Each new snow, of which we’ve had plenty this winter, leaves a fresh page upon which animals leave their prints. In the morning I can usually distinguish from the window the marks left by juncos, rabbits, squirrels, and our neighbour’s dog.
Along the road there may be the signs of passing turkeys or deer. Those familiar with the lore of the woods can identify each animal and bird by the tracks they leave.
Our lives also leave the impression of our passing on the lives we touch. Paul wrote to Timothy urging him to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12b). The great apostle’s life was so transparently holy that he and asked the brothers and sisters to “follow our example”(2 Thess 3:7) since “we make ourselves a model for you to follow”(2 Thess. 3:9).
Of course, perfection cannot be found in any human hero. Paul admitted, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom. 7:18). We would be wise then to heed Peter who reminds us that only Christ Jesus left us the perfect example, “that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
One of the great values of Scripture is the inspired portrait it paints of patriarchs and prophets, kings and shepherds who left their marks on redemptive history. In some cases the story gleams with light; in others the malevolent glow of brimstone warns us away from the pathway to destruction. There we discover Adam and Cain, Abraham and Jacob, Rachel and Ruth, Hezekiah and Manasseh, Saul and David, Judas and Paul.
Even depraved lives are recorded, “as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did”(1 Cor. 10:6). Esau sold his birthright for a quick meal. Like unhappy taxpayers, the Israelites grumbled throughout the exodus. Like corrupt executives salting away millions, King Solomon hoarded gold and horses and wives.
The tracks left by godly men and women, however, are what inspire us to climb the upward path. “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. . . By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By faith Abraham . . .made his home in the promised land . . . offered Isaac as a sacrifice”(Heb. 11:4,7, 8,9,17).
Besides biblical biographies, God often uses more contemporary stories of godly men and women to challenge us to walk more carefully in the footsteps of Jesus. The gospel energy of John Wesley and the astounding mind of C.S. Lewis have inspired me to greater heights as have the stories of transformed tribals in Ethiopia’s Oro Valley.
Not only spiritual giants leave a mark. All of us can point to the tracks left by seemingly ordinary Christians who blessed our lives. I remember Florence Scruton’s example of cheerful thankfulness in spite of declining health, Elaine Mutter’s generosity during our mission years and the enthusiasm for the gospel exhibited by Pakistani pastor, Hidayat.
Sadly, I can think of others who have left behind an example of schism, controversy or moral bankruptcy. So I need to ask myself, what tracks do I leave? How deep is my devotion to Christ?