“Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead.”—PHILIPPIANS 3:13.
1-3. (a) How do some feel about things they have done or have not done? How could our past mistakes affect us? (b) What can we learn from Paul’s example?
A POET named J. G. Whittier wrote that the saddest words ever written or spoken are “it might have been.” People say these words when they think of how life might have been if they had done some things differently. All of us can think of things we wish we had done differently. But some constantly feel regret, or deep sadness, because of things they did or did not do. Do you feel like that about something you have done?
2 Some people have made serious mistakes or done very bad things. Others are just not sure if the decisions they made in life were really the best. Some people are able to stop thinking about their past. Others constantly feel bad about decisions they have made and think, ‘If only I had not done that!’ (Psalm 51:3) How do you feel? Would you like to do your best in God’s service without constantly worrying about mistakes you have made? Is there an example in the Bible of someone who was able to do that? Yes there is, the apostle Paul.
3 Paul made both terrible mistakes and wise choices. He deeply regretted the mistakes he had made, but he also learned to focus on doing his best in God’s service. Let us see what we can learn from his example.
4. What did the apostle Paul wish he had not done?
4 When Paul was a young Pharisee named Saul, he did things that he later wished he had not done. For example, he cruelly persecuted Christ’s disciples. The Bible says that immediately after Stephen was killed, Saul “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) Albert Barnes, a Bible scholar, said that “to deal outrageously with” means that Saul violently attacked the Christian congregation “like a wild beast.” Saul was a zealous Jew who strongly believed that God wanted him to destroy the Christian congregation. So he viciously persecuted the Christians and threatened to kill “both men and women.”—Acts 9:1, 2; 22:4.* (See footnote.)
5. What made Saul stop persecuting Jesus’ disciples and start preaching about Christ?
5 Saul later wanted to go to Damascus, take Christians from their homes, and drag them to Jerusalem to be punished by the Jewish high court. But Jesus, the Head of the Christian congregation, stopped him. (Ephesians 5:23) While Saul was on his way to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him, and Saul was blinded by a light from heaven. Then Jesus sent him to Damascus to wait for more instructions. We know what happened after that.—Acts 9:3-22.
Paul learned that he had to do his best in God’s service in spite of his past
6, 7. What shows that Paul realized he had made serious mistakes?
6 As soon as Paul realized that he was wrong, he stopped persecuting Christ’s disciples and instead began to preach zealously about Christ. Even so, Paul did not ignore what he had done. He later wrote about 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.” (Galatians 1:13) He again mentioned his past when he wrote to the Corinthians, to the Philippians, and to Timothy. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13) Paul was ashamed of the things he had done, but he did not pretend that they had never happened. He realized that he had made serious mistakes.—Acts 26:9-11.
7 A Bible scholar named Frederic W. Farrar wrote that when we think about how severely Paul had persecuted Christians, we can understand the deep sadness he must have felt and how much others may have criticized him. When Paul visited various congregations, it may be that brothers who met him for the first time said: ‘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 showed him? What do we learn from Paul’s example?
8 Paul realized that he was able to serve as an apostle only because God showed him great kindness. He mentions God’s undeserved kindness about 90 times in his 14 letters, more than any other Bible writer. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:10.) Paul was very grateful that God had been merciful to him, and he wanted to show his gratitude. So he worked harder in God’s service than all the other apostles. What do we learn from Paul’s example? If we have faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, confess our sins, and stop doing what is wrong, Jehovah is willing to forgive even very serious sins. So if you think that your sins are too great to be forgiven by means of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, remember the example of Paul. (Read 1 Timothy 1:15, 16.) Even though Paul had persecuted Jesus, he wrote that Jesus loved him and had died for him. (Acts 9:5; Galatians 2:20) Paul learned that he had to do his best in God’s service in spite of his past, so that he would not have anything else to regret. Is this something that you have learned to do?
DO YOU FEEL ANY REGRET?
9, 10. (a) Why might we feel regret? (b) Why is it not good to keep worrying about past mistakes?
9 Have you done things that you now regret? Do you wish you had used your time and energy for more important things? Did you do something that harmed others? Or maybe there is something else that you wish you had done differently. What can you do if you feel this way?
