Recently I met a woman who confessed, “My life is not what I thought it would be.” She went on to share the many regrets of her heart. Webster’s dictionary defines regret like this: “to feel sad or sorry about (something that you did or did not do).” Or, the Oxford Dictionary states that it is to, “Feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).” With the exception of a few, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have regrets. But for some, like my new friend, it is a major cause of depression. She is harassed by thoughts of, “If only,” “I should have,” “Why didn’t I?” Why did I?”
You don’t have to be a Christian to understand the folly and futility of living in regret. It’s common sense, isn’t it? No one can undo the past. What’s more, the only thing we accomplish when we obsess over the past is to repeat the same in the present! It’s an utter waste of time. But it’s one thing to know you shouldn’t do it, and quite another to not do it. To fight regret we need more than common sense. We need the Word of God. Thankfully, there are biblical truths to help us combat the sin of living in regret — and make no mistake about it, it is sin. If you are a Christian, no matter what your past is, you don’t have to live with regret. Below are a few biblical principles to help you fight.
- MISTAKES AND FAILURES ARE PART OF THE PLAN: Ephesians 1:11 states, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” The doctrine of predestination teaches that before the foundation of the world, God planned our lives. In some mysterious way, this includes the bad things. Our mistakes, the sins we committed, and the sins committed against us – all of this is working for good. This does not mean that God condones sin but in a mysterious way, these things are working to accomplish God’s loving purpose for us which, from the beginning, was to lavish us with His love. Our mistakes, the follies, the sinfulness of the heart, they are all factored in by the Master Architect, who lovingly crafts and foreordains each event and circumstance in our life. For the Christian, all things are working for good (Romans 8:28). Our times are in His hands (Psalms 31:15).
- BEING BROKEN IS BETTER THAN BEING PROUD: Psalms 119:71 says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Failure teaches us things that victories don’t. As for me, I cringe to think what I would be without the humiliations and the sufferings. Crushing is good. It keeps us wholly reliant upon the grace of God. Left to our own devices most of us would believe our own hype. Rightly did the hymnist say, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” Trouble helps us stay at the cross. Moreover, it keeps us kind and gentle, especially to the weaker among us who too often get steam-rolled by the stronger. Don’t despise weakness. It’s good.
- GOD IS NOT BOUND BY TIME: Psalms 90:4 says, “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” So many Christians look back and lament what could have been. Wasted or lost years that can never be retrieved. But what is lost to us is not lost to God. God is able to restore what was lost over many years in a single year (Joel 2:25)! He does not operate under our limited ideas of time. He (not us) defines the terms of our purpose and usefulness in the Kingdom. Scripture is littered with examples of saints who thought their best years were behind them. Moses, Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the list goes on. And, many times, he saves the best for last (Matthew 19:30)! The bottom line is that God is a Redeemer and if not in this life, He will restore in the next.
- MISTAKES CANNOT SEPARATE US FROM GOD: Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Whatever our past mistakes separate us from, they cannot separate us from the love of God! If you are a born-again believer, you and Jesus are one! Octavious Winslow writes, “Nothing shall separate you from his love, nor sever you from his care, nor exclude you from his sympathy, nor banish you from his heaven of eternal blessedness.” No matter what your past is, your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).
- GOD IS ON THE THRONE (NOT YOU): Lamentations 5:19 says, “But you, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.” Hard as it is to imagine, we are not the center of the universe! We do not hold the universe together. Jesus does (Colossians 1:17)! D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes that there is a morbid and sinful preoccupation with self when we dwell on our past. It’s good to be introspective and to examine yourself in light of Scripture but for heavens sake, if you are a Christian, you must temper it with the amazing grace of God! Nothing matters more — not the consequences of your sin, not the consequences of someone else’s sin — than what God did in Christ when He sent his only begotten son to die for our sins (John 3:16). And, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (Romans 8:32)?
If you are a Christian crippled in the present by the tyranny of the past, know this: You don’t have to live like that. Christ suffered the blow for it all. Romans 6:14 says,“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” With God, You can triumph over regret and live a “full and abundant life” (John 10:10).
Never look back again; never waste your time in the present; never waste your energy; forget the past and rejoice in the fact that you are what you are by the grace of God, and that in the Divine alchemy of His marvelous grace you may yet have greatest surprise of your life and existence and find that even in your case it will come to pass that the last shall be first. Praise God for that fact that you are what you are, and that you are in the Kingdom. – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Recommended Reading: Spiritual Depressions: Its Causes and Cures by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Recommended Listening: Spiritual Depression #4: Regrets
Thanks for the encouragement, Christina. I love all the points, but I especially appreciate “being broken is better than being proud.”
Thank you sister Chistina. I really needed to hear this! After being a Christian for over 25 years, I don’t think I’ve ever confessed living in regret as sin to the LORD. After reading your article, and listening to the sermon, I repented of my arrogance and by His grace will no longer live in regret but in faith, hope, and love for His glory! What freedom!!