I’ve been reading the Old Testament of late and am now in Deuteronomy. Beginning in Deuteronomy 9, Moses recounts the Israelites’ arduous journey of more than 40 years from Egypt, through the Red Sea, to the edge of the Canaan and then back into the wilderness. For two chapters, he recounts the faithfulness of God and the frequent disobedience of the people. He sums it up with this: “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.”
Yet, despite all the disobedience along the way, God is still faithful and is about to fulfill his promise by bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. Think about that for a moment. Even after complaining and rebelling against the Lord countless times, the Israelites are being shown favor and being told to look ahead and not backwards, for blessings still await them if they will be obedient.
The journey of the Israelites is a metaphor for our own. Our lives are full of wanderings toward God and then away from him. We see his power and grace, and we are excited to follow him where he leads us; until we don’t. We grow weary of doing good; there are things in life that entice us away from where he wants us to go. We wander for awhile. Then we come back. And if you are like me, particularly in your early years, that became a pattern or is a pattern in your life. And, most likely, you are filled with regret of the lost time walking with the Lord.
What stands out to me when I read the Old Testament is how focused the Lord is on looking ahead, not behind. He says through 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 wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” When we mess up, it is natural for us to have regrets, even if we have confessed and repented before the Lord. We might not feel guilty, but regret hangs upon us like an anchor holding a boat in place. We can’t truly move forward because we are weighed down by our past.
In Deuteronomy 8-9, Moses is recounting how the Israelites messed up, but his narrative quickly shifts to the future—crossing the Jordan River into the land of Canaan and how to live there. The past is only brought up to emphasize the grace and mercy of God. He doesn’t dwell there, but instead looks forward.
Our fallen natures lead us into the wanderings caused by rebellion, but when we return to the Lord ready once again to follow him, know he will want to lead you forward, away from the desert and across the Jordan so he can bless you. And when he certainly does, you can leave your regrets behind. They have no use in the land across the river.
I look back on my life and I have much to regret, and I did for a long time. However, what I have begun to learn over the past few years, of which I was reminded this morning, is that Eternity is so vast that even a lifetime of regrets will be swallowed up by the sheer limitlessness of its reality. What is a moment, an hour, a day, a year, or even most of a lifetime spent rebelling against the Lord compared to unlimited time?
I think this is why Paul says that godly sorrow leads to repentance but leaves us with no regret. (II Corinthians 7:10) Confession and repentance lead us into the Lord’s grace where sin goes to die, permanently. Forever! As a result, we don’t need to wallow in regret for our past sins. We can move forward confidently in God’s grace and excited for the adventure that awaits us across the river.
© Jim Musser 2019