In his book Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, Chuck Swindoll recounted the tragic story of George Jaeger, whose father and three sons drowned after their fishing boat sank during a storm:
First one boy and then another swallowed too much salt water, gagged, and strangled on the brine as they fought to keep their heads up. The helpless father heard his sons, one by one, then his dad, choke and drown. . . .
“My youngest boy, Clifford, was the first to go. I had always taught our children not to fear death because it was being with Jesus Christ.” Before Cliff died, his dad heard him say, “I’d rather be with Jesus than go on fighting.”
In that vivid Atlantic memory, George Jaeger had a chance to witness the impact of his fifteen years as a father. The boys died quietly, with courage and dignity. Up to the very last minute, one by one they modeled the truth passed on by their father.1
Fortunately, most of us will never have to witness a scene like that. But as parents, at one point we will watch our children go through adversity in their lives—maybe an unexpected illness, an undeserved termination from a job, or an unwanted divorce. Have we imparted to our children the faith they need to see them through the storms of life? Have we paid enough attention to their spiritual development that they are strengthened rather than crushed by the adversities of life?
I want to talk about the greatest legacies we as parents can pass on to our children and grandchildren—legacies that are demonstrated in the lives of Jacob and his son Joseph.
Jacob: A Legacy of Spiritual Growth
Let’s look first at Jacob, who illustrates leaving a legacy of spiritual growth for your children. Hebrews 11:21 says, “By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.” The last thing Jacob’s children and grandchildren saw him doing was worshiping God.
Had Jacob died at age forty-seven instead of one hundred and forty-seven, his tombstone might have read: “He manipulated. He schemed. He blamed God.” But late in life, Jacob became a better version of himself, and his children and grandchildren had a front-row seat to watch the transformation.
When I think of Jacob’s legacy, I think about my own father. For most of his life, he did not live as he wanted to as a Christian. But then the company where he had worked for thirty-two years suddenly went bankrupt. Dad lost his job, his retirement, and his identity.
My siblings and I watched a transformation in our dad. He had been a heavy smoker, and overnight he gave up smoking. He started reading his Bible and praying. When he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he never once blamed God for his illness; instead, he worshiped God. He left for us the same legacy Jacob left for his family: you don’t have to stay the way you are; with the power of God, you can change.
Joseph: A Legacy of Faith
Joseph, on the other hand, left a legacy of faith built on two strong foundations.
Faith for the Past
First of all, Joseph demonstrated a faith in the sovereignty of God for his past. Remember, Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, but Joseph forgave them when they reunited in Egypt. After Jacob’s death, the brothers speculated, “Maybe Joseph’s forgiveness was all an act. Now that Dad is gone, maybe Joseph is going to exact his revenge.”
How did Joseph respond? He said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). In other words, “Yes, what you did to me was wrong, but God is bigger than you are. God took your evil, and He used it for good.”
Because of what his brothers did, Joseph was able to save the Israelites from the famine. And through the nation of Israel, Jesus Christ would one day come and save the entire world from sin.
One of the greatest legacies you can leave your children is a faith in the sovereignty of God for their past. God is bigger than the adverse people who have hurt them, the adverse circumstances that have conspired against them, and even the mistakes they’ve made. He can take all those things and work them together for good.
Faith for the Future
Joseph also demonstrated a faith for the future. Genesis 50:24–25 says, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on an oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.’”
Joseph was saying, “You can count on God to take care of you. And when the time comes for God to fulfill His promise, take my bones back to Canaan.” Four hundred years later, Exodus 13:19 tells us, Moses took the bones of Joseph with him when the Israelites left Egypt for the promised land. Joseph’s faith was successfully passed on.
When the day comes for me to go on to my reward, I pray that I’ll have that same faith and courage to demonstrate to my family that God will take care of them.
As your children and grandchildren remember you, will they remember a life that was marked by spiritual growth and by faith—a faith that God is sovereign over the past and will take care of them in the future? What will your legacy be?
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 289.