LIVING (AND DYING) WITH FEWER REGRETS

by | Jan 31, 2021 | Christian Living in the Trenches, Depression and Faith

How does God define “wisdom”?

One verse that sheds light on the meaning is Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.”

The context of this verse emphasizes the brevity of our earthly life, the inevitability of bodily death, then cites the number of years a typical person can expect to live (Vs. 3-10). “Numbering our days,” which Moses called a wise endeavor, amounts to realizing we will die, then backing up and choosing to live for God and to make decisions guided by eternal, not just temporal concerns. Unless we keep reminding ourselves that life on earth is temporary, we won’t make the most of it.

In an article titled, “Wise Christians Clip Obituaries,” Gary Thomas said, “A reminder of death acts like a filter, helping us hold on to the essentials and let go of the trivial. Forgetting that we will die tempts us to lose perspective. Thinking about eternity helps us retrieve it. Death becomes our servant when we use it to reorder our priorities and to grow in grace and holiness.”

A Question Generated by Psalm 90:12

In his journal, missionary martyr Jim Elliot (1927-1956) penned a sobering remark about regret: “When it comes time for you to die, see that all you have left to do is die.” He didn’t want to end life with unfinished business, with relationships he hadn’t tried to make right, or tasks God assigned him that he had neglected.

Elliot’s admonition, combined with my meditation on Psalm 90:12, prompted me to pose this question to myself: What changes can I make and steps can I take to live (and to die) with fewer regrets?

Focusing on that broad question then generated more specific probes for self-examination. Answering the following questions in the days ahead will enable me to identify what I need to do to minimize regrets. If this topic resonates with you, join me in this quest and take time with the Lord to mull over the following questions.

Questions for Minimizing Regret

*In recent years, what is something I’ve said or done that I am exceptionally glad I did? (This is a past area of obedience to God that, if I had not implemented it, would have spawned regret. I want to celebrate what I did right and its outcome, to express gratitude to God for enabling me to avoid greater future sorrow by living more obediently. I tend to badger myself relentlessly for mistakes without acknowledging what God has done in and through me.)

*If I knew I would die later today, what regrets would surface in my mind that I would not have the time or opportunity to rectify? (Acknowledging the regret and feeling its pain is a prerequisite for change. Peter Scazzero said, “We will change only when the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of changing.”)

*Do I still harbor bitterness toward anyone? (The best book I’ve ever read on this subject is R. T. Kendall’s Total Forgiveness. He includes guidelines to help us determine if we’ve really forgiven others.)

*Do I owe anyone an apology, someone I wronged in word or deed?

*Am I tolerating sin in my life, a behavior pattern or attitude that I haven’t dealt with ruthlessly?

*Has God ever called me to a ministry endeavor that I haven’t fulfilled?

*Have I intended to write or to speak a word of gratitude or affirmation to someone, yet I keep procrastinating? (No one can smell the flowers draped across his or her coffin. Who should smell the sweet fragrance of my verbal bouquet this week?)

*Who is the best person to help me think through dealing with regrets and to hold me accountable for follow-through? 

*For something I said or did that I cannot correct, or the opportunity to make it right has vanished, have I sought and accepted God’s forgiveness? (As a Christian, am I wallowing in guilt and self-recrimination for a sin that Christ paid for on the cross? When I don’t forgive myself and think I must keep lugging around an emotional weight of regret, it is tantamount to saying that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross wasn’t enough to deal with my sin. I figure I must add to His sacrifice by continuing to berate myself for what I did. That’s preposterous and heretical!  Kicking myself for a sin of omission or commission doesn’t alleviate the burden unless the kick has sufficient wallop to catapult me to the foot of Jesus’ cross.)

When God’s Spirit identifies something for me to do or to stop doing, or something to make right in a relationship, I often feel dismayed by all the time that has passed without doing what I should have done long ago. The discouragement that ensues stifles motivation to act now. That’s when I remind myself of this remark by Charles Swindoll:

It is never too late to do what is right.

A Perspective on Minimizing Regret

As I strive to apply those questions in an effort to minimize regret, I feel some tension.

On one hand, I live with a keen awareness that I will not be experientially perfect and regret-free this side of heaven.  Also, no matter how my final years unfold, as an outcome of putting faith in Christ’s death as payment for my sins, I expect Him to welcome me into His presence with open arms the instant I die. When I’m with Him, I won’t live stooped over with the burden of regret for ways in which I fell short. Instead of focusing on those nagging “should-haves,” I’ll be preoccupied with the Savior who made heaven possible (2 Corinthians 5:21).

On the other hand, God’s Word complements my state of grace with instructions about how He wants me to live in the here and now. Clearly, how we live now as His adopted children matters to God. Hebrews 12:14 commands me to pursue holiness, indicating that I am personally responsible for my attitudes and behavior. Jesus said that if I love Him, I will obey His commandments (John 14:15). Assurance of His unconditional love shouldn’t cause me to take His grace for granted, or generate within me a laissez-faire attitude about choices or behavior. Because His Spirit dwells in me, though I will not live a sinless life, it is possible for me to sin less. 

Disobedience may not affect my eternal destiny, but it dramatically affects the extent of my happiness on earth, the degree to which I enjoy intimacy with Christ now, the impact I make on others for the gospel, and the rewards I will receive in heaven. I pursue living with fewer regrets not to earn my standing with Him, for who can improve on Jesus’ perfection, which has been imputed to me (Romans 5:1, 8:1; Hebrews 10:14)? No, I do it as a way to let my Savior know that I love Him and want to represent Him well.

Spirit-guided self-examination is a valid way to do this (1 Corinthians 11:28, Galatians 6:4), so long as it doesn’t morph into morbid introspection. So my pursuit to live with fewer regrets late in life isn’t a form of law vying to control me and keep me in line. It’s a grace-motivated attempt to do what His Word says, to experience, on top of His saving grace, the sustaining and purifying grace I need every time I get out of bed each morning. It isn’t something I ought to do; it’s something He is nudging me to do, for my good and for His glory.

Dallas Willard lived well with this tension. He said,  “Grace isn’t opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.”

What Eclipsed John Newton’s Regret?

As a young adult, John Newton worked as the captain of a slave ship. He lived with a blatant disregard for Christ and the Bible. When the Lord called him to salvation, Newton’s life took a 180-degree turn. He served effectively as a pastor and wrote numerous hymns, including “Amazing Grace.” Words he spoke to a friend not long before he died revealed awareness of his failures, yet any sorrow or regret concerning his early years was eclipsed by an even keener awareness of Christ’s sacrifice for those sins. He whispered, “My memory is nearly gone, but I still remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior.”

Remembering the first thing without the second is a miserable way to die.

Do you know Jesus Christ personally? If not, and you need assistance in understanding salvation or what it means to become a Christian, contact a Christan friend you respect, or a pastor in your area, and tell him or her you are ready to receive Christ as Savior. The one regret you definitely don’t want to have on the day you die is not knowing Him.

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Today, if you presented to God a “heart of wisdom,” how would it show?

 

Please note: comments are closed after two weeks. You are welcome to contact me directly after that time if you would like to share your thoughts.

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