“Paying It Forward”
French author Jean Giono shared a hopeful tale of a shepherd in the French Alps during World War I by the name Elzeard Bouffier. The narrator is alone on a hiking trip when he runs out of water in a treeless, desolate valley. The war-torn area has left only crumbling buildings and no trace of civilization. He is then rescued by the middle-aged shepherd who takes him to a spring and invites him to spend the night in his shepherd’s hut. After dinner, he watched the shepherd meticulously sort through a pile of acorns in which he discarded those that were cracked or undersized. When the shepherd had counted out one hundred perfect acorns, he stopped for the night and went to bed. The next day, he observed a curious action as the shepherd led his sheep. Every so often the shepherd would pause and, with his curling pole, make a hole in the ground and then drop in an acorn. Many years after the war, the narrator returned to the area and is surprised to see young saplings of all forms taking root and new streams running through it. The valley is vibrant with life and is peacefully being settled. The authorities mistakenly believed that the rapid growth of the forest is a bizarre phenomenon, but they are unaware of the shepherd's selfless deeds. The shepherd then quietly and peacefully passes away.
The longer that I live the more I am convinced that life is incredibly brief. It just seems like yesterday that I was standing at the bus stop waiting to start the first grade, and now I have two children in college. Life is now moving like I am on a sheet of ice and going downhill. It has begun to dawn on me that the window of opportunities in life will become limited with each passing day. In my personal time of reflection recently, there was a probing question that came to my mind: when my life is over, will it have mattered that I lived? Solomon must have had the same thought as the years began to accumulate like fallen leaves around a tree when he wrote in Proverbs 13:22, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children...” He was speaking about much more than possessions and life insurance policies. He was making a pledge to live life forward by paving a smooth road into the future. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it like this, “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - that is to have succeeded.” The desire of every one of God’s people should be to leave this world better than we found it. However, it is so easy to look around at the size of the world with its vast amount of sorrow, suffering, and sin and wonder to ones self, “How could I ever do anything that would make a real difference?” I want to suggest some simple things we can all do to ensure that we live a life that outlives us.
Find someone in whom to invest. In Matthew 6: 19-20, Jesus said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth...but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...” It was a reminder that when possessions are used to glorify God, earthly investments will reap eternal rewards. Let me ask you, if you had $1 million to invest, where would you put your money? Perhaps in stocks, bonds, cd’s, or maybe in real estate? The truth is you would want to put your money somewhere that it would bring the greatest return. The greatest return is always found when one invests in those lives which God will use to impact future generations. As others overlooked the children, Jesus took time to touch and to bless them. I have often wondered what became of those children. No one can say for sure, but if I could take my best educated guess, I would say they were blessed to simply make a contribution to the world. Most of us are who, where, and what we are in life because someone invested in us when we were young. Whether it was giving of their time, their money, or their love, our dreams remained hopeful because someone believed in us. Eighteenth-century writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “When a man dies he clutches in his hands only that which he has given away in his lifetime.” The gift of hope is a gift for which only God can measure the length of its reach. A man that is important may achieve great goals, but a man that invests changes the world.
Find someone in whom to instruct. In Proverbs 19:20, Solomon wrote, “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.” As we grow older, our lives should be able to offer a wealth of wisdom to others if we have been teachable along the way. That does not imply that we are necessarily smarter, but it does mean we have accumulated a lot more of life experiences. The Lord will never waste any experience we face in life. Much of the wisdom in the world exists through some failed experience. I prefer to learn from someone else’s mistakes than to learn it the hard way through my own mistakes. How sad it would be for us to hoard the knowledge we have gained and deprive others of the growth and insight they need. Anyone who is anyone can attribute much of their success to having had a great mentor. As Samuel led a young Saul to the throne, he paused that he might “show you the Word of God.” Aquila and Priscilla took a young Apollos and “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Lois and Eunice had taught Timothy the Scriptures “from a child.” St. Augustine wrote, “I learned most, not from those who taught me but from those who talked with me.” Wisdom is the key that unlocks the door of opportunity, but knowledge is the skill for how to open it. If the next generation should fail it will only be because we have failed them by leaving them to find their own way.
Find someone in whom to inspire. In Titus 2:7, Paul gave this challenge to Titus, “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works...” The message was clear: live your life in such a manner that the young men looking up to you will find an inspiring example to imitate and follow. Our generation is desperate for modern-day heroes of the faith. Lives that model character, consistency, and courage. Lives that can be looked up to rather than tripped over. Lives that raise standards and not lower them. Lives that will bring challenge to you without corrupting you. Lives that show you where to look but do not tell you what to see. It is often said of great athletes that “they made others around them better.” Those who exemplify a high quality of goodness have a way of creating a curiosity that brings out the best in others. They do not teach others how to build bridges, but rather they ignite dreams of the other side. They do not tempt others to be famous, but rather they equip them for useful lives. John Knox said, “When I think of those who have influenced my life the most, I think not of the great but of the good.” A word of encouragement from one bearing honor and respect instills a creative confidence into the one that hears it. I am not saying that it will necessarily change the world, but I am saying it may change someone’s world.
In Revelation 14:13, John wrote, “...Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth...that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” What a reminder that our lives are leaving a trail behind us. The great question we must ask is will our trail be beneficial to those that follow after us? Jimmy Draper said, “The debt we owe the past is to leave the future indebted to us.” Tiny acorns in your hands today have the potential to become massive shade trees down the road for others. Perhaps then we will understand better the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:8, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof...”
Your Most Proud Pastor,
© 2017 Alan Stewart