From Success to Significance

One of the classes that our Titus 2 students take is Robert McGee’s “Search for Significance”.  Sometimes one only sees the purpose, impact, and value of an experience, a season of life, or of life itself from the perspective of the finish line.

Yesterday I sat at a table with a clergywoman at St. Simon’s Island.  She said she was working on a sermon for Sunday .  The title of her sermon, she said, was “Live Like You’re Dying.”  I have read several accounts recently of people who are, in fact, dying.  They have been given that definitive prognosis, “there is nothing else medical science can offer.” Short of a miracle, one must prepare to die.  It was not a title to which I felt drawn, given our conference’s emphasis on living water and new life.  I can hear in my mind the paradox of “to die is to live in Christ” and the invitation of Christ to “die to oneself”.  But our theme has been such a refreshing and vital image of drawing living water that I thought that such a title for a sermon after this week of joyous retreat sounded a bit dour.  Then this morning this devotional was waiting in my inbox.  It’s something to think about……

“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:3 – 9

None of us knows when we will die. But any one of us, if we wish, may select our own epitaph. I have chosen mine. It is, I should confess, a somewhat haunting thing to think about your gravestone while you are vitally alive. Yet there it is, a vivid image in my mind and heart, standing as both a glorious inspiration and an epic challenge to me:


It means “100 times.” I have taken it for myself from the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. I’m an entrepreneur, and I want to be remembered as the seed that was planted in good soil and multiplied a hundredfold. It is how I wish to live. It is how I attempt to express my passions and my core commitments. It is how I envision my own legacy. I want to be a symbol of higher yield, in life and in death.

Augustine said that asking yourself the question of your own legacy — What do I wish to be remembered for? — is the beginning of adulthood. That is what I have done by writing my own epitaph. After all, an epitaph should be something more than a wispy, wishful, self-selected motto. If it’s honest, it says something about who you are at the essence of your personality and your soul.

The stuff that stirs within the heart’s holiest chamber is, I believe, a gift given to us all by our Creator. It’s one way of expressing a conviction that human beings are more than animals or machines. It’s a confession that we are spiritual beings with a purpose — and a destiny. It’s a divine reminder that we are miraculously and wonderfully made in the image of God.

You may call my 100X epitaph wishful thinking, and surely that is part of what it is. But when you select an epitaph as an expression of gratitude for your singular talent — and as a goal to which you are committed until you rest, at last, beneath the gravestone — you identify yourself as someone with a purpose and a passion that has been encoded in you for life. Jesus taught primarily by telling stories or parables, and the parable of the sower gets to the center of my dreams and to the kernel of my experiences. It is the driving force behind this book. My passion is to multiply all that God has given me and, in the process, give it back. And I would like to incite you to do the same. I do not want you to be the seed that fell along the path or was scattered in rocky places or was choked by weeds. Such seed held the potential to become fruitful, but circumstances prevented it.

My own circumstances provided a moist and fertile soil in which I could grow. It was a fortunate environment, and that has been a critical factor in my story. My own tale is not that of the self-made man, nor is it a rags-to-riches account or a Horatio Alger fantasy. I was given far more opportunity for growth, personal development, and financial rewards than most Americans.

On the one hand, you might say that I have been lucky, for indeed I have been given much with which to work. But if you believe, as I do, that “to whom much is given, much is also required,” you will begin to see how daunting my epitaph is.

What about your epitaph? What have you been given, and what will you do with it the rest of your life?

Recently, I have begun looking at my own life through the metaphor of a football game (actually, any sport that divides its action into two halves will do). Up until my thirty-fifth year, I was in the first half. Then circumstances intervened that sent me into halftime. Now I am playing the second half, and it’s turning into a great game. Along the way, I have come to the conclusion that the second half of our lives should be the best half — that it can be, in fact, a personal renaissance.

During the first half of your life, if you are like me, you probably did not have time to think about how you would spend the rest of your life. You probably rushed through college, fell in love, married, embarked on a career, climbed upward, and acquired a few things to help make the journey comfortable.

You played a hard-fought first half. You even may have been winning. But sooner or later you begin to wonder if this really is as good as it gets. Somehow, keeping score does not offer the thrill it once did. You may have taken some vicious hits. A good share of men and women never make it to halftime without pain. Serious pain. Divorce. Too much alcohol. Not enough time for your kids. Guilt. Loneliness. Like many good players, you started the half with good intentions but got blindsided along the way.

Even if your pain was slight, you are smart enough to see that you cannot play the second half as you did the first. For one thing, you do not have the energy you once had. Fresh out of college, you had no problem with working fourteen-hour days and working extra hours on your days off. It was part of your first-half game plan, something almost inevitable if you hoped to succeed. But now you yearn for something more than success.

Then there is the reality of the game itself: The clock is running. What once looked like an eternity ahead of you is now within reach. And while you do not fear the end of the game, you do want to make sure that you finish well, that you leave something behind that no one can take away from you. If the first half was a quest for success, the second half is a journey to significance. Questions to Consider 1. No one in the middle of life likes to think about the finish line, but doing so can have a profound impact on how well you live. So take a few minutes to consider the end of your life. How do you want other people to remember you? What legacy would you like to leave? 2. Reflect on the first half of your life. Rank the following in terms of how they dominated your time and resources: education, advancement of a career, family, acquiring possessions (home, cars, toys, etc.). 3. Do you ever have thoughts that the clock of your life is ticking and that there are things you want to accomplish that you haven’t had time to do? What are some of those things, and what has prevented you from doing them?”


— Bob Buford, adapted from Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance