Have you ever said something or done something that you regret? Have you ever wished you could go back and change the past? Have you ever felt trapped in wanting to undo what can’t be undone? Often the failures of yesterday become the regrets of today. So what is regret and how do you overcome it?
The regrets of life
In the English language, regret is often used as a synonym for being sorry, but regret is one step further than remorse over the past; regret is a rehearsal of the past. Regret is a rewinding of the tape, imagining that somehow things can be different. Regret is obsessing over something you cannot change. Therefore, regret is always a waste of time and energy because it will never give you a solution to your problems; all it can do is add to them. Repentance is always focused on the future and brings hope, whereas regret is consumed with the past and brings despair. So what’s the solution? The Bible teaches that to overcome regret you need to believe in two things: the grace of God and the plan of God.
The grace of God
The Apostle Paul had a terrible past to overcome. Before his conversion, he had dragged Christians off to prison, separated families and approved the stoning of Stephen to death (Acts 8). Yet, even though Paul confessed his past, he wasn’t consumed by it. He was consumed with the grace of God that covered his past. Paul wrote, “But the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly” (1 Timothy 1:14 NIV). It was God’s grace that amazed Paul and enabled him to move on from his past because he realized the sins that he regretted were the very sins that Jesus died for on the cross.
For example, one day John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was riding on horseback through the countryside when a man stopped him and said, “Give me your money or your life.” Well, as the man took Wesley’s money, Wesley said, “Sir, you may someday regret this sort of life you are living. If you do, remember, the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin.”
Many years later the same man approached Wesley at the close of a service. And he told Wesley that he was now a faithful Christian and a successful businessman. The man said to Wesley, “I owe it all to you.”
Wesley said, “No, not to me because those were not my words; those are the words of God for all who will believe them.”
Now what had happened to that man? The same thing that happened to Paul, he realized that the solution to overcoming the regrets of his past was taking his past to Jesus and believing that the grace of God was greater than his greatest sin. The first step in overcoming regret is humbly receiving the grace of Jesus. Deep, long-lasting regret is really a form of pride that refuses to either admit you need the grace of God or to come to Jesus and receive the grace of God.
Make no mistake, Jesus is not pleased by a person’s sinful past, but he’s not surprised by it either. His grace is sufficient. But you not only need to believe in the grace of God, you to need to also believe in the sovereign plan of God.
The plan of God
When Paul looked back upon his past, he saw the grace of God that covered his past and the sovereign plan of God that was using and redeeming his past. Paul realized that God was using him as an example of God’s patience and love for sinners (1 Timothy 1:16). This is what the God of the Bible does. He works all things together for good. This means that failure never gets the last word in the kingdom of Jesus. This is why the Bible calls God the potter. A potter takes a mess of clay and turns it into a masterwork.
And this is what we see God doing all throughout the Bible. He did it with the sins of Joseph’s brothers. He did it with the sins that put Jesus on the cross. He did it with the sins of Peter and Paul, and he can do it with everyone who brings their past to him. The hope of Christianity is that because of Jesus you don’t have to live any longer under the dark cloud of guilt and shame. You don’t have to live in the prison of regret, wondering what could have been. You can start living in the freedom and joy of God’s sovereign grace and plan for your life.
Think about it, you can’t drive a car forward if you’re always looking behind you, and it’s the same with life. Receive the grace of God, trust the plan of God and press on. God’s definition of a life without regrets is not a life without mistakes or failures; it is a life of faith in his sovereign grace and plan for your life.
Jeremy McKeen is the lead pastor of Truth Point Church. Jeremy received his B.A. in communications and philosophy from Florida Southern College and his MDiv from Knox Theological Seminary.