I remember sitting in front of the television as a child, spellbound by the performances of Sammy Davis Jr. He was enormously talented as a dancer, singer, comedian, and actor. He performed with an energy and magnetic charisma that sprang from natural talent, not technological spectacle or electronic enhancement. And he became a standard, a model for other entertainers to follow.

One of his most-committed disciples was Gregory Hines, the award-winning entertainer who starred both in film and on stage. When Davis died some years ago from complications from throat cancer, Hines paid tribute to his beloved mentor during the memorial service.

Hines described how he and his brothers, when they were kids, used to sneak into Harlem’s Apollo Theater to watch Sammy Davis Jr. perform with his uncles. He was inspired to model his own performances after those of Davis—who eventually helped him get started in the business. Through the years a deep affection and bond developed between them.

And then Hines told a moving story about visiting Davis a few weeks before he passed away. Hines knew the disease was terminal, and he wanted to say thank you and good-bye to the man who had done so much to shape his career.

When Hines walked into the house, he was struck by the toll the cancer had taken. Always a slight man, Davis was even more frail and emaciated. The cancer had robbed the singer of his voice, so Hines did most of the talking. He told Davis how much he had meant to him, thanked him for all he had done for him. He said good-bye and affectionately kissed Davis on the cheek and got up to leave.

As Hines walked toward the door he heard the shuffling of feet. He turned and saw Davis behind him. The mentor had one last message, one last charge, to give his student.

Davis pretended as if he had a basketball in his hands and passed it to Hines. That gesture said it all: “I have gone as far as I can. This is the end of the line for me, so what I have I give to you. The ball is in your hands. You have to take it to a time that I cannot see.” Gregory Hines left the house determined to do all that he could to keep, preserve, and build on the legacy.

I am moved by that story because it is a compelling picture of the nature and cycle of influence God has called all of us to have upon others. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are on our journey toward heaven—our home, and our ultimate reward. But long after we are gone, until the Lord returns, heaven’s work continues. And those we influence—friends, family members, and associates—continue to live. They go to a time that we cannot experience or see. Every life is a transition to another era.

The truth of the matter is that to live means to influence. Even if a person doesn’t intend to leave a legacy, he or she will. That issue is not even on the table. Every life is a personal story about destiny that is read by those who know the person. We are all telling a story.

Think about that. Each day you are shaping your legacy. Your values and convictions, and how you live them out through your words and your actions, will influence everyone around you. If you are a parent, this is especially sobering because your children will grow up to be like you in ways you can hardly comprehend.

When we die, our work is complete. It is finished; we can’t do it over again. The question is: What kind of legacy have you left the next generation?

Excerpted from For a Time We Cannot See by Crawford Loritts. Published by Moody Publishers. Copyright © 2005 by Crawford W. Loritts Jr. Used with permission.