On Giants’ Shoulders

I’m frustrated with this YOLO (you only live once) movement, not because I disagree with the statement but rather because people have deduced a false conclusion from a true premise. It is true that you only live once, but somehow people have found a way to reason that this means they should make unbelievably stupid decisions as a result. It should be exactly the opposite. In light of the reality that we only get one shot at this life, we should endeavor to make as big of a wave as we can, with ripples that continue to shake generations to come.

There are those who live with deep intentionality about leaving behind a meaningful legacy. You can readily tell when a person is thinking about their posterity. It changes everything about how they approach their time here on this earth. These are people that are committed to leaving a lasting heritage. They treat people with love, dignity, and respect because they know that will be passed on. They raise their children with values and morals because they know the power of a right mindset. They invest in mentoring others and are constantly looking for ways to pour out their knowledge and wisdom. They fervently seek wisdom for themselves because they want to take the straightest path to the place and purpose that God is calling them into. They are interested in world history and the history of their family because they know that certain patterns must be broken. They perform all of their activities with excellence because they know that everything they touch is a reflection of who they are.

Let’s consider the implications of heritage with a tangible example. For the moment, we’ll just talk finances although there is so much more to a meaningful legacy than that. Now, imagine if a husband and wife were intentional about creating financial reserves for their children from before their three kids were born. Then once their three beautiful children were born and became old enough to learn, these parents taught their children financial literacy and the right principles and values that go with this. Let’s also say that these parents set aside some funds for advanced education. These three children will have money accessible for further education, which will lend itself to greater opportunities. They will have the wherewithal to handle their own finances and an understanding of the importance of heritage. And they’ll be left an large inheritance when the parents pass on that they won’t squander because, again, they know and practice the principles of financial wisdom. Now imagine that these three children carry that focus into their families as they get older and get married. They all live with heritage in mind and build a heritage for their children. Every generation now is building higher and higher on a solid foundation that the previous generations laid for them. In only three rounds of this, that family will probably own half of a city at least. That’s a financial example, but the principle of heritage carries into every area of our lives.

Dr. Perkins and Justin
Dr. Perkins and I

Living with heritage in mind is also humbling in that it presumes that we are building on what others have done. We’re not reinventing anything. All new knowledge is dependent on the prior knowledge underneath it. All progress depends on someone running the previous leg of the race and passing the baton to us. All structures need a foundation. This weekend I had the privilege of meeting Dr. John Perkins, an instrumental figure of the U.S. civil rights movement, at The Justice Conference in Philadelphia. Even now, in his later years, he continues to pour himself out for the sake of the gospel and for the justice that the Kingdom of God represents. When he speaks, he often mentions the generations to come with hopefulness and exhorts us to carry the torch. And he is just one great example of the many people that have carried heavy burdens in order that the people after them might not have to.

The reason we’re able to see so far is that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. That should be sobering for us and give us an even greater appreciation and heightened sense of responsibility. For example, if we’re getting an education and performing well, instead of being quick to pat ourselves on the back for our own indomitable will to succeed and our superior work ethic, let’s remember that these opportunities for education required the blood, sweat, and tears of the generations before us. For some it cost their lives. Don’t take it lightly! Too often, I think we stand beside the platform that the previous generations have built instead of standing on it. I’m not sure if it’s ignorance, or pride, or what it could be, but it’s wrong. And I confess that sometimes I lose focus of the generation that is coming after us. The generation after us should be able to see further than we can, but I worry that we may be crippling them through atrophy, disengagement, and a lack of urgency in continuing the work of the Kingdom.

Let’s enjoy the present, but keep the future in mind. The future is made up of our every day decisions, so those decisions should be informed by what type of future we want to see. Our focus will change drastically when we aim to build something positive that will outlive us. As we seek to further usher in the Kingdom of God, let’s build something that will help the next generation go even further than we ever could. Each generation must be better than the last. Let’s be the giant shoulders for the next generation to stand on.


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