Song of Legacy

            One of the most profound mandates of Jesus to all of us who would follow Him is the command of reproduction in Matthew 28 which we refer to as the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples…” If we would be good followers of the Lord we will be passionate disciple-makers in the world. And this is not a new idea in the Scriptures suddenly or finally revealed by Jesus at the moment of Ascension. The importance and gravity of reproducing, both physically and ideologically, are present all throughout the writings of the Law, Prophets and Poetry in the Old Testament. Psalm 78 is one of these texts. And, outside of Deuteronomy 6, Asaph’s song of instruction is undeniably one of the most plain appeals for transferring information and spiritual identity from one generation to the next, to the next.

            Three ideas dominate the landscape of Psalm 78. Far from random bullet points, these three ideas create a trajectory of legacy if they are followed as a pathway. First, begin with God; next, tell the story; finally, don’t rewrite reality.

Three ideas create a trajectory of legacy if they are followed as a pathway: first, begin with God; next, tell the story; finally, don’t rewrite reality.

Begin With God

            Starting in the right place is important in just about every activity we engage in life. After his greeting, Asaph begins to set an ominous tone, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old” (Ps. 78:3). He establishes the mandate of the people of Israel: we must tell the coming generations about the Lord but we cannot start with us, we must begin this story with the Creator and Covenant Maker who spoke first to our ancestors (Ps. 78:3, 5). We don’t tell the story of grace, faith and salvation as if we are the main characters. God is the center of this story. Yahweh is the benchmark, the measuring point, the sole purpose behind everything. When we begin with God we open the door to a story that will not end when we do. 

            In a world that seems to grow more and more temporary, having a bedrock reality that connects all of our lives to a larger narrative is crucial. The more disconnected we become from a multi-generational story the less our lives matter. The less our children believe their lives matter the more difficult it will be for them to embrace the reality of their faith, which has devastating implications on how they are able to pass that story down to their own children. Spiritual legacy does not begin with how things were when we were children, it begins with God. If we cannot anchor our faith in something eternal then it will not translate to those who have lived a different experience than us. Spiritual legacy begins before us. Spiritual legacy begins with the story of the love and faithfulness of God. 

Tell the Story

            It is a clear mandate by the psalmist in verse 4, don’t keep your stories to yourself: “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done.” Don’t let your memories and experiences pass away with your physical life. While we are to begin with God as in the passing of legacy, we do Him and His power no service if we choose to disconnect His work from the real world in which we live. There is an enormous difference between saying God is faithful and telling the story of when your old, broken down Ford miraculously fired up that one time when you had to get to the hospital. It’s one thing to call God a Provider, but it is another thing altogether to actually spin the yarn about how the power was scheduled to be shut-off until an “anonymous” envelope showed up in your mail box just in time.

Stories have the power of positional transference, or, more plainly put, it’s easier to imagine God working in your life when you’ve heard someone like you tell you that He did it for them.

            Stories have the power of positional transference, or, more plainly put, it’s easier to imagine God working in your life when you’ve heard someone like you tell you that He did it for them. Israel’s mandate was to never let the power of positional transference slip away. Every child should be able to imagine themselves spreading the blood of the lamb on the doorpost, eating the passover meal with their running shoes on, and crossing on dry land as the waters of the Red Sea stacked up in towers on either side of them. To be able to see ourselves as a part of God’s stories of the past helps us to see what He might be doing in this moment. In the language of Jesus, stories give us eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is doing and saying. In the language of the psalmist, stories make it possible for the generations after us to “set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Ps. 78:7).

Don’t Rewrite Reality

            It’s interesting what Asaph does next. He spends the majority of the next 65 verses telling the reader that beginning with God and telling our stories will hopefully help the generations that follow us be far better than we were. This is a hard word for most of us, primarily because our instincts tell us that we’re the more disciplined, holy and righteous generation – especially when compared with those coming after us. But the psalmist is clear that our primary goal, if we want to pass down a legacy, is not to glorify ourselves, our behavior, our faithfulness, or our work ethic – our primary goal is to be honest about our shortcomings and save the talk of glory, faithfulness and ethics for God alone.

            In verse 8 we are immediately challenged to see ourselves in a light that is less than flattering. The word translated “stubborn” is a Hebrew word describing cows that would do everything in their power to shake off the yokes put on them for plowing. These are God’s people: frequently stubborn, often hard to deal with, and notorious for whitewashing their (our) own shortcomings. And Asaph will have none of it. Why is he so bent on us being so open about our stiff-necks and hard-hearts? Because the glory of God is best seen when painted on a canvas of honesty.

            Walking through the rest of the chapter we see story after story of the people and their leaders falling woefully short, but God shining as the beacon of hope and deliverance every time. We see struggles of temper and struggles of trust, and then we see the response of God in His grace. We see our stories in their stories. Moments when we doubted God and moments when we tested His patience. And in the end we see God taking a rag-tag, motley crew of misfits from slavery, through a wilderness, all the way to the coronation of David the king who would lead them into victory and peace. Reality reveals two things: the weakness of mankind and the faithfulness of God. Asaph warns us about rewriting reality. Legacy, the continuation of our faith into the next generation, will require us to begin with God and tell our stories, but if we “cover our tracks” and make ourselves out to be better than we really were all it accomplishes is making God seem like less than He actually is.

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