Legacy or Legend?

I’m a fan of building new things—I love it in fact. I’m not really a maintainer of projects. I think I’d probably die doing that.

Or something slightly less dramatic, perhaps.

I guess I’ve always seen the achievement of one goal as an excellent stepping stone onto the next one. Once we’ve got there I’m far more interested in where next? than in settling down. My eyes are usually fixed on the horizon—on keeping us moving us forward—and I’ll probably be fidgeting in my seat until we do. I want to see great things achieved.

As with most things in life, it comes with it’s pros and cons.

So when the things I oversee started to grow—started to explode at a somewhat alarming rate—and my team, my budget, my dreams only seemed to be getting bigger and bigger, I was faced with a profound challenge:

Whose kingdom are you building? 

Too often my answer was wrong and I’ve had to shuffle back in my seat, re-asses what I’m doing and remember that it’s not about me. Petty fights, defensive words, and protective barriers uncovered a heart that is—at times—more interested in preserving and building her own, than in holding things with open hands and sharing them out.

Because power, in whatever form it comes, can be addictive. If I’m honest.

It’s forced me to question what my heart really desires to build…

My empire, or God’s Kingdom?

What is it that I want to see established?

The questions circle in my mind with alarming regularity as a I fight against the temptation to make the story about me, the desire to see my name up high and the allure of gaining more power and prestige. 

And so I enter into a little battle with myself. A battle where I’m invited to face up to the fact that I chose to lay my life down, even though my ego is demanding something different right now. Where I’m reminded, once again, that my role in this story isn’t to be the lead character, but to be shoulders for others to stand on, pointing towards something greater.

I sometimes feel like a little girl, clutching her plastic beads oh-so-tightly, when her daddy’s waiting to give her a pearl necklace. If only she’d let go.

The beauty is that the story we’re invited into is so much greater.

We don’t need to be clutching onto our own.

And this has been the lesson of the last few years.

— — —

I’ve been reading through 1 Kings recently and I came across the story of King Solomon’s reign, during what they call the Golden Age of Israelite history.

To date, they’ve been battered and beaten, rescued and redeemed, wondering sojourners, contenders for territory, and now they’re a People with a King. Firmly established.

Once anxious that God was leading them astray—fearful that they were exerting themselves in vain—they now stand in blessing and abundance, reaping the promises that were laid out for them.

What a time to be an Israelite.

And with their fame, grew their power and influence. So much in fact, that the Queen of Sheba comes to visit them. She wants to see for herself this thing that Solomon is building. She’s heard it’s impressive.

And then she says this sentence to Solomon that’s kind of stayed with me:

“Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to do justice and righteousness”.

She gets it.

She gets the purpose of his power and authority. It’s given to him because of God’s loves for the people.

His role is to do justice and righteousness for others.

Share it out. Be a blessing. Let it overflow. Steward well.

And does he?

Well, I guess it felt like he did at first.

But in a few short chapters you see Solomon continue to accumulate vast amounts of wealth from every corner, he builds a fleet of trading ships, importing and exporting all sorts of goods from other countries (including Egypt no-less), he has hundreds of huge shields made from gold, he kits out his army, and accumulates thousands and thousands of chariots and horses…

…the very same things that were used to keep his own people captive a few generations back.

He is spending vast quantities of money just to protect what he has got.

And it’s all on the rise.

Solomon has built an empire.

A fully-fledged, internationally trading empire. With one heck of an army to protect and extend it. Is this what God had in mind? Was this what it looked like to do justice and righteousness?

I get that abundance can be a sign of God’s Kingdom, but empire always seems to come at someone else’s expense, doesn’t it?

They knew that from Egypt.

It feels like a tough pill to swallow when I’m part of an empire myself. I suppose I’ve never been on the oppressed side, so I don’t fully get it.

But it’s true, isn’t it?

Empire always comes at someone else’s expense.

Whether it’s King Solomon’s empire, or my own.

Maybe sometimes I’m too blinded by my own ambition and desires to question the impact it might be having on others. Perhaps I can get too caught up in moving forwards to think through who else might be counting the cost of what I’m building?

But that’s not the way of God’s Kingdom.

It’s not the way we’re supposed to operate with one another.

Because Kingdom is always about the community—the people you belong to—not the individual. That’s just the way it works.

And when you look at what empire building does to Solomon—to the wisest man in the land—I think it echoes the dangers we face too.

“His heart was not fully devoted to The Lord…He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not follow Him completely” 

And so, as quickly as they rose, the Israelites fall again. The decline of the Golden Age begins as God declares, “Since this is your attitude [Solomon] and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you”

And as the crown is passed on from Solomon, division occurs, idolatry increases and they find themselves—yet again—as a people in exile, under the oppression of another nation, waiting for a rescuer.

Solomon may have gone down as a legend in their history books, but what legacy did he leave his people?

Every day there are a million opportunities where I get to choose what I’m going to build. 

Some days I get it right, others I don’t.

So the challenge remains. What will I do with my Golden Age? When my dreams are getting bigger and I’m living in the reality of some of the promises God has set before me—will I accumulate, store up and protect what I have? Or will I walk around with open hands, ready to use what I’ve got to do justice and righteousness, to bless others and build up something far greater than myself?

Something that’ll last.

I hope I always see the bigger story.

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