Editor's note: Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife, Chris, have four children and are founders of Fellowship of The Woodlands Church. This essay is an adaptation from their New York Times bestselling book, One Month to Live, (now available in paperback), which combines both their voices in one first-person voice.

I love watching my kids make sandcastles whenever we go to the beach. Now that they’re older, it doesn’t happen as often, but they used to sit for hours, digging and smoothing, shoveling and patting, trying to get the turrets just right, making a nice wide moat and then filling it from the ocean with their sand pails. I remember when they were really small how shocked they would always be as the tide started to roll in.  The waves would creep higher and higher until the foam began to lick the edges of their castle, and finally it was washed away. It took several attempts before my children realized their sandcastles were not permanent — they couldn’t last.

Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed too many people at the end of their lives feeling the same way. They work nonstop, ever busy with a hectic, overbooked schedule. Then eventually their bodies force them to slow down and take a look at what they’ve struggled so hard to construct. The harsh reality they often face is that much of what they strove for won’t last. After they die, it will wash away like a sandcastle at high tide.

Is the foundation for the castle you’re constructing made on sinking sand? If you truly want to leave an enduring legacy, one way to start is by grading the life you’re currently building in the following areas: influence, affluence, and obedience. As you read on, ask yourself: In which area do you struggle the most?  In which do you think you’re doing well? Are you pouring your most valuable resources into the investments with the greatest return: people? What would your life have to look like for you to achieve an A+ in each one?

Influence

You may have more or fewer opportunities than I have, but we all have been given a limited number of opportunities to influence others and make a difference in their lives. God has invested in each of us the ability to influence others, and He expects a return on His investment. He wants us to take advantage of our opportunities rather than burying our heads in the sand and ignoring our responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others.

Sometimes people are more concerned with making a name for themselves than making an impact on others. They think, If people know my name, then I’ll be significant and fulfilled. Abraham Lincoln wisely observed, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” When we try to make a name for ourselves, it’s like writing our names in the sand. The waves of time will wash away everyone’s name, except for one — the name that’s carved in stone. The stone that was rolled away.  Philippians 2:10 tells us “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” My life, my time, is not my own. It belongs to Christ, and it’s His name that will last; only when I live to influence others for Him will I leave an enduring legacy. You and I will be forgotten one day.  Only what we do for God, how we fulfill the purpose for which He made us, will remain.

Affluence

Not only must we pass the influence test to leave a lasting legacy, but we must pass the affluence inspection as well. If you’re going to have an impact on eternity, you have to consider how you spend your material resources. You may be tempted to think, Wait a minute, I’m barely getting by. I’m certainly not affluent! This must apply only to wealthy folks. I understand where you’re coming from, but with very few exceptions, if you’re reading this book, you’re considered affluent by the rest of the world.

Passing the affluence inspection is not as dependent on the amount of money you have as what you do with it. Jesus told a story about a guy who failed this test miserably. He was a businessman, and his barns were full, so he said, “I’ll expand my business and be even more successful.” Just take a look at the consequences: “And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool!’ This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:19-21).

God said, “No, you won’t expand your business. It’s over. You’re out of here. The life you’re building didn’t pass the affluence inspection. I blessed you, and you used all the blessings on yourself.  You failed the most important evaluation of your life.” Every one of us has to pass the affluence inspection because God will one day hold us accountable for how we used the resources we were given.

The only way to pass the affluence test is by giving. We must learn to be givers rather than takers. It’s only when we gratefully use what He gives us to bless those around us that we build a storehouse of eternal treasure.

Obedience

Finally, there’s the obedience exam. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:15-17, “So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do” (NLT). This may be the greatest secret to leaving a legacy of substance: try to understand what the Lord wants you to do — and do it. Obey God, because He gives you just enough time to do everything you need to do, both in your day and in your life.  Note that He doesn’t give you enough time to do everything that others think you need to do. To find out what God wants you to do, you have to spend time with Him and listen to Him, and then obey.

There are thousands of things we can do in life, but there are only a few things God intends for us to accomplish. When I live out His plan for me, everything falls into place. It seems as if He multiplies my time and I’m much more productive. Obedience always leads to God’s blessing. When you use your influence and affluence to obey God, He will enable you to leave behind a permanent inheritance.

Excerpted from One Month to Live by Kerry and Chris Shook, Copyright © 2008. Excerpted with permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Kerry and Chris Shook founded Fellowship of The Woodlands near Houston, Texas, with eight people in 1993. Since then, the church has grown to more than fifteen thousand people. Kerry’s sermons are televised nationally and internationally each week, reaching millions of people with innovative and inspiring messages. Over 4,000 churches and nearly half a million people have taken the One Month to Live challenge. One Month to Live is now available in paperback featuring new stories of lives transformed by the challenge. The Shooks are also the authors of Love at Last Sight. Married for nearly twenty-five years, they have four children. For more visit www.onemonthtolive.com.

Publication date: March 6, 2012