When you are gone, what do you want to leave behind?
What impact do you want to have made?
I ask, because I just finished a book called The Insanity of God, in which a man writes about his many interviews with Christians who have faced intense persecution. Reading it, I was amazed at the impact that such simple things could have on others. One story that stuck with me was from a man who had spent fifteen years in a prison in the USSR. He was imprisoned for his faith, tortured, and starved for so long. The only things that kept him faithful were two practices he had. One was to get up first thing every morning, stand at attention, and loudly sing a worship song. It was always the same worship song. The book called it a HeartSong, but I don’t really know what that means. Anyway, he sang it every morning. The other thing he did was whenever he found a scrap of paper and something to write with, he would fill the paper with all the Scripture he could fit on it and then stick it to a freezing pole in his room. He met great opposition with these two practices. When he sang his HeartSong, for instance, all the other prisoners would jeer and mock him and even throw their own excrement into his cell to stop him. And when he put up scripture, it was inevitably discovered, which led to more torture and mistreatment.
After years of maintaining these two practices, the authorities decided that he was to be executed. They came to his cell and started to lead him away. It was then that an amazing thing happened:
The prison held 1,500 prisoners, and all of them got up, stood at attention, and started singing this man’s HeartSong.
Can you picture that? Can you picture one man’s faithful behavior day after day, one simple act repeated, that inspired a whole prison around him? What an amazing image.
And happily, the guards were so astonished and terrified that they thought the man had special powers and they let him live, which is how we know the story today.
Thinking about the impact of that single prisoner makes me think of my own impact in life, even in circumstances very different from his. I think we have no idea the effect we can have on others through the witness of our actions. I’m still not sure what a HeartSong is, but I do think every life has a central message that it shares with others, whether we mean for it to or not. And the challenge for Christians is for that message, that song that we sing, to point to Jesus, in hopes that even when we are gone, our “song” will continue.
I saw a great illustration of this idea yesterday. You may have heard the story of Zach Sobiech, a teenager who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and decided to make the most of the time he had left. One of the things he did that made the biggest impact was write songs as a way to process what was happening to him. His song, “Clouds,” was extremely popular on youtube. The link above goes to a short documentary on his life, but this three-minute video also gives a good recap.
I had heard of Zach before he died, and now he has passed away. What I didn’t know until yesterday, was that a year after his death, a huge group of 5,000 people who had heard of him and loved him gathered together to sing his song in the Mall of America. The video is amazing:
When I saw that video, tears came to my eyes. It just provided such a beautiful image of the impact we can have on others through the way we live our lives.
And when I think about that Russian prisoner and American teenager, I can’t help but think of others, like Greg’s Granddaddy Kirby, whose “song” of faithfulness to God and family is still being sung by every one of his descendants.
I think of Uncle Rob, whose song of joy in adversity impacted everyone who met him.
And I think of my brother, who left behind so many literal songs, some of which I still sing to my children–and to myself, when I need them.
And I also think of my own life.
How will my life impact others?
What song is my life singing?
And will others sing it after I’m gone?