LifeWay Research found that teens, who, at the age of 17, have parents who are authentic examples of Christian faith—proactive and consistent in living out their faith—are more likely to stay in church as young adults. Additionally, “20 percent more of those teens who stayed in church indicated they had parents or family members who discussed spiritual things, gave them spiritual guidance, and prayed together” (“Parents, Churches Can Help Teens Stay in Church,” http://www.lifewayresearch.com).
This study underscores the need for children and teens to see a vibrant faith in the lives of adults. Parents are responsible for their children’s spiritual development, and parents and churches need to be intentional in spiritually influencing future generations.
As much as I hate to think about it, I will die one day. But, my influence does not have to die with me. I can build and leave a godly legacy for my children and those under my influence. In the 30th Psalm, King David complained, “What gain is there in my death, in my descending to the Pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it proclaim Your truth?” (30:9). David’s first question can only be answered by God. However, we can answer the other questions.
For those who have intentionally built a godly legacy, their dust can praise God from the grave and proclaim His truth. What we teach the present generation matters and will outlive us. Our words and example can continue to influence the next generation from the grave. I want to live in such a way that my children will be inspired to build their lives on a foundation of obedience to God, even after I am in the grave.
Building on the right foundation is essential to the integrity of any structure, including the structure of our lives. Jesus compared those who hear and obey His words to those who build on a solid foundation (Matt. 7:24-27).
Moses also affirmed the importance of obeying God’s statutes and ordinances (Deut. 6:1). Hearing God’s word should cause us to fear the Lord (6:2) or to have reverence for Him (Ps. 119:138). The way you fear the Lord and show that you revere Him is by obeying Him. The relationship between obedience and blessing is a recurring theme in Deuteronomy. The Bible affirms the general principle expressed in Deuteronomy 6:3 that those who obey God’s word fare better than those who despise it (see Prov. 13:13).
Deuteronomy 6:4 introduces the “Shema” — the great confession of faith of Judaism. The designation “shema” comes from the Hebrew word listen in verse 4. This confession of faith starts with the declaration that the Lord is One. This was an important confession for a people at the intersection of a past in which they had been exposed to the polytheism of Egypt and a future that would expose them to the gods of the Canaanites.
As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses challenged them to love God affectionately, entirely, and energetically. In repeating this command, Jesus added that we are also to love God intelligently or “with all your mind” (Mark 12:30). There is nothing unreasonable about loving God. Our love for Him is best demonstrated by obeying His commands.
Building a godly legacy begins with establishing the right foundation. The most solid foundation that parents can build upon is a sound biblical worldview. Parents must know what they believe, own what they believe, and then believe what they own. The choices we make every day should be consistent with what we believe.
A legacy is built one choice at a time. All parents leave a legacy but not all parents leave a godly legacy. Parents who proactively and consistently live out their faith are more likely to have a positive impact on the next generation. However, all parents should realize that it’s never too late to begin building on a good foundation. While we can never go back and make a new start, it is possible to start now and make a new end. You can finish well regardless of how old you are.
Parents are to be the primary faith trainers of their children. Moses instructed parents to teach their children about God. However, owning the message must precede sharing the message.
Parents and church leaders cannot pass on to the next generation what they themselves do not possess in their own hearts. The home is the most natural place for parents to share the message about God with their children.
My own theological education began at home when I was a child. My parents and grandparents were intentional about teaching me about God. Our family faith talks helped me to develop an awareness of the bigness of God and impressed upon me the importance of loving and obeying Him.
Moses provided practical instruction concerning how to share the message about God and His purposes. First, he suggested that parents employ repetition, which essentially meant sharing the message “line after line, a little here, a little there” (Isa. 28:10). Repetition is a basic learning technique that can help children to memorize key verses and learn foundational truths about God. Parents should also make conversations about God a seamless part of everyday life.
When our children were young, my wife and I looked for teachable moments to talk about God and to model for our children what it means to love God and serve others. Parents must combine instruction with incarnation or living out the truths they are trying to teach their children.
The most immediate legacy we can leave is the life we live before they eyes of our children and grandchildren.
