Written by Bob Russell, Author & Former Pastor (originally posted at bobrussell.org)
My wife Judy recently showed me an old photo she took nearly 50 years ago of my grandfather, John Pratt, and our two sons. Our youngest son Phil has only a few faint memories of his “Great-grandpa Pratt,” and Rusty, who was around nine years old in the picture, recently asked me his first name.
Not many people have heard of John Pratt, but this past week, our family discussed his legacy and the lasting influence of his mother (my great-grandmother), whom I only vaguely recall.
John Snyder Pratt was born in 1889 in a coal mining community in western Pennsylvania, the third of five children. His father, Enos, was a huge man, standing six feet seven inches tall, and served as a police constable. His mother, Catherine, was a Godly woman and worked as a dressmaker. Sadly, Enos ran off from Catherine when my grandfather was a pre-teen. My grandfather was so distraught at his father’s leaving that he ran away from home, lied about his age, and attempted to join the Navy. When Catherine learned of it, she went to the Navy authorities, explained the truth, and brought my grandfather home.
It was a terrible stigma to be divorced in the early 1900s, and divorce in the church was nearly unthinkable. Yet my great-grandmother was determined to raise her children as Christians. So, as a divorced, single mother of five, she swallowed her pride, ignored any skeptical glances and derogatory remarks, and faithfully took her family to church every Sunday. As a result, my Grandfather Pratt gave his life to Christ.
In his twenties, Grandfather Pratt became a carpenter by trade. He married a young Christian woman, Pearl Campbell, and in time they had seven children of their own. He served as an elder in the Christian church in Vanderbilt, Pennsylvania. One of his sons became a missionary to Japan, and another became a church elder and worship leader. One of his daughters, Catherine, became a devout Christian, married Charles “Chap” Russell, and gave birth to my five siblings and me.
I was never close to my Grandfather Pratt. We lived three hours away, and I only saw him once or twice a year. Yet I owe my relationship with Christ to him and to my Great-Grandmother Pratt, who was determined to raise her children in the Lord despite the stigma of marital failure.
I often quote the old saying, “Big doors turn on little hinges.” Indeed, our seemingly small, little-noticed choices can have huge — even eternal — consequences. Who knows where I would be today if my great-grandmother had not ignored the scorn and taken her children to church by herself or if my grandfather had used his fatherless home as an excuse to reject God?
What about your legacy? What will your great-grandchildren say about you 100 years from now? You may never be close to them, and maybe they won’t be able to recall your first name years from now, but they will stand in the shade of the trees you plant. You have no idea how much influence your life will have on future generations.
The Bible says, “’…this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord: ‘My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,’ says the Lord, ‘from this time forth and forevermore’” (Isaiah 59:21).
Yet the opposite is true also. Our poor decisions and our sinful behaviors can negatively impact generations to come. Exodus 20:5 says, “…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.”
I hope one day, in heaven, my great-great-grandchildren will greet me. Next to hearing the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” I look forward to hearing some of my descendants say, “Thanks, Pop, for helping to pave the way for us to have eternal life. We are here partly because you hung in there when it wasn’t always easy or popular. We’re eager to get to know you better now that we’ve got a lot of time. Would you go to worship with us tomorrow? Would you be interested in a game of golf on Monday? We’ve already scheduled a game with our great-great-grandfather John Pratt and wondered if you could play, also. We have even heard that you’re much better at golf than you used to be!”
There is an old hymn we used to sing that anticipated the joy we are to experience in heaven:
“When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be.
When we all get to heaven, we’ll sing and shout the victory.”
Yes! What a day! And as conveyed in the popular worship song, The Blessing, what a day it will be for us when we greet our future loved ones!
“The Lord bless you and keep you…
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children.”