Don’t Look Back

A few days ago on January 1st, I published a blog post on my main blog titled, All Things New (Again),” and I opened that post with the following:

Here we are again–starting another brand new year. One of the first verses that came to my mind when I woke up this morning to start off this brand new year of 2023 is found in Isaiah 43:18-19:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I [God] am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

What I’ve discovered over the past dozen years is that it is often very hard to stop dwelling on and remembering the “formers things,” especially those things that dramatically changed my life from that point on. And it’s often hard to recognize that God is doing new things in our lives in spite of those things we find hard to forget. (Click here to read that blog post.)

As I was thinking about how hard it is sometimes to “forget the former things,” I came across a small section at the end of Chapter 6 titled, “Regretting the Choice that Seemed So Right,” in a book titled, Turning the Page: Finding the Courage for Major Life Change and the Wisdom to Reinvent Yourself (2015), by M. Blaine Smith (1946-2021), an ordained Presbyterian minister, and founder and director of Nehemiah Ministries, Inc., until he retired in 2009. The section I’m referring to above is titled, “Don’t Look Back,” on pp. 83-84 of the book:

Indeed, God wants us to be much more focused on the future than the past. Faith in Christ generates hope and optimism about our future; we may assume that abiding regret about the past isn’t inspired by him. Dwelling on our past is a bottomless pit; in some cases we simply don’t know what our motives were in a certain bygone decision. We may not even remember clearly what our mental state was then, and we have no way of knowing if that choice was truly in God’s will. Yet it makes no difference now; we can still enjoy God’s very best options for our future if we stay open to him and pliable.

And so we have enormous incentive to continue to dream big and think creatively about our future. Even if we’ve seriously erred in the past, God graciously extends to us the chance to start over. We must not allow guilt, regret or shame over our past to restrict our ability to embrace a vibrant new vision for our life.

If we can let go of obsession with our past, we’ve won a major victory towards envisioning our future. We position ourselves to grasp God’s best new options for us and lock in to them. We can turn our focus instead to another battle, which is also substantial for many of us: conquering our fears and apprehensions about what’s ahead. In the next section [Part Two: Finding the Courage to Reinvent Yourself] we’ll examine how a number of concerns about the future–ranging from fears of failure to fears of success–can keep us from pursuing a promising new direction. And we’ll look at how we can get the upper hand on our fears, and gain the courage for life’s most important steps of faith.

The challenge of mastering our fears is fortunately achievable for each of us, and so you’ll find much reason for hope in the pages ahead. (Quote source: “Turning the Page: Finding the Courage for Major Life Change and the Wisdom to Reinvent Yourself, pp. 83-84, Silver Crest Books, publisher.) If you are interesting in this book, it is available on Amazon.com and at other book retailers. I could not find the publisher’s website on the internet.

If we can let go of obsession with our past, we’ve won a major victory towards envisioning our future.” There is power and transformation in those words. Romans 8:28 states: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And “all things” includes anything and everything in our past, too.

Living with regrets over past failures, mistakes, or misfortunes is something we all tend to do, so what does the Bible say about how to deal with regrets and move forward? GotQuestions.org provides the following information:

Regret is sorrow or remorse over something that has happened or that we have done. Regret can also be a sense of disappointment over what has not happened, such as regretting wasted years. To be human is to have regrets because making mistakes is a universal experience. The Bible gives much instruction that, if followed, will result in fewer regrets. God’s commands and boundaries are written down for us in His Word, and the more we adhere to them, the less we have to regret. However, in God’s grace and mercy, He has also provided a way to deal with regrets when we have not lived as wisely as He wants us to (see Psalm 51:12).

In considering what the Bible says about regrets, we should start with the fact that in a couple of places we are told that Godregrettedan action He took. The Hebrew root for the word “regret” actually means “to sigh.” Since we know God does not make mistakes, the concept of sighing is a more descriptive term for the kind of regret God experiences.  Genesis 6:7 says that, after seeing the wickedness on the earth, God regretted making man. This does not mean that the Lord felt that He made a mistake in creating human beings, but that His heart was sorrowful as He witnessed the direction they were going. Since God knows everything beforehand, He already knew that sin would bring consequences, so He was not surprised by it (1 Peter 1:20Ephesians 1:4Isaiah 46:9–11). Instead, this glimpse into God’s character shows us that, even though He already knows we will sin, it still grieves Him when we choose it (Ephesians 4:30).

