It’s no secret: Finishing this life with a God-honoring legacy isn’t automatic and certainly isn’t easy. So, in my twenties and thirties and again in my forties, I asked a number of older Christians to show me how it’s done. Thankfully, they agreed!
A few months before his death, best-selling author and international consultant Dr. Ted W. Engstrom invited me to spend a day together, just the two of us. His eyesight was gone, but his mind was still sharp. For hours, he told me about the things closest to his heart.
Among other things, Ted told me about a pact he, Billy Graham, and Bill Bright had made decades earlier, before they became famous. “We promised each other that we would finish well,” Dr. Engstrom told me, smiling. “And just think—Bill Bright did just that! Billy Graham assures me he’s going to be faithful to the end. And I fully intend to do the same!”
Talk about an enduring, God-honoring legacy.
One of the foremost experts on leadership matters, Dr. J. Robert Clinton, has invested much of his career analyzing why people do—or don’t—finish well. Over the years, he’s done a comparative study of more than eight hundred Christian leaders’ lives. His conclusion: “Few leaders finish well.”
Clinton lists 6 common ways to destroy one’s legacy.
1. The misuse of money
2. The abuse of power
3. Unchecked pride
4. Illicit sexual relationships
5. Unresolved family problems
6. Plateauing because of sin or loss of vision
Thankfully, Clinton doesn’t stop there.
He also lists 5 reasons why people finish well. All five can be seen in the lives of Bill Bright, Ted Engstrom, Billy Graham, Luis Palau, and many others.
Clinton’s list of 5 ways to ensure a God-honoring legacy.
7. Serving God your whole life
8. Heart open to God encounters
9. Daily dedicated and disciplined
10. Committed to lifelong learning
11. Multiple mentors for life
When I asked Dr. Engstrom about this last point, he told me about how he had been mentored over the years, as well as about how he had intentionally mentored others his whole adult life. Even when he lost his eyesight, he happily continued to meet with others, talk with them by phone, and keep up an incredible amount of correspondence. He didn’t stop until shortly before his death. Like Paul the apostle, he could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
I’ll never forget his joy. Decades earlier, Dr. Engstrom had made a promise, but somehow keeping that promise wasn’t a burden or duty. Instead, it seemed to be the secret of his enthusiasm and vitality. I’ve seen athletes flash that same smile after winning a major victory. To see it radiate from someone near the end of life, however, is even more moving—at least it was to me.
Are you ready to ensure you have a God-honoring legacy? If so, please bookmark this article to read and review through the years.
David Sanford’s book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale House, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His speaking engagements have ranged everywhere from UC Berkeley (CA) to The Billy Graham Center at the Cove (NC).