What Legacy Will Your Work Leave Behind?

Reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.

There is an unverified story about the origin of the Nobel Prize, created from the fortune of Alfred Nobel, whose wealth came from the invention and development of dynamite. Nobel never spoke publicly about his motivations, but many believe it was inspired by an earlier case of mistaken identity. In 1888, Nobel’s brother Ludvig died in France from a heart attack, and at least one French newspaper mistakenly believed that it was Alfred who had perished, and published a scathing obituary that branded him a “merchant of death” who had grown rich by developing new ways to “mutilate and kill.” Alfred had the unpleasant experience of reading his own death notice. According to biographer Kenne Fant, Nobel “became so obsessed with his posthumous reputation that he rewrote his last will, bequeathing most of his fortune to a cause upon which no future obituary writer would be able to cast aspersions.”

When interviewing some people for a longer-term research project, I asked them what sort of legacy they would like to leave, and received the following responses.

  • A young man almost seemed to surprise himself with his response: “I want to be someone who treats people well. I am aware of doctors who become bitter, suffering from compassion fatigue. I want to treat every patient well, especially those who are apparently the least-deserving.”
  • For one young woman there was a quick and heartfelt response: “I’d like to know that I was Jesus’ hands and feet, that I was a comfort for the suffering.”
  • A very serious mid-career man had quite a list: “Someone who is recognized as a Christian and seen as someone who you can engage with; both a man of faith and engaging as a human being and aware of where people are at. Someone with empathy and willing to meet others in the good and the bad. Someone who is passionate about his work and doing it well, without it being the main thing.”
  • A young woman had a lot of clarity about what she would like: “I would like some sense of bringing out good in the people you are around, that is, being the sort of person who people say ‘you change the dynamic of the team’, or ‘you make a stressful culture feel lighter’.”
  • A worker at the end of his career had the opportunity to consider the legacy he has left behind: “I hope in some way I have been a stepping stone to others. Every now and then I receive feedback from those I touched. With much of our work, we do not see the results right away. I had a huge opportunity to influence others. I am looking forward to being in heaven to see those who I helped up at least one step toward faith in Jesus.”

Think it through
What is the legacy that you would like to leave in terms of your working?
What can you do now to begin to lay a foundation for such a legacy?
What does the Bible say?
Paul wrote a couple of letters to his young friend Timothy, and II Timothy 3:10-17 can help us see the legacy he was hoping to leave:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Paul points to his example that points to Jesus: “my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings.” He warns us of the reality of persecution that Christians will face, and the need to stand up under the pressure of that. The source that he draws on for strength: are mentoring (“know those from whom you learned it”), and the Bible which is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Loving Lord,
As we work, help us to think ahead.
Help us to have our imaginations activated.
Help us to consider the legacy we want to leave.
Like Paul, help us to be deeply mentored, and to mentor others.
Like Paul, help us to draw upon God’s Word.
Like Paul, help us to be able to point to what we say and how we live, for its consistency with the Gospel message.
Help us to have a sense of purpose about what we do that is obvious to others.
May our faith, patience, love, endurance and even our suffering at work all point to Christ.

Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.

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