Human regret is different from God’s regret. Human regret occurs because we do not know all things and we do make mistakes. As we age, we often look back on decisions made in youth and regret our choices. However, those regrets usually fall into one of two categories. Our regrets arise from either foolish choices or sin choices, and each requires a different response.

First, we may experience regret because of foolish choices, situations in the past that we wish had been different. For example, let’s say we had chosen to attend Z College and major in X. After years of fruitlessly pursuing a career in X, we regret that college decision. The choice of college major was not a sin, and we may have thought at the time that it was a good choice, but we now realize it was not. We can deal with that kind of regret by claiming Romans 8:28 and asking the Lord to make it work for the good. We can choose to focus on the positive aspects of all we learned and trust that, if we were seeking the Lord at the time, nothing was wasted and He can use even our immature decisions for good if we trust Him. We can forgive ourselves for our immature decision and purpose to grow wiser from what we learned (Philippians 3:13).

Peter is one biblical example of someone who deeply regretted a foolish decision. Although Peter was committed to Jesus, his fear made him run away when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, and he later denied his Lord. His actions did not come from a desire to sin, but from impulse, spiritual immaturity, and fear. He deeply regretted his actions and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). Jesus knew about Peter’s regret and specifically asked to see him after His resurrection (Mark 16:7). We learn from this that our regrets are not hidden from God and He desires to restore us when we return to Him (Malachi 3:7Jeremiah 24:7).

Other regrets are due to sin choices that may have left scars and consequences. After a lifetime of selfish debauchery, some people in their later years are so overwhelmed by regret they cannot experience joy. The consequences of their sin for themselves and others may haunt them for years. The pain of regret can drive us to decisions we would not otherwise make. Judas Iscariot is one such example in the Bible. After he realized that he had betrayed the Messiah, Judas was so filled with regret that he tried to undo his actions by returning the blood money. When that didn’t work, he went out and killed himself (Matthew 27:3–5).

Regret can lead some to self-destruction, but God wants to use it to lead us toward repentance. It’s important to understand that regret is not the same as repentance. Esau deeply regretted his decision to sell his birthright, but he never repented of his sin (Hebrews 12:16–17). Regret focuses on the action that has brought sorrow; repentance focuses on the one we have offended. Second Corinthians 7:10 explains the difference between mere regret and true repentance: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Rather than allow the regret to win, we can allow Jesus to transform us so that our past sin choices magnify His powerful grace. When we come to Him in repentance, believing that His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient payment for the debt we owe God, we can be forgiven (2 Corinthians 5:21Romans 10:9–10Acts 2:23).

Two men betrayed Jesus on the night He was crucified. Judas had worldly sorrow (regret), and his life was ended. Peter had godly sorrow (repentance), and his life was transformed. We have the same choices those men had. When we face regret, we can let it consume our lives, or we can lay our fault at the feet of Jesus, turn from it, and let Him restore us (Psalm 232 Corinthians 5:17). (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, 5 Bible Verses to Help You Let Go of Past Mistakes,” by Michelle Cox, contributor on GuidePosts.org, she writes:

Lately God’s been showing me something–if I won’t quit looking back, then I can’t look forward to what He has waiting for me

Here are 5 Bible verses that light the way ahead:

1. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, God says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

He says that old things are just that. Old. And gone.

2. In Isaiah 43:18-19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

God has something new for me and you, and He wants us to look, to see what He’s doing.

3. In Exodus 23:20, “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.”

God has sent an angel ahead of us. He doesn’t send us alone as we walk into an unknown future.

4. In Job 17:9, “The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger.” 

Moving forward with Him makes us stronger.

5. In Philippians 3:13-14,“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

When I forget about those things that are behind me, then I can reach forward to the prize God has waiting. It would be such a shame to miss that. 

It’s time to quit wallowing in what’s over and done and to look ahead to what I can do for Him in the future. And I suspect it sure will help that spiritual crick in my neck if I’ll just keep looking forward. (Quote source and complete article available at this link.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Paul found in Romans 8:28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…

Who have been called . . .

According . . .

To his purpose . . . .

YouTube Video: “Stand in Faith” by Danny Gokey:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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