Wednesday, November 21, 2007

POTENTIAL REGRET: Let it motivate you NOW!

As I’ve been preparing my weekly message, I am focusing on the judgment seat (bema) of Christ. The difficulty of message-preparation is that the truth of the biblical text must flow through me before I can share it with others. As I consider what will happen when I stand before the Lord to receive the rewards (or lack thereof) for what I’ve done (or not done), I am painfully aware of my own shortcomings and failures.
However, at the same time, I realize the bema won't be a time of CONDEMNATION but a time of COMMENDATION; it won't be a time of PUNISHMENT but a time of PRAISE; and it won't be a time of REBUKE but a time of REWARD. I'm not interested in rewards for the sake of rewards; I just long to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Over the past 37 years in ministry, I have tried to serve the Lord with diligence and faithfulness. Why? Not to earn salvation, or to even repay Him for His grace (I cannot be a debtor to grace, because it’s impossible to repay the debt of love I owe). I have simply and solely desired to bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ by faithfully loving Him, seeking His face, and serving Him.

There might be some outsiders who would look at my (God's) "ministry” and declare that I’ve done a lot. However, I am aware that as much as God has blessed and used me, I too have fallen short of the potential and gifts that He has given me. This possibility of experiencing regret at the bema motivates me to be more faithful and to stay faithful to Him who called me.
American Poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) wrote, "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), who was a contemporary of Whittier and author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," had this to say: "The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone." What are these two like-minded individuals telling us? The saddest words of all are the words of regret, especially if they are uttered at one's deathbed.

Without becoming “preachy” in this blog, I wonder if you and I both need to ask ourselves if there are some things that we don’t want to leave undone? Are there letters to relatives you've left unwritten, telephone calls left undone, family time left unspent, broken relationships left unrepaired, and goals left abandoned? That wouldn't be a problem if we were immortal, for then we could always do those things "someday" in the future. But we're not. We have a limited amount of time available. To avoid experiencing "the saddest words of all," to avoid facing the bema with regret, we need to get out of the habit of leaving things undone.What value is a blossom that doesn't open? What value is our life if we don't fulfill the potential God has given us? If we surrender to Him and allow His power to flow through us , then when opportunity strikes, we will lead fulfilled lives. But those who lead lives of inaction are like stones in a field that exist but have never truly lived.
Are there things you've done or failed to do that you regret? (Of course, what a silly question!) After all, we're human, which is another way of saying we're imperfect. So, there's no need to panic or obsess over our regrets. Instead, we can use regret to our advantage. First, we can use the regrets about our past as a positive force in the future. We can accept them as a wakeup call. Second, we can avoid the potential regrets of the future by letting them spur us on to new behavior by choosing to act, not postpone. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, "Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it come to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh."
When we close the gap between what God created us to be and what we are now, we will have a sense of humble satisfaction – which leads to a healthy, God-inspired self-image. Low self-esteem is due to a huge gap between the two. How can we fail if we always remember we have the choice between becoming better or becoming bitter?
We need to refocus our attention from our failures and regrets to the opportunities that beckon us. As Jerome K. Jerome wrote, "Opportunities flit by while we sit regretting the chances we have lost, and the happiness that comes to us we heed not, because of the happiness that is gone." Sometimes we avoid confronting our regrets because of the pain. But that's a mistake. Use them as a lesson, as a stepping-stone to more faithfulness to God. "At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal," said Barbara Bush. "You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent."

Max Lucado has written: "Go to the effort. Invest the time. Write the letter. Make the apology. Take the trip. Purchase the gift. Do it. The seized opportunity renders joy. The neglected brings regret."

My two daughters are grown now and I’m learning how to be a grandfather, but when I read this poem by Diane Loomans, it resonated in my soul.
If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I'd fingerpaint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.
I'd see the oak tree in the acorn more often.
I would be firm less often and affirm much more.
I'd model less about the love of power.
And more about the power of love.
I think that great theologian, Madonna, sang a song once about "The Power of Goodbye." My study of this subject has led me to see "The power of regret." I want to allow the potential of future regret to motivate me to never miss an opportunity to let my light shine that others may see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven. How about you?