“What is your purpose? What is the legacy you want to leave?”
These are questions J. Frank Harrison III, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Consolidated, often asks when speaking, leading training sessions, or doing interviews in his company. Speaking at an annual leadership prayer breakfast, he explained these questions concern topics many people have never seriously pondered.
|Like the ripple a single drop of water makes|
in a pond, our legacies can radiate a long way.
For lots of young people, matters like purpose and legacy seem irrelevant. Many of us tend to drift through life, “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind,” as James 1:6 describes it. We react as situations arise, with little concern about long-term benefits or consequences. But we begin to write our legacy from the time we can start making conscious decisions.
Leaders Legacy, the non-profit I’ve worked for over the past 15 years, began using “legacy” long before it became a buzzword. Now it’s used almost everywhere. From the start, its founder Dave Stoddard understood a life is best lived when guided by a well-defined purpose and directed to achieve a specific legacy. Our motto has been, “Building great leaders who build great leaders,” because the true test of leaders is not what’s accomplished while they’re in charge, but what happens after they’re gone.
A legacy isn’t something we select for ourselves. It’s the sum of our being – what we’ve lived for, the lives we’ve touched, and the difference we’ve made along the way. At the same time, leaving a worthwhile legacy doesn’t happen by accident. If we approach life haphazardly, without even a basic plan for a guide, our legacy will reflect that. As someone has said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
I’m thinking of a longtime friend whose rich, enduring legacy was solidified years ago. I met Robert Foster in 1981, soon after joining CBMC as editor; Bob was on the national board, heading the publications committee. In Bob I found a man of extremely high character and integrity, a very wise and caring person, deeply committed to serving his Lord, Jesus Christ, and others. He loved being an ambassador for Christ through his work, time he invested in men and women to assist in their spiritual growth, and in the ministries and missions he was involved with throughout his life.
Bob, who at 92 recently entered hospice with terminal cancer, has been a sterling example of someone finishing well in life. Even after his 90th birthday, he participated in a mission to China to tell people about Jesus. Whenever he was in meetings, he was an E.F. Hutton-kind of person: When he spoke, people listened. Because they knew what he said would be meaningful.
Without question, if Bob had been asked, “What is your purpose? What is the legacy you want to leave?” he could have answered without hesitation.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul also had such certainty. In fact, in an Amplified Bible translation of Philippians 3:10, he declares, “For my determined purpose is that I may know Him (Jesus) – that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His person more strongly and more clearly….”
As for his legacy, later in the letter to believers in Philippi Paul instructs, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the peace of God will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Nearing the end of his life, the apostle wanted them to be continuing the work he had done so diligently, laid on the foundation of Jesus Christ. His actions flowed from who he was and the God he knew.
We see similar admonitions throughout the Scriptures: Moses entrusting leadership of the Israelites to Joshua; Elijah literally passing his mantle on to Elisha; David transferring the kingship of Israel to his son, Solomon. And especially Jesus, just before His ascension, directing His followers, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20).