Have you ever given much thought to how your life today can have a great impact on the world after you are gone? I remember reading how we all have an opportunity to impact eternity in that we never know where our influence ends. A person whose life we might touch today might go out and have a tremendous influence on many others. And then these “many others” might go out and change the world for good. And so on. You never know where your influence ends.
I recently read of an event that bears this truth out. Author Russ Crosson tells the story of a friend of his who died unexpectedly. He and his wife traveled to the small town where this man had lived and worked for over six decades. Crosson says,
“On the drive, we reminisced about the impact he had had on our growing family over the years. He and his wife were like second grandparents to our sons and always made us feel loved and welcomed whenever we were with them. We had mentally prepared for this day, but it still seemed surreal that he was actually gone from this earth. My wife and I had made this drive every year for the past thirty years, but this time it was different. I could not help but think that a day like this is in each of our futures.
We arrived about twenty minutes before the service was scheduled to begin and were surprised to realize there was no parking left. Fortunately, I saw the son, who escorted us to a special parking place. As we were ushered into the church, I looked around and realized it was standing room only. All the seats were filled, and there were several rows of people standing around the sides and back of the sanctuary. It seemed like the whole town was in attendance.
During the service, the son took the podium. As he made comments about his dad, he began asking for audience participation. He articulated all the ways his dad had exhibited generosity in this small town and asked those who had experienced it to stand. Before I knew it, everyone in the building was standing. As I looked around I realize that is what I want my funeral to look like—people impacted because I leveraged my temporal wealth for something beyond myself. I want people to remember me for living a generous life and investing in others.
As Julie and I drove home that night, we reflected on what we had witnessed. For more than thirty-five years, we had watched this man and his family embody the concept of living generously and leveraging temporal wealth for eternal impact. He did not start off being generous.
Yet, over time he chose to open his hands and bless others with God’s financial blessings to him.
The visual of the people standing and giving their testimonies of his impact at the funeral was imprinted in our minds. He had left a mark on the people who came after him, and hundreds of them had filled the church to pay tribute and honor to him. People endure. Material things don’t. This truth was vivid in my mind as I reflected on what I had just experienced and contrasted it to a book I had recently read about a wealthy British sea merchant named Godfrey Barnsley.
There is an exquisite vacation destination north of Atlanta, Georgia, called Barnsley Resort. My wife and I have enjoyed some time there over the years. During one of our visits, I picked up a book that told the history of the resort and gardens. The story fascinated me. Godfrey Barnsley was one of the wealthiest men in the world in the early 1800s. He directed a shipping empire that sailed the world’s seas and transported 60 percent of the South’s cotton to his native England and to other markets. He was well respected all over the world.
Barnsley decided to build a luxurious and magnificent home for his wife, Julia. He purchased four thousand acres of land in the wilderness of northwest Georgia and created a vast estate and gardens. Since his wealth was so immense, he shipped in hundreds of rare trees and shrubs—ancient cedars from Lebanon and other bushes from around the world. He chose handcrafted windows with sterling silver latches, marble from Italy and France, and priceless furnishings from the four corners of the world. It was one of the most exquisite antebellum estates east of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, his wife passed away before the home was completed in 1848, but several generations of the family lived at the estate until 1942. However, by the 1980s, the home and grounds were vacant and falling into ruins. In 1988, the property was purchased by an investor who developed it into the upscale resort it is today. If you go to Barnsley Resort, all that remains of Godfrey Barnsley’s investment is a pile of rocks known as the “Manor House Ruins.”
When your time on earth is finished, which legacy would you prefer: a sanctuary full of people impacted by how you lived your life and utilized your money, or a mound of rocks?
This is a choice we all must make.