Have you ever had a moment of insight when you realized you were wrong? When having spoken up you now see you should have remained silent? When you mentally held a position you now understand as faulty? Have you ever moved in a direction you now regret was a misstep? We may euphemize those events as ‘learning experiences’ but sometimes they hound us. We feel trapped by them, chained to them, unable to escape their berating whine, “failure!”
There is only one fresh wind of truth that can blow away the unrelenting guilt of memories like those; there is just one source of water that can refresh the wasteland of souls sick with regret.
“Forget the former things”, counsels God; “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” (Isaiah 43:18,19). Can you hear the fresh excitement in His voice? Did you see the exclamation mark after the phrase ‘a new thing’? God knows that the wasteland of our failures and regrets is a place in which only He can do something new.
A young man sits silent and thoughtful in the darkness. Blinded by a freak on-the-job ‘accident’, he has been waylaid on his journey and has had time to think. He who had been passionately occupied by his profession’s calling now finds himself withdrawn from that world; he refuses food and drink. He needs to think about his life. What he sees is not pretty; he has been wrong about a lot of things. The worst part of it is that he, self-proclaimed protector of the faith, has actually been at cross-purposes to the God he has so jealously been defending. Now he sees his passion for what it is: self-conceit, violence and foolishness. He sits there in despair, his life a wasted desert of regret.
But God is not finished with him yet. Another man, a simple follower of the risen Jesus, is directed to the house in which the young man is quartered. In the name of Jesus, that name of which his former hatred had impelled him to such violence, his sight is restored and he is filled with the Holy Spirit. We are told his immediate response is to be baptized, and following this his life takes a significant change of course. This is the apostle Paul, who devotes the remainder of his life to furthering the spread of the good news of newness in Jesus.
Ever wonder how he dealt with his regrets? He had on his conscience the death and persecution of scores of early believers. How did he escape the entrapment of paralyzing grief over past mistakes? He tells us.
“(God’s) grace to me was not without effect”, he explains (I Cor. 15:10). The grace of God’s forgiveness is the new thing that the gospel of Jesus offers each of us. How do we embrace this newness and find release from the draining imprisonment of self-reproach? Paul tells us that too.
“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13,14).
When God makes a new thing available to us, we must forget the old. He is delighted to be done with our failures; we can be too. The new thing in our lives is his Spirit, made available through His Son, making our dead places alive and verdant. Why waste time on regrets? Let’s stop dwelling on the past. Press on toward the goal. Let’s embrace the new thing He is doing in us; everything is different now.