Falling asleep recently while praying something to the effect that my life would be pleasing to God, I seemed to hear the words, “Ode to Joy.” This was a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1795, and is best known as the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which was completed in 1824.
Ironically, Schiller, who died in 1805, wrote a letter in 1800 to a longtime friend and patron whose friendship had originally inspired him to write the ode. He said that he considered his poem to be, “detached from reality [and] of value maybe for us two, but not for the world, nor for the art of poetry”.
Like Schiller, I imagine we may often underestimate the legacy that both our words and actions have left behind. For example, I cherish enduring lessons from a teacher I had in eighth grade, a teacher with such a reputation for being ‘mean’ that I was really disappointed to find out I’d been assigned to her class. Yes, she was pretty old, kind of grumpy and yes, she was definitely strict; but she also turned out to be one of the best teachers I ever had. Mid-year, she became very ill and was never able to return, so we had a substitute. Interestingly, I can recall nothing about her except that she was younger and more easy-going. I wonder if Mrs. Light ever knew what an impact she made on students throughout her long teaching career. Probably not.
Consider just a few biblical figures with enduring legacies. Did Jonah have any idea that thousands of sermons would be preached in years to come about his story? Did the minor prophets such as Joel, Habbakkuk or any of the other minor prophets ever dream that the God-given words they recorded would touch millions of lives? Doubtful!
How many of the members of the Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11) had any idea that their sacrificial faith would still inspire people thousands of years later, near the end of time? Not likely!
But our God sees the end from the beginning; he knows both what has been and what is yet to come:
“…remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’…”
We should also keep in mind that bad examples often live on in infamy. Whom among us would like to carry the reputation of the hard-hearted Pharoh or Judas Iscariot, Hitler or Musolini? Few, I hope. But what of the bad examples set by ordinary people: perhaps parents, teachers, pastors or polititions who’ve done irreperable harm to both individuals and large groups of people? For better or worse, righteous or unrighteous, things that we say or do may well be remembered far longer than we’d expect, perhaps touching people we may never even meet, but God sees it all:
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Proverbs 15:3 ESV
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
Psalm 139: 1-6
We would all be wise to live as if everything that we say and do will endure long after we’re gone, and to focus on living for Christ Jesus:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:1-2 ESV
May we, like the Apostle Paul, be able to declare:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10 ESV
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21 ESV
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