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“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands” (Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG).
How often do you play the “If only” game?
If only I could do it over again.
If only I had listened sooner.
If only I could erase the past.
If only I could forgive myself.
The thing to remember is that no one is perfect. We all have regrets. We’ve all made bad choices and said foolish things. We’ve all wasted time and hurt ourselves and others.
How do you release your regrets? In my experience as a pastor, I’ve seen several strategies we tend to use that simply do not work:
You try to bury your past. Burying the past will never help you get past your regrets. You can try to minimize (“It wasn’t a big deal”), rationalize (“Everyone does it”), and compromise (lower your standards), but your regrets are still there, and if unresolved, they’ll keep coming back to haunt you over and over again like a creature in a horror movie.
We blame others. This tactic is as old as Adam and Eve. When Adam sinned, he took it like a man: He blamed his wife! We use blame to balance out our guilt.
We beat ourselves up. We try to pay for our guilt unconsciously through illness, depression, setting ourselves up for failure, and other forms of self-punishment. The problem with beating up on yourself is this: Your conscience never knows when to stop! Some people spend their entire lives in self-condemnation.
What does God want you to do with your regrets instead?
Admit your guilt. Own up to it. Don’t make excuses. “A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance” (Proverbs 28:13 TLB).
Accept Christ’s forgiveness. He’s waiting to clean your slate. Ask him to clear your conscience. Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (NIV).
Forgive yourself, and focus on the future. “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands” (Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG).
You’ve heard this phrase over and over: “Forgive and forget.” There’s only one problem with it: You can’t do it. It’s impossible! You really can’t forget a hurt in your life. In fact, you can’t even try to forget it. Because when you’re trying to forget, you are actually focusing on the very thing you want to forget.
Forgetting is not what God wants you to do. Instead, he wants you to trust him and see how he can bring good out of it. That’s more important than forgetting, because then you can thank God for the good that he brought out of it. You can’t thank God for things you forget.
Romans 8:28 says, “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” (NIV).
It doesn’t say that all things are good, because all things are not good. Cancer is not good. Disease is not good. Death is not good. Divorce is not good. War is not good. Rape and abuse are not good. There are a lot of things in life that are evil. Not everything that happens in this world is God’s will.
But God says he will work good out of the bad things in life if you will trust him. When you come to him and say, “God, I give you all the pieces of my life,” he will return peace for your pieces. He gives you peace in your heart that comes from knowing that even if you don’t understand the hurt in your life, you can still forgive, knowing that God will use that pain for good.
You don’t have to forget the wrong thing that someone did to you. You can’t do it even if you tried! But God says you don’t have to forget it. You just have to forgive and then see how he will bring good out of it.
There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV).
When you have conflict in your life, focus on reconciliation, not resolution. There’s a big difference in those two words. Reconciliation means re-establishing the relationship. Resolution means resolving every issue.
Resolution probably isn’t going to happen, because you’re never going to agree on some things. Nobody on this planet agrees with you about everything, so you’re never going to have resolution on all your issues.
Can you have a loving relationship without agreeing on everything? Of course you can. If you learn to disagree without being disagreeable, that’s called wisdom. If you learn to walk hand in hand without having to see eye to eye, that’s called wisdom.
One of the greatest things you can do with your life is be a bridge builder, not a wall builder. You are most like Jesus Christ when you are reconciling people. You are most like Jesus when you’re building bridges, not walls. That’s exactly what Jesus came to do! He’s the great reconciler. God sent Jesus to Earth to reconcile us because we are in conflict with God.
But you cannot make peace with other people until you make peace with God. And maybe that’s part of the problem — you’re not at peace with yourself because you’re not at peace with God. First you’ve got to make peace with God. Then you get the peace of God.
That’s the starting point: You need to get peace in your heart by letting the Prince of Peace inside.
Would you pray this to God in your heart? “God, you know the conflict in my life. I’m tired of it, and I want to make peace. I want to have your peace in my life so I can offer peace to others. So I accept your peace today. I open my life to you as best as I know how. Fill my life with love, not anger, and with patience, joy, and peace. Come in and fill every area of my life with your peace, and help me to be a bridge builder and not a wall builder. Help me to take the initiative and not wait on that other person. Help me to find the right time and place, and then help me to have the courage to confess my part of the conflict and to be humble. Instead of attacking the person, help me attack the problem. Help me to consider the other person’s perspective. Help me to speak the truth, fix the problem and not the blame, and to focus on reconciliation instead of resolving all the disagreements. I ask this in your name. Amen.”
If you prayed this prayer today, write me at rick@PastorRick.com. And to learn more about finding your destiny by following Jesus, go to http://www.PastorRick.com and click on the “Know God” tab. There is a video and a guide explaining what it means to trust your life to Jesus.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34a NIV).
Forgiveness is not resuming a relationship without change. In fact, forgiveness and resuming a relationship are two different things. One of them is what you do as the offended person. Resuming the relationship is what the other person does in order to get back into your good graces. Saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. In fact, the Bible teaches three things that are essential to resume a relationship that’s been broken. These are all what the offender has to do.
Restoring a relationship requires repentance. In other words, you’re truly saddened about what you did. That’s not just saying, “I’m sorry.” It means saying, “I was wrong. Please forgive me.” You can be sorry that the weather was bad or something like that, but repentance is admitting wrong and being truly sorry.
Restoring a relationship requires restitution. Sometimes you have to do some kind of physical or material restitution. Even when you’re forgiven, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You still have to pay a debt to society or to someone for what was damaged or destroyed by your actions.
Restoring a relationship requires rebuilding trust. That, friends, takes a long, long time. When somebody hurts you, you have to forgive him or her immediately. But you don’t have to trust that person immediately. Forgiveness is built on grace and is unconditional. Trust has to be rebuilt over a period of time.
Most people in our culture don’t get the difference between forgiveness and rebuilding trust in a relationship. Whenever a political or religious leader gets caught in a scandal, there will always be people who say, “We’re all imperfect. We’re all human. We need to just forgive him and keep on going.”
No! You must forgive him immediately, but you don’t have to trust him. The Bible says trust is built with time. Credibility is what a leader leads with. All leaders must have trust; it’s the currency they live in. If you lose trust, you have lost your right to lead at that moment. You may have the title, but you’re not the leader until you rebuild trust. And that isn’t going to happen instantly.