Regret is as deadly as worry. One confronts an unknown future, the other an unfortunate past. Both seem unwilling to relinquish their death-grip once they find their way into your mind. They paralyze your actions and plague your relationships. Pastors and church planters are prone to such regret, as we reflect on our personal failures and the ways these decisions have negatively influenced those we love and the churches we lead. Regret over sins or volition or inactivity is one of the major contributing factors to dark days among pastors.
Clichés do little to lessen the pain. We cringe when we hear “live and learn,” “forgive and forget,” or “you are normal just like all the rest of us.” These trite statements, while true, provide little help in confronting the failures of our past.
Our theology is the only hope we have when regret seems overwhelming. It’s in these moments that our active theology is seen. We can say we believe in God’s sovereignty all we want, but if we are crippled by worry, we show that we don’t really trust His good plan. In the same way, pastors can rattle off theological concepts like propitiation and justification, but regret proves we’ve got yet to apply these astounding truths to the real sin in our past and present.
The life-giving promises of Scripture are the God-appointed means of renewing our mind when we feel regret. Promises like:
I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins (Isaiah 43:25 ESV).
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more”(Hebrews 10:14-17 ESV).
The human mind struggles to grasp these truths. We have no mental framework for this type of response. When someone sins against us, we don’t respond this way. Perhaps, if God is gracious, we are able to forgive the person for the wrong they’ve done. Our offer of forgiveness means we will not seek to get even, we won’t hold the sin over their head, and we are willing to continue some level of relationship. But we don’t forget. We can’t. Yes, I’ve long sense forgotten the name of the kid who stole my sandwich in the middle school cafeteria. Given enough time, we will forget such menial offenses. Deep wounds don’t work that way. The hurt lingers, hovering in our minds like an ever-present humming bird.
God doesn’t work that way. Certainly, He knows our every sin—after all sin is fundamentally an offense against God. And we’ve sinned against God in far more profound ways than anyone will ever sin against us. Yet, God remembers our sins no more. God doesn’t forget our sins, like an absent-minded husband does with the groceries he’s supposed to get from the store. He consciously chooses to not remember our sins. They are done, finished, fully paid for by the wrath-bearing substitute, Jesus Christ. He doesn’t bring them up again.
God doesn’t think, “I know that guy, he’s the same guy who was once overcome with addiction or enslaved by anger.”
He doesn’t question our repentance because, after all, we are the same person who’s broken promises repeatedly in our past.
He doesn’t turn away from our corporate praise because we’ve failed to turn to Him in our private devotions.
He remembers our sins no more.
I’ll never be able to do the same with my past sins. From time to time, they will come to mind. But, when they do, I can choose to trust God at His word, embrace the forgiveness I’ve been given through Christ and find freedom from regret. As a pastor, this is my only hope for fighting regret in my own life and leading others to do the same.
Published November 29, 2016