The poet John Greenleaf Whittier said, “For of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.” Regret is a bitter fruit which we all taste at some point in life. It’s only natural for us to look back at some time or event in the past and wish we had said or done something different. Some regret is good because it motivates us to be better (cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-10). Some, however, is extremely painful and weighs heavily upon us. But the greatest regret imaginable would be to enter into eternity after having squandered years of life which the Lord had given. How can we avoid that tragic circumstance? Listen to Paul as he reflected on the years of his life; “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
To live without regret we must stand firm, without compromise. A palliative care specialist was asked to list the top five most often heard end of life regrets. Two of the five were “I wish I would have lived true to myself” and “I wish I would have expressed my feelings.” When Paul said “I have fought a good fight” he used a term that most literally means, “to agonize.” It was a term used by the ancient Greeks in reference to a race or competition but also to a struggle against opposition. Paul was an old soldier of the Cross. He withstood a sorcerer to convert a governor (Acts 13:6-12), and leading political figures in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:49-52). He endured stoning at Lystra (Acts 14:19-20), fought false teachers in Jerusalem (Acts 15), was beaten and jailed at Philippi (Acts 16), and disputed with philosophers in Athens (Acts 17). In all of this Paul stood firm on the truth and therefore could look back on his life knowing that he had not compromised or given in to fear. Like Paul, we are engaged in spiritual warfare and we must fight valiantly, without compromise (1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12). Even when the battle is hot and the circumstances uncomfortable, we must stand firm. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to look back on my life and wish that I had fought harder for the truth? Or that I had stood up and said something? Or stood for something?”
To live without regret we must keep running. Paul said, “I have finished my course.” The word “course” refers to a race course, or race track. Some years before he used the same terminology while speaking to the Ephesian elders–“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy…” (Acts 20:24). At long last, the course was completed. But it was never easy. Read 2 Corinthians 11:22-28 and note carefully the difficulties of Paul’s ministry. Yet in all the tribulations, Paul persevered, and so must we. Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a mile in under four minutes. Less than four months later, John Landy beat his record by 1.4 seconds. On August 7, 1954 the two met for a historic race. Landy held the lead on the last lap and would have won had he not turned to look over his shoulder for Bannister. He later told a Time Magazine reporter, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won.” The Christian life is a race, but it is a marathon not a sprint (Heb. 12:1-2). At times we become fatigued and may feel discouraged but we must endure by looking to Jesus and keeping the goal in mind (Phil. 3:13-14). Sadly, some give up and drop out of the race.
To live without regret we must not squander what God has given us. Paul said “I have kept the faith.” To keep means to “guard” and it has to do with stewardship. Remember Paul’s commands to Timothy, “Guard what was committed to your trust…” (1 Tim. 6:20) and “That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you” (2 Tim. 1:14). To the Thessalonian Saints he said, “But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts” (2 Thess. 2:4). Paul understood himself to be a steward of the gospel of Jesus Christ and he dedicated his life to giving the Lord the best possible return on His investment. Thus, by the end he could say that he had safely kept, or preserved, the gospel treasure committed to his trust. Open any list of top regrets and somewhere you will find something about time. What will we do with the time the Lord gives us? Will we use it as good stewards of the faith with which we were entrusted? Will we learn it thoroughly? Will we apply it faithfully? Will we teach it actively?
No one wants to reach the end of life full of regret about what might have been. Make the decision now to live like Paul, with firmness, perseverance, and good stewardship. So that when life comes to an end you may be able to look back and say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”