A legacy is the story of someone’s life, how they will be remembered. I recently read a number of stories about people’s regrets at or near the end of their lives. Everything from the stories of nurses who have spent years caring for the dying, to surveys of aging executives. Their regrets are all over the board, one as simple as “I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time hating my body,” from a woman who failed to appreciate it until she was close to leaving it.
I am in a study of Second Timothy, a letter from the Apostle Paul at the end of his life. Until now I did not know this book was Paul’s final written word. Reading in light of this knowledge has caused me to consider the words in a more personal, intimate way. Penned while chained and imprisoned following a life of persecution for his beliefs, his final letter suggests no regrets. “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8
The first half of Paul’s life was a wreck. Acts 9 describes how he “was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” and asked the high priest for letters so that if he found anyone, man or women, following Jesus he might take them as prisoners. It took a mighty act of God to get his attention and make a believer out of him. But once Paul got it, he left his past behind and never looked back. The Bible says he was immediately baptized, then after several days with the disciples, began preaching in the synagogues.
I love that Paul was so bold in his faith and obedient to God’s calling. I bet he was a goal-setter and a planner given his laser focus. In Romans 15:20 he wrote, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”
I think of lesser situations where I’ve been intimidated by others, worried what they’ll think, or that I would not be accepted. Not Paul. When he was still called Saul and well-known for viciously persecuting Christians, Ananias (a follower of Christ) was told to seek him out. “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” Then, when a reborn Paul began preaching of Jesus in the synagogues, “All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’” He seemed oblivious to what others thought. He was dedicated to his mission. And as a result, nearly 2,000 years later his work continues to bear fruit and impact my life.
You’ve probably heard L. Thomas Holdcroft’s quote, “The past is a guidepost, not a hitching post.” Rather than hinder him, the mistakes of Paul’s past perfectly equipped him for his future ministry. At the end of his life he was satisfied – his letter shows no remorse for working too much, or spending too little time with those he loved, or failing to accomplish some goal. He had set his life focus on the eternal, and in the end knew he had chosen the right path, having lived a life of purpose.
I can’t conceive of working toward a life legacy for the sake of glorifying my memory. Rather, I want to live right here and now the life that will be important to me in the end, in light of eternity. Christmas is just weeks away and I’ve been laying hints for a nice journal, my first. You can bet that I’m putting some thought into my first entry – some life goals that I will put in writing to look back on, review and revise through each season of my life.