Passing on a Godly Heritage
An old adage says, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The point, of course, is that family traits and habits are passed on from one generation to the next.
This is true of physical characteristics. My Uncle Ralph lived in southern California and visited Portland only occasionally. Once he came during the last few days of our church’s annual camp meeting. As soon as he walked onto the campground, someone said to him, “You must be Roy Frymire’s brother.” The family resemblance was strong. Years later, when Uncle Ralph died, Uncle Roy went to the funeral at the church where Uncle Ralph had attended in his later years. The local congregants were startled when they saw Uncle Roy. The family resemblance was showing again.
You’ve seen it. Think about the boy who looks so much like his dad that you want to call him by his dad’s name, or a young woman who reminds you of how her mother looked when you were growing up. At times we’ll see an expression on someone’s face or hear a tone of voice that immediately makes us think of someone in that person’s family. Unlabeled baby and childhood photos from the same family can be confusing because the subjects look so similar.
Sometimes we like the characteristics that we inherit, and sometimes we don’t. When a teenager in our family wore a trendy hairstyle, someone asked him, “What are you doing with your hair?” He replied, “As much as possible while I can.” We smiled because baldness is a characteristic in both his mother’s and father’s families, and is not one he is fond of.
It may be a Sunday school child, someone from the church group, or a family friend, but someone is being impacted by your life and mine.
While physical characteristics are part of the heritage we are born with and we have little control over them, we can choose which traits, habits, and attitudes we wish to develop. This is the portion of a heritage for subsequent generations that we can help formulate. Whether or not we have children or grandchildren, we are all part of someone’s heritage. It may be a Sunday school child, someone from the church group, or a family friend, but someone is being impacted by your life and mine.
Psalm 61:5 talks about a valuable heritage. “For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.” David was saying that God had heard his earnest prayers of consecration, and he had the assurance of God’s answer in his heart. He knew God would give him the privilege of being His child and of serving Him with others who also reverenced God.
What can we do to help make a godly heritage for the next generations? First, of course, we must know that our sins have been forgiven and that we have a personal relationship with God.
Then as we worship together, we become part of the congregation, which as a whole forms a portion of its members’ heritage. Church services which include music that glorifies God, testimonies of the redeemed, and preaching anointed by God’s Spirit generate a rich heritage. Consider how a testimony encourages a person going through a trial, and how a sermon prompts sinners to repent. As members of the church body each fulfilling our role, we are a part of that heritage.
Small efforts of kindness and concern spread the blessing. Phyllis Barrett testified, “When I was very young, a girlfriend invited me to go to Sunday school with her. The people there told me that Jesus loved me. They showed me with their words and actions that Jesus cared. Everyone—the Sunday school bus drivers, the teachers, and the pastor—let me know they wanted God’s best for me and my family.” Each of those people had a part in Phyllis’ story. In time, she became a Sunday school teacher herself, and also participated in publishing Gospel literature until God took her to Heaven. She left a spiritual heritage.
One of our greatest opportunities in being heritage-makers is setting a good example. If we have godly traits in our own lives and exemplify them in daily situations, it will impact the lives of those around us.
My own heritage was rich in many ways, and one of those was certainly in good examples. My parents carefully followed the instruction from Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
When I was growing up, we had family devotions both morning and evening. My father was a pastor, and on Monday, the text for the next week’s Sunday school lesson was read. On random occasions, Dad would begin reading the Bible and then say to me, “Where am I reading from?” This taught me to focus on the words, and over time it helped me identify the time frame of certain writings and events and the style of various authors such as Paul the Apostle.
Love for God’s service was taught by the example of my parents and also by relatives in both my mother’s and father’s families. My grandparents lived on our church campground where my grandfather was a maintenance man and electrician. Aunts and uncles were full-time Gospel workers in various roles. At times I saw them tired, but never dissatisfied with their callings. Clearly, they loved the privilege of participating.
The list of what I was taught by example is long. Faithfulness, responsibility, tithing (taught with an allowance), avoiding debt, caring for others, and using common sense would only name a few.
Whatever our own heritage may be, we have a choice regarding what we live before the next generation. If we follow David’s example and consecrate ourselves to God, we can be a part of those who have reverence for God and a relationship with Him, and those who are younger will notice. Sometimes it’s called being a part of the family of God, and that has eternal value beyond calculation!
Catey Hinkle recently testified in a service, “I was only seven years old when I was saved. Often I think about what a blessing it was to be raised in the church, and how many of you helped me along the way. This included the number of times I sat in meetings and heard people testify about how God helped them through school and college, and all of the different things I hadn’t been through yet. Now I can say that the Lord helped me through school and college also. I appreciate the people at this church—all of you who have taught my Sunday school classes, been my youth camp counselors, shared your testimonies, and encouraged people along the way. I want to do that for others also.”
It might be easy to think that creating a godly heritage takes some momentous effort or dramatic circumstances. However, some of the most important components are the small matters of daily life—praying with a child over a hurt knee, offering an encouraging word to someone going through a trial, faithfully attending and participating in church services, and the list goes on.
Each of us can have a part in “the heritage of those that fear thy name.” We can also participate in the heritage being passed on to the next generation.