Moses also encouraged parents to bind God’s commands to their bodies and to write them on the doorposts and gates of their houses (6:8-9). In later times, the Jews interpreted literally these instructions and placed the words of the shema in small containers worn on the person (phylacteries) and attached to their homes (mezuzahs). However, over time these outward trappings became more important than what they symbolized.
Even today, it is easy for Christian parents to hang plaques with Scripture messages in our homes and yet never talk about or live out the messages on display. While our children can certainly benefit from what is written and placed on our doorposts and gates, we must live the message if we expect it to become a part of our legacy.
In anticipation of the blessings they would receive in the Promised Land, Moses warned the Israelites not to let the good things they would experience there take their focus off of God. He understood that prosperity and abundance can easily lead to arrogance and cause us to lose perspective.
Our human tendency is to not value the things we freely receive or to convince ourselves that we are entitled to the things we have. Prosperity can cause us to forget that God is the source of “every generous act and every perfect gift” (James 1:17). God’s blessings should humble and inspire us to acknowledge Him as the true source of all blessings. He alone deserves our gratitude.
Moses offered the people an antidote to counteract the myopic effects of prosperity.
First, fear the Lord. Fear is the attitude that recognizes the holy character of God. The fear of God should motivate us to holy living.
Second, worship Him. Service was prescribed as a means of remembering God. Those who fear God and live in close communion with Him will faithfully serve Him. Worshiping and serving Him also helps us to keep things in proper perspective by reminding us of His kindness to us.
Third, Moses prescribed swearing or taking oaths by God’s name as a means of remembering Him. Oaths were not to be made in the name of any other god.
Moses restated the first commandment — Do not follow other gods (6:14). These words apply to us as well. Although we do not have to contend with the gods of the Canaanites, we must constantly resist the lure of society’s gods — gods that tempt us to do and to get and to be something other than what God desires. Our love for God should be unrivaled, undivided, and unbridled.
Moses warned the Israelites to have absolutely nothing to do with the gods of the peoples around them. He offered two reasons for doing so. First, because God is among you — He is not an absent God who does not care, but One who is intimately concerned about the welfare of His people. Second, because God is a jealous God who alone was responsible for their deliverance from Egypt, their survival in the wilderness, and their arrival in the Promised Land.
As we look to the future, we must do more than plan for the financial legacy we will leave. While that is important, it is not the most important thing. The more important and greater legacy is our walk with Christ. Long after we are in the grave, our children will be better served by the lessons they learned from our devotion to Christ than by the dollars we leave behind. The best thing that we can do for our children and those under our influence is to intentionally live out our faith in words and actions. By doing so, we can help them to see God clearly and serve Him faithfully, long after we are in the grave.
Most of us do not think much about our ancestors. Nor do we think much about the fact that we will one day be ancestors to those who come after us.
We tend to give little thought to how future generations will be impacted by our words and actions. My prayer is that those who come after me will look back and thank God for my faithfulness. The day is coming when I will join my ancestors, but I pray that my influence will continue to touch the future through those in whom I have invested. Here are some practical pointers for how to live each day with the next generation in mind.
L = Look at your children and those under your influence. Try to envision what God can do in and through them if you will teach them through your words and actions.
E = Do not underestimate the power of your example. Words alone are not enough to influence the next generation.
G = Do not turn your home into a grave for the living, focusing only on yourself and your comforts. Get your children involved in loving and serving others outside your home.
A = Build accountability into your life. Ask your spouse or a trusted friend to keep you from making choices that will hurt the kingdom, ruin your influence, or bring shame on your family.
C = Stay committed for a lifetime. Continue to invest a godly example in your children even after they are grown.
Y = Yield your personal rights for the sake of others. Do not engage in behaviors that might confuse or cause others to stumble.
Not long after my mother passed away, my sister found this sentence written in one of our mother’s journals: “My Legacy: I want to leave the love of the Word of God to my children.” Although my mother has joined our ancestors, her words and personal example of selfless service continue to inspire me to build on the right foundation. I want to live in a way that will lead my children to do the same.