Words can be very powerful. They’re how we connect. They’re the way we get to know one another. The absence of words makes relationships very difficult. They reveal what’s on our minds, what’s on our hearts, what we’re thinking. Sometimes they express our feelings and emotions. They’re a vehicle for revealing our values, our beliefs, our convictions. Care must be taken with words because once offered they’re hard to take back. Words can be weapons that wound or even kill. Words can offer healing and forgiveness and kindness and love. Words, whether written or spoken, can leave an important legacy long after their author has gone.
Over the past month I’ve read a number of deeply helpful books written by people dealing with serious illnesses. Each of these books have been inspiring and I’ve wanted to review and promote them so that others can be blessed by them also. With three of these books, I described the authors, their experiences, their attitudes and their words in the present tense. I just assumed each one was still living and continuing with the challenges and struggles they described in their books. I was wrong.
Lori Hope, the author of Help Me Live, who had lung cancer, and who had written to me only weeks before, had died the day before I read her book. Rhonda Watson, the author of Remember, who lived with Motor Neurone Disease, had died only weeks before. And I discovered yesterday that Jim Stallard, the author of You owe me dinner, a quadriplegic who battled with diabetes and other disabilities, had died only last year.
The news of each of their deaths was very sobering for me. Once again it reminded me of the future. One day every one of us will take our last breath. We can’t escape this fact. And for those of us with serious illnesses that day may well be sooner than we’d like.
Each of these people have no doubt left many important legacies. I haven’t met any of them personally (other than an email from Lori) but I feel that I know each one, at least in part. I’ve got to know them through their books, through their words. I feel I’ve had a glimpse of each person, something of what they’ve been through, what they believed and hoped for. They continue to speak to me, even in their absence. And, in my heart, I thank them for their words.
I added it up the other day. Just under 80,000 words on this blog since March. Ouch, that’s a lot of words! I’ve sought to give a window into my experience, what’s been on my mind and heart, what I care about and appreciate. I’ve attempted to highlight the valuable words of others as I’ve reviewed books on a range of topics. And I’ve often quoted the words that matter to me more than any others – the words of the Bible. I’ve been amazed at the reach and impact of some of these words, and have been blessed by many wise words in response. My prayer is that I will leave a legacy with these written words.
In my case, I can do more than leave a legacy of words on the page or screen. I’ve been a preacher and Bible teacher my entire working life. This means that there are cassettes, CDs, and mp3 recordings of my talks. No vinyls or reel-to-reels! Without exaggeration, that adds up to hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of talks. Some might say, if I’d kept them shorter there’d be a lot less! People can go to our church website and continue to listen to my words. The digital footprint I leave will mean that I will be able to continue speaking for years and years to come.
Big deal, you might well say! Words, words, words! Lot’s of people have written books. Lots of people have left recordings. Lots of people get quoted, but far more are simply forgotten. And I agree with you! It’s not the volume of words or the fact that they’re recorded that matters. It’s the message they contain.
I’m keen to leave my children, and my children’s children, a legacy with my words. It’s kind of nice that each of them currently follow the blog and they’ll be able to read back over things once I’m gone. It’s pretty special that they’ll even be able to listen to my voice if they download talks. But it’s the content of what I say that’s important. My prayer is that I’ll leave a legacy that flows from my words and is supported by my life. I desire to point beyond myself to the one and only God who loves each one of them. I want to share the good news of Jesus, his life, his words, his death, and his resurrection, and show them why I believe it. I want to speak about the goodness of God in the face of suffering and evil, and show the true joy that comes from confidence and contentment in God.
I know that even if I were to write books and archive my talks in the safest of places, there will come a time when my words are no longer remembered. That’s just the way things go. But there are also some words that will never be wasted, words that will always achieve their purpose, words that will endure and live forever. The Apostle Peter wrote to Christians in the first century…
23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.
(1Peter 1:23-25, my emphasis)
He quotes words that were spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah 800 years before. He speaks about the message of Jesus. He describes the impact of the message of Jesus on other people years afterwards. This is the same Peter who was a close personal friend, an eye and ear witness witness to Jesus, who had one time spoken to Jesus saying…
68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69, my emphasis)
This very same message continues to change lives today and it will tomorrow. I’m persuaded that God’s words are life-giving and life-transforming. I can testify to it personally, and I’ve seen it it countless others. The legacy I want to leave my children and my children’s children, is not ultimately my words, but the true words of God himself.