Regret is a complex emotion, and one that we struggle to know how to handle well.
One school of thought is the ever popular, 'leave it behind' theory. You know it—"The past is the past. Don't let regret hold you back. Move on to bigger and better things." This, of course, is the prevailing mandate for success. And while we may fool others with our salesman smile, you know as well as I do, that regret gnaws deeply with a soul destroying persistence not easily shaken.
There is another path to take with our regret. It isn't the one you may be thinking of; "Learn from your mistakes..." isn't what I'm advocating here, after all, that saying is usually followed by, "...and move on".
No. I'm suggesting another route altogether.
Don't leave your regrets behind.
Our regret, or more accurately, what fuels our regret, is a telling symptom of our soul's posture before God. Our regret reveals just how deeply the gospel has taken root in our heart.
Early in my ministry, when I was a young pastor just finding his feet, I was privileged to be invited to join with a number of older, mature leaders as a part of a 'think-tank' focused on gospel renewal within our church network. It was a great honour to sit and listen to these godly men, share in their times of prayer, contribute with my perspective on occasion, and feel as though I was involved in something big and worthwhile. While my own ministry was just developing, these men were stalwarts in the movement, and in my eyes, men of godly influence. I wanted to be just like them. In fact, if I'm honest, I didn't want to be like them—I just wanted the level of influence I thought they had.
The day came when this 'think tank' began planning a conference. This conference was going to gather together a large representation of our movement, and speak into it with specific messages of change that would hopefully catalyse healthy growth and transformation. Names of speakers were drafted and invitations sent out. In my heart of hearts, I wanted one of those invitations. I wanted that platform.
I got the call-up! Man, I was so happy. It wasn't giving one of the keynote addresses, but it was to run a workshop on 'worship in the church'. Now, you need to understand, that in my 23 year old mind, I was already a fairly big name in the preaching scene. I mean, I was suitably humble, but I was starting to get a name as a 'up-and-comer', one to look out for. Workshops were a suitable stepping stone to the real-deal—preaching in the main sessions.
So the day came for the conference to begin—I was scheduled to run my workshop a number of times over the weekend to cater for the multi stream schedule planned. This was going to be my big chance to prove myself.
I won't bother describing that day. You will already have guessed where this was going. Suffice to say that everything about that day was a complete train wreck! I have had a number of regrets in my ministry so far, but that day has been one of my most enduring ones.
You know what I'm talking about, don't you? Those days, or moments, or conversations, or decisions, that play over and over like a song stuck on repeat. Those regrets that come back like an echo, haunting you even years later. No matter how 'successful' you've become, how much you've 'learnt from the past and moved on', you just wish that you could call a mulligan and have a 'do over'.
Here's what I'm suggesting. Don't leave those regrets behind. Don't leave them festering in the dark recesses of your mind. Drag them out into the scorching light of the gospel and let them be the tinder for an all-consuming passion for the glory of God's holy name.
I lived for years in the regret of my 'worship workshop' failure, not truly perceiving the awful irony of my angst. If I had left my regret behind and just chalked the whole fiasco up to immaturity or some such excuse, I may never have seen the deeply conceited position my heart was prone to default to. My regret wasn't rooted in the missed opportunity for people to align their life and ministry to the biblical concept of worship, instead, my regret was built upon the missed opportunity to make a name for myself. It wasn't until I was able to truly assess my regret that the Holy Spirit would so painfully point out my posture before God wasn't oriented toward His glory, but mine.
So don't leave your regrets behind. Let the light of the gospel reveal where your heart may be falsely bowing down to self-constructed idols. Ask, "What is it that truly fuels my regret?" and then be prepared to lay that false-god aside.
Join David in crying aloud to God,
Psalm 139:23-24 ESV
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!