Years ago I read a one page story in the opening of a book. It was very old, and only a few paragraphs, but it impacted me so much that it literally changed my life. It described the blood line of two unrelated people from the 1700’s, and how the life trajectories of those two individuals affected the paths of their descendants for literally centuries to come. One was the famous puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards. The other was an unknown named Max Jukes. The story, from A.E. Winship’s “A Study in Education and Heredity (1900)”, is below:
The study “revealed the Edwards’ descendants included:
1 U.S. Vice-President, 3 U.S. Senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 65 professors, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers and 100 missionaries.
This same study examined a family known as “Jukes.”
In 1877, while visiting New York’s prisons, Richard Dugdale found inmates with 42 different last names all descending from one man, called “Max.” Born around 1720 of Dutch stock, Max was a hard drinker, idle, irreverent and uneducated.
Max’s descendants included: 7 murderers, 60 thieves, 50 women of debauchery, 130 other convicts. 310 paupers, who, combined spent 2,300 years in poorhouses, and 400 physically wrecked by indulgent living.”
The idea that one life well spent–or poorly spent–could have such a wide-reaching impact was new to me, and dramatically changed my outlook.
I never forgot that story, and saved the book with plans to pass it along to my children. I’ve told them about it, and asked them to pass the same story along to their children, and make sure to continue the thread for all of our descendants.
I desperately want all of my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren and beyond–to know and love God with all of their hearts and to never turn away from Him. This desire for my descendants to follow God is deep, ingrained, and pervasive. And I’m sure I’m not generating it on my own.
I have no natural explanation as to why I feel this way.
I was the kid who never babysat, never particularly comfortable around children until I had my own. I’d have laughed if you told my younger self that this would someday become so important to me.
I love my children more than I thought possible, and no matter what difficult or perplexing circumstances they may face in life, the most important thing to me is that they never turn away from God and always love and serve Him. I want this–not just for them–but for their children, their children’s children, and far beyond.
I can only explain this constant, urgent need to pray for future generations as something that God put there. I’m not selfless enough to generate it.
I wonder if some ancestor of mine prayed the same thing for me decades or even hundreds of years before I was even born.
My family visited a hotel on vacation several times called Volcano House. It houses a famous fireplace with a fire that had burned continuously since at least 1877. I have pictures of all of our children sitting next to this fire in 2006 and 2009. The fire in their fireplace was maintained, protected, and kept burning through at least two hotel renovations and relocations. The main hotel structure itself actually burned to the ground in 1940 (from a kitchen fire), but someone still saved the fire from the fireplace and kept it going until the new hotel was rebuilt and reopened, and the tradition continued. For 70 more years.
But on New Years Day 2010 the fire was allowed to go out.
The hotel was closing briefly for planned renovations. Someone could have kept the fire going; it just wasn’t worth the trouble.
Is it worth the trouble to keep the fire of faith burning throughout our future generations?
Christian parents, are you praying for your kids? Grandkids? For future generations of faith that point those around them to God? There are so many right things we can do to help establish this (daily prayer/Bible reading with our kids comes to mind), but ultimately only God can make the millions of tiny but necessary details fall perfectly into place–over decades and centuries–to create a great-great-great-great granddaughter that follows God with a whole heart. It’s something we have to ask for.
It’s a gigantic prayer. If God only answers based on my merit, it’s completely hopeless; I’m simply not deserving of that kind of answer.
But he doesn’t. He answers because of who He is; because of the sacrifice of His Son.
God’s ability to answer prayer is not limited by time or our own weaknesses. He hears us because he’s awesome, not because we’re awesome.
If you’re looking for specifics to pray, look no further than Ephesians: 3:16-19:
16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
God’s resources are unlimited. He keeps us rooted and grounded in His strength and gives us power to understand–if not fully–the staggering magnitude of His love.
The Ephesians 3 passage closes with these powerful words:
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Through all generations. . . . God is able to do infinitely more than we might can even imagine. Through all generations.
I feel like some unknown, long-forgotten ancestor prayed some similar prayer–fervently and frequently–for me. They had no idea when or where I would be born, who I would marry, what I would do with my life, or where I would live, but they prayed.
I want to do the same. I want all of my descendants, without exception, to know, love, follow and honor God. I can’t make it happen, but I’m asking the One who can.
I want the fire to keep burning. Until God himself calls things to a close.
No one I know has a lineage like Jonathan Edwards. Every family I know has immense struggles in their day to day lives, and sometimes we feel perplexed and unable to go forward. But God can still answer our generational prayers.
The choices we make matter. We have power, through Christ, to continue the pattern of godliness handed down to us, or break the chain of dysfunction we were born into. None of our ancestors were perfect, none of our descendants will be. Jesus’ own pedigree–not surprisingly– contains similarities to both Edwards’ and Jukes.’ (King David would fit handily in either lineage). But we can break any chains that were handed down to us through God’s power and the day to day choices we make.
If you want to read the original 1900 Edwards/Jukes study, it’s at the following link: