“Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead.”—PHIL. 3:13.
1-3. (a) What are regrets, and how may they affect us? (b) From Paul, what can we learn about serving God without regrets?
A POET wrote: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” The poet was J. G. Whittier, and he was referring to things that we regret, that we wish we could do over and do differently. “Regret” is mental sorrow, pain of mind, at something done or perhaps left undone, and it can mean “to weep again.” We all have done things we wish we could go back and do differently. What regrets do you have?
2 Some people have made grievous mistakes in their lives, even committing serious sins. Others have not done anything so bad, but they wonder whether some of their choices in life were really the best. Some people have been able to overcome the past and continue on with their lives. Others are continually plagued with “if onlys” about their past. (Ps. 51:3) Which are you? Do you wish that you could serve God without regrets—at least from this day forward? Is there a true-life example from whom we can learn to do that? There certainly is—the apostle Paul.
3 During his life, Paul made both terrible mistakes and wise choices. He felt deeply about the regrets of his past, but he also learned to make a success of his life in faithful service to God. Let us see what his example can teach us about serving without regrets.
PAUL’S REGRETTABLE PAST
4. What regrettable past did the apostle Paul have?
4 As a young Pharisee, Paul did things that he later regretted. For example, he led a campaign of vicious persecution against Christ’s disciples. The Bible record states that immediately after the martyring of Stephen, “Saul [later known as Paul] . . . began to deal outrageously with the congregation. Invading one house after another and, dragging out both men and women, he would turn them over to prison.” (Acts 8:3) Scholar Albert Barnes said that the Greek word rendered “to deal outrageously with” is “a strong expression, denoting the zeal and fury with which [Saul] engaged in persecution.” Hence, said Barnes, “Saul raged against the church like a wild beast.” As a devout Jew, Saul believed that it was his God-given duty to stamp out Christianity. So he pursued the Christians with brutal cruelty, “breathing threat and murder against . . . both men and women,” trying to destroy them.—Acts 9:1, 2; 22:4.*
5. Explain how Saul was converted from persecuting Jesus’ followers to preaching about Christ.
5 It was Saul’s intent to go to Damascus, tear Jesus’ disciples from their homes, and drag them to Jerusalem to face the wrath of the Sanhedrin. However, he failed because he was in conflict with the Head of the Christian congregation. (Eph. 5:23) While Saul was on his way to Damascus, Jesus confronted him, and Saul was blinded by a miraculous light. Then Jesus sent Saul on to Damascus to wait for further contact. We know the rest of what happened.—Acts 9:3-22.
6, 7. What shows that Paul was well-aware of his painful past?
6 Paul’s values changed as soon as he became a Christian. Instead of being a fierce enemy of Christianity, he became an ardent advocate of it. Even so, he later wrote of himself: “You, of course, heard about my conduct formerly in Judaism, that to the point of excess I kept on persecuting the congregation of God and devastating it.” (Gal. 1:13) Later, he again mentioned his regrettable past when writing to the Corinthians, to the Philippians, and to Timothy. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:9; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13) Paul was not proud of having to write such things about himself, but neither did he try to act as though none of that had ever happened. He was well-aware that he had made serious mistakes.—Acts 26:9-11.
7 Bible scholar Frederic W. Farrar referred to the part that Saul had played “in the horrid work of persecution.” Farrar added that it is only when we weigh the terrible significance of this sad period in Paul’s life that “we feel the load of remorse which must have lain upon him, and the taunts to which he was liable from malignant enemies.” At times, Paul was perhaps approached by brothers in the various congregations he visited, brothers meeting him for the first time, saying, ‘So you’re Paul—you’re the one who persecuted us!’—Acts 9:21.
8. How did Paul feel about the mercy and love that Jehovah and Jesus displayed toward him, and what lesson does that teach us?
8 Paul realized, however, that it was only by God’s undeserved kindness that he was able to carry out his ministry. He mentions that merciful quality of God some 90 times in his 14 letters—more than any other Bible writer. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:10.) Paul deeply appreciated the merciful way in which he was treated, and he wanted to make sure that God’s undeserved kindness had not been extended to him in vain. So he “labored in excess” of all the other apostles. Paul’s example clearly shows that if we confess our sins and change our course, Jehovah is willing to blot out even grievous sins on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. What a good lesson this is for any who find it hard to believe that the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice could be meant for them personally! (Read 1 Timothy 1:15, 16.) Even though Paul had been a rabid persecutor of Christ, he could write: “The Son of God . . . loved me and handed himself over for me.” (Gal. 2:20; Acts 9:5) Yes, Paul learned the principle of how to serve without amassing more regrets. Is that something that you have learned?
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS?
9, 10. (a) Why do some of Jehovah’s people have regrets? (b) What is wrong with continually worrying about the past?
9 Have you done things that you now regret? Have you ever wasted valuable energy and time on the wrong pursuits? Did you act in some way that resulted in harm to others? Or it may be that you have unpleasant feelings of regret for some other reason. The question is, What can you do about it?
10 Many people worry! To worry continually means to plague oneself, vex oneself, persecute oneself. It causes great anxiety. Does worrying solve any problems? Not one! Imagine trying to move forward by rocking for hours in a rocking chair, expending all that energy but getting nowhere! Instead of worrying, some positive action on your part may produce good results. You can apologize to the person you wronged, perhaps restoring good relations. You can avoid whatever led up to the wrong act, thereby preventing future problems. Then again, you may simply have to live through some situations of life. But worry is nothing but a form of paralysis that can leave one unable to serve God fully. And there is no reward for worry!
11. (a) How may we receive Jehovah’s mercy and loving-kindness? (b) What is the divine formula for acquiring peace of mind about our past failings?
11 Some have the tendency to let past failings overwhelm them to the point that they feel that they are unworthy in God’s eyes. They may feel beyond the reach of God’s mercy because they strayed off course either so far or so often. The fact is, though, that no matter what they may have done in the past, they can repent, change, and ask for forgiveness. (Acts 3:19) Jehovah’s mercy and loving-kindness can be extended to them, even as it has been to so many others. Jehovah will look kindly upon a humble, honest one and upon his heartfelt repentance. God did that for Job, who said: “I do repent [“feel regret,” ftn.] in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) We all must follow the divine formula for acquiring peace of mind: “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy.” (Prov. 28:13; Jas. 5:14-16) Thus, we can confess to God, pray for his forgiveness, and take steps to right the wrong. (2 Cor. 7:10, 11) If we have done these things, then we can enjoy the mercy of the One who ‘forgives in a large way.’—Isa. 55:7.
12. (a) What does David’s example teach us about the best way to deal with a guilty conscience? (b) In what sense has Jehovah felt regret, and how does knowing that help us? (See the box.)
12 There is power in prayer; it accomplishes much with God. David expressed his deep feelings in a prayer of faith that is beautifully preserved in the Psalms. (Read Psalm 32:1-5.) As David admitted, trying to repress a guilty conscience wore him out! He apparently suffered ill effects mentally and physically and lost joy because of his failure to confess. What brought David pardon and relief? Only a confession to God. Jehovah answered David’s prayers and strengthened him to go ahead with his life and accomplish something worthwhile. Similarly, if you pray sincerely from the heart, you can be confident that Jehovah will give his keen attention to your supplication. If past wrongs trouble you, rectify them to the extent that you can and then believe Jehovah’s assurance that he has forgiven you!—Ps. 86:5.
LOOK AHEAD TO THE FUTURE
13, 14. (a) What should be our chief concern now? (b) What questions can move us to analyze our present situation in life?
13 It has been said that life can be understood by looking back but that it must be lived by looking ahead. So instead of worrying about the past, we should be concerned about the present and the future. What are we doing right now, or failing to do, that years from now we will wish we had not done or had done differently? Are we maintaining a course of faithfulness that will prevent any possible regrets at a future time?
14 As the great tribulation nears, we do not want to be plagued with such anxious thoughts as these: ‘Could I have done more in God’s service? Why didn’t I pioneer when I had the opportunity? What prevented me from reaching out to serve as a ministerial servant? Did I make a real effort to put on the new personality? Am I the sort of person Jehovah wants in his new world?’ Instead of just worrying about such sobering questions, we want to use them to analyze ourselves and make sure that we are giving our best in Jehovah’s service. Otherwise, we could be continuing in a way of life that may result in even more regrets.—2 Tim. 2:15.
NEVER REGRET YOUR SACRED SERVICE
15, 16. (a) What sacrifices have many made to put God’s service first in their life? (b) Why should we not regret any sacrifice we have made in putting Kingdom pursuits first?
15 What about those of you who have made sacrifices to serve Jehovah full-time? Perhaps you gave up a promising career or a successful business to simplify your life and have more time for Kingdom pursuits. Or perhaps you remained unmarried or if married, decided to forgo having children to make yourself available for an avenue of full-time service that otherwise would not have been possible for you—Bethel service, international construction work, circuit work, or missionary service. Should you regret those decisions now as you grow older in Jehovah’s service? Should you feel that the sacrifices you made were unnecessary or ill-timed? Not at all!
16 You made those decisions on the basis of your deep love for Jehovah and an earnest desire to help others who wanted to serve him. You need not think that you would have been better off had you lived your life differently. You can have the deep satisfaction of knowing that you did what you knew to be right in your case. You can rejoice in having done your very best to serve Jehovah. He will not forget your life of self-sacrifice. In the real life yet to come, he will reward you with blessings far better than any you can now imagine!—Ps. 145:16; 1 Tim. 6:19.
HOW TO SERVE WITHOUT REGRETS
17, 18. (a) What principle helped Paul to serve without regrets? (b) What is your resolve regarding your past, present, and future service to Jehovah?
17 What principle did Paul learn that helped him serve God without having more regrets? As rendered in the J. B. Phillips translation, Paul wrote: “I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal.” (Read Philippians 3:13, 14.) Paul did not dwell on the wrong course he had pursued in Judaism. Instead, he concentrated all his energies on qualifying himself for the future prize of eternal life.
18 All of us can apply the principle behind Paul’s words. Rather than fretting over our past, dwelling on what cannot be undone, we should stretch forward to what lies ahead. No, we may not literally forget past mistakes, but we need not constantly berate ourselves for them. We can strive to put the past behind us, serve God to the best of our ability now, and look ahead to the glorious future!
The repeated reference to women also being the object of Saul’s persecution shows that they played a large part in the spread of Christianity in the first century, just as they do today.—Ps. 68:11.