heart. Jesus put it like this when He said,
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
Our words reveal what’s truly in our hearts.
When we leave this earth and other people reflect back on our lives – the type of person we were and the legacy we left – if we want to leave a legacy of someone who was compassionate, caring and kind, we must pay attention to the words we say.
And there are three groups of words that will ensure we leave a godly legacy.
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"I Love You"
As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve helped work through the pain of growing up with parents who never said, “I love you.” They are adults with their own children, and yet are still deeply emotionally wounded.
What an awful thing it would be to realize, right before we die, that we have not made it clear to our children, spouse or friends, that we really do love them.
It’s not enough to drop clues so that those around you will just figure it out – we must say the words.
Aren’t you glad that God made it crystal clear that He loves us?
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3).
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me” (Proverbs 8:17).
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9).
God spelled it out!
Don’t you love the phrase “everlasting love”? That means that there is nothing that can change that, absolutely nothing…
- Neither life nor death
- Neither angels nor demons
- Neither fears for today, nor worries about tomorrow
He said . . . “I love you with an everlasting love!”
When you write your story, don’t just drop clues, don’t just assume you have telegraphed your feelings toward those who matter most – say the words.
And don’t just say them once. Say them again and again, until your moment on this earth has passed. It’s the way to leave a legacy of love and write a story you can be proud of!
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"I Am Sorry" and "I Forgive You"
They are just three little words: “I am sorry” and “I forgive you,” but they are words that lead to a powerful legacy. And it’s biblical!
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16).
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13).
In fact, unforgiveness makes it impossible to leave a Godly legacy. According to the Scriptures, there is just no way a person can have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and still harbor unforgiveness.
“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part” (Matthew 6:14-15, MSG).
Forgiveness is more about freeing yourself than it is about freeing others. God’s favor cannot flow freely and unimpeded into your life if you remain stubborn and refuse to forgive those who have wounded or offended you.
In fact, scientists have now determined that if a person harbors bitterness, chronic anger, or a stubborn refusal to forgive, it is more corrosive and damaging to physical health than cigarette smoking, obesity or a high fat diet.
And it stifles our potential, ties us up emotionally, stresses us out, and destroys our relationship with God, and therefore, the godly legacy that we all want to leave.
Clearly, saying the words “I forgive you,” is not always easy. It hurts to be wronged. And when it hurts, our natural inclination is to hate or get revenge, to lash out, pay back, and have the last word. But remembers what’s at stake – your legacy.
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Christ Has Forgiven Us
Do you know what I love most about Jesus’ disciples? They were real people, and chronically human. They struggled with the same things we do, and the Bible is authentic enough to share those struggles with us.
One of those authentic moments is recorded in Matthew 18, as Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often do I forgive my brother? Seven times?” The Jewish rabbis of that day taught that three times was the standard. So it appears Peter was demonstrating a bit of spiritual virtue signaling.
In response, Jesus gave them the following parable.
"For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn't pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.' Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
"But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient and I will pay it,' he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn't wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full.
"When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn't you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?' Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny. "That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart" (Matthew 18:23-35 NLT).
Jesus’ point? Never forget the sin debt Christ cancelled for you!
We can only forgive other people to the degree that we realize how much Christ has forgiven us. In this parable, Jesus was simply saying, if we will just remember the lifetime of sin God has forgiven us of, then we will be empowered to say “I forgive you” to those who have hurt us, without restraint.
“We all must die and everyone living should think about this” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
Life is short, and eternity awaits us; while we are still living, we should think about this! We should think about living in light of eternity and we should think about leaving a Godly legacy.
Over the next 30 days, live your life as if all you had left were those 30 days, and make it a point to simply say the right words.
Learn to say the right words to others. Say “I love you,” to your spouse, your kids, your friends, and your family. Say, “I’m sorry,” to the people you’ve hurt, because of the things you’ve said or done. And say, “I forgive you,” to those who have hurt you, so that when you leave this earth, you can truly leave the ultimate God-honoring legacy.
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Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.