These questions are ones I have often posed over the past few years to the teenage girls I have taught in my local church. I am convinced the reason many students (and adults, for that matter!) do not live consistently for Christ is that they do not think about the eternal impact their lives can have, and they do not think a single life can make much of a difference anyway.
For close to 15 years, I have watched students start their high school years so strong for Christ only to finish poorly, many even dropping out of church before they graduate high school. It breaks my heart as I watch my girls that once had a burning passion to impact their school for Christ get sidelined because worldly things took their focus off of the Lord. I remember one girl in particular that I led to the Lord when she was a freshman, had in Sunday School, and met with in a small discipleship group. She regularly brought lost friends to church. However, she started dating a boy her senior year who wasn't a Christian, and that one decision to date a non-Christian took her down a disastrous path. She stopped talking about her faith and attending church because she didn't want to alienate her new boyfriend.
So, a few years ago, I started having my students write their own obituaries at the end of their freshman year in high school so they would think about how important the choices are that they make on a daily basis. Then, I spent time with them walking through some famous "obituaries" found in Hebrews 11. These testimonies left behind in Hebrews help believers today realize that the legacies of their lives can last generations. In this day, we need more Hebrews 11 type of Christians. The point is not that our names would be known but that we would live in such a way that Christ's name is known because of our lives.
The truth is, though, that it is not just high school students who need to examine their lives to see if they are building a legacy of faith. We all should be asking ourselves: If today was my last, would the legacy of my life be one that honored the Lord? Consider the "obituaries" of the people recorded in Hebrews 11:1-40:
1. They had a good reputation (vv. 2, 39). Both of these verses note that the people had a good reputation because of their faith. What is your reputation? Is it as someone who loves the Lord and cares for others? Or, do people know of you for less desirable reasons?
2. They were remembered by people who came after them (v. 4). One of the beauties of the Bible is that it records for us the lives of those who "though dead, still speak." Women in Scripture like Ruth, Esther, and Lydia and women in church history like Amy Carmichael, Ann Judson, and Elizabeth Elliott spur us on because of their example of faith. My grandmother and my pastor's wife were such women who, because of their lives, I am encouraged to live for Christ.
3. They were known as people who pleased God (v. 5). Someone who pleases God seeks to honor the Lord before any other. This is the type of girl who doesn't seek popularity at the cost of her convictions, who doesn't date boys who are unbelievers, and who seeks to honor God in the way she dresses and talks. She uses her time to deepen her relationship with God and makes daily time in God's Word a priority.
4. They had confidence in God (v. 10). When you are bombarded daily by the message of the world, it can be hard sometimes to trust that doing things God's way is best. However, when God says, "Do not have any other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3) or "be slow to anger" (James 1:19) or "honor your father and mother" (Ephesians 6:2) or adorn yourself "with proper clothing, modestly" (1 Timothy 2:9), do you have confidence and trust in His guidance for you?
5. God was not ashamed to be called their God (vv. 13-16). When one day in the future my family member sits down to consider my life and pen my obituary, this would be the one thing I want said of me -- that God was not ashamed to be called my God.
6. They resisted sin by keeping their eyes on God (vv. 24-27). The temptations to sin are ever present in your life and my life, but God has promised us in His Word that no temptation will be so great that a way out will not be provided (1 Corinthians 10:13). The challenge for us is to keep our eyes on Him in the midst of these temptations! One thing that has really helped me is memorizing Scripture for those sins I know I struggle with, and I have even put Scripture cards up in my car, on my TV, and in other places in my house to remind me. So, before I think of speeding in my car or getting angry at careless drivers, God's Word greets me from the dashboard. Before I think about watching anything on TV that is unwholesome or that may cause me to sin in my thought-life, God's Word beckons to me above the screen.
7. They were used by God in the midst of difficult circumstances (vv. 32-34). The phrase in this section that encourages me so much is that "their weakness was turned to strength." In high school and early in college, I was terrified of public speaking and had difficulty sharing my faith. Yet, I remember time after time how God opened doors for me to witness for Him -- to entire classes through assigned speeches, to my principal in his office because he had questions about a Christian club I was president of, and to teachers and classmates with whom I had built relationships. In each instance, when I trusted Him instead of giving into fear, I was able see Him do great things.
8. They withstood persecution and ridicule for their faith (vv. 35-37). Today, all around the world, brothers and sisters in Christ are persecuted and killed for their faith. I read an article recently about a group of 26 Christians who were murdered in Cairo, Egypt during a demonstration. I often ask myself if I would have the conviction and courage to stand in the face of such circumstances. Maybe a more appropriate question, though, is whether I have the courage and conviction to live for Christ in my own context?
So, I ask again, what would your obituary say if you died today? Consider the eight characteristics found in Hebrews 11 and ask yourself which of those could describe your life. May we all be remembered as Hebrews 11 Christians!
Candi Finch is a Ph.D. student and an adjunct professor in the Women's Studies Program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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