10 Some people worry all the time! They make themselves sad and anxious by thinking about their mistakes over and over again. Will you solve any problems by worrying? No! Imagine trying to move forward by rocking for hours in a rocking chair. You would use a lot of energy but get nowhere. Instead of worrying, you must do all you can to solve the problem. Apologize to the person you offended, and try to make peace with him. Think about why you did what you did so that you do not make the same mistake again. Sometimes, though, you may simply have to endure the consequences of your mistake. But worrying about past mistakes will not help you. In fact, it can make it difficult for you to give your best in God’s service.
11. (a) What must we do if we want Jehovah to show us mercy and love? (b) According to the Bible, what do we need to do to stop feeling guilty about our past mistakes?
11 Some feel that the mistakes they have made are so terrible that they do not deserve God’s mercy. Maybe they feel that their mistakes are too serious or that they have made too many mistakes. But the fact is that no matter what they have done in the past, they can admit their mistakes, make changes, and ask God for forgiveness. (Acts 3:19) Jehovah can show them mercy and love, just as he has shown to so many others. Jehovah will kindly forgive anyone who is humble, honest, and sorry for his sins. For example, God forgave Job, who deeply regretted the mistakes he had made. (Job 42:6; footnote) The Bible tells us exactly what we need to do to stop feeling guilty about our mistakes and to have inner peace: “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13; James 5:14-16) We need to confess our sins to God, pray for his forgiveness, and do all we can to show we are sorry for what we did. (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11) Then Jehovah, who forgives “in a large way,” will show us mercy.—Isaiah 55:7.
David was forgiven and felt relief only after he confessed his sin to God
12. (a) How can we imitate David’s good example when we have a guilty conscience? (b) Why does the Bible say that Jehovah has “felt regret”? How does the answer to this question encourage us? (See the box.)
12 Prayer is a powerful way that God can help us. In a beautiful psalm, David expressed his faith that Jehovah had answered his prayers. (Read Psalm 32:1-5.) Before David confessed his sin to God, his guilty conscience made him feel terrible. He felt anxious, sick, and depressed. David was forgiven and felt relief only after he confessed his sin to God. Jehovah answered David’s prayers. He helped David to feel better and to continue doing what was right. In a similar way, if you worry about mistakes you have made, pray sincerely to Jehovah for forgiveness and do your best to make the necessary changes. Then believe that Jehovah has carefully listened to your prayer and has forgiven you.—Psalm 86:5.
THINK OF THE FUTURE
13, 14. (a) What must we focus on now? (b) What questions can help us to think about what we are doing now?
13 It is true that we can learn from the past, but we should not keep worrying about it. Focus on the present and the future. Ask yourself questions like these: ‘Years from now, will I regret the choices I am making? Will I wish I had done things differently? Am I serving God faithfully so that I will not have anything to regret in the future?’
If you worry about mistakes you have made, pray sincerely to Jehovah and make the necessary changes
14 The great tribulation is now very near. It would be wise to ask yourself questions such as: ‘Can I do more in God’s service? Can I pioneer? What prevents me from becoming a ministerial servant? Am I doing all I can to put on the new personality? Am I the kind of person Jehovah wants in his new world?’ Instead of just worrying about what you have not done, think about what you are doing now and make sure that you are giving your best in Jehovah’s service. Make choices now that you will not regret in the future.—2 Timothy 2:15.
NEVER REGRET YOUR LIFE IN GOD’S SERVICE
15, 16. (a) What sacrifices have many made to give their best to Jehovah? (b) Why should we not regret any sacrifice we have made for God?
15 Have you made sacrifices to serve Jehovah full-time? Perhaps you left a successful career or business to work harder for Jehovah. Or perhaps you chose not to marry or not to have children so that you could serve at Bethel, do international construction work, or serve in the circuit work or as a missionary. Should you regret those decisions now that you are getting older? Should you feel that the sacrifices you made were not necessary or that you made them at the wrong time? Not at all!
16 You made those decisions because you loved Jehovah very much and you wanted to help others to serve him. Do not think that your life would have been better if you had done things differently. You can be very happy about the decisions you made! You chose the best way to serve Jehovah in your circumstances. Jehovah will not forget all the sacrifices you have made for him. When you have “the real life,” everlasting and perfect life, he will reward you with blessings that are even better than any you can imagine!—1 Timothy 6:19; Psalm 145:16.
HOW TO AVOID FEELING REGRET IN THE FUTURE
17, 18. (a) What did Paul do to avoid feeling more regret? (b) How will you follow Paul’s example?
17 What did Paul do to avoid feeling more regret later on in his life? Paul said that he stopped worrying about his past and worked hard for his reward. (Read Philippians 3:13, 14.) Paul did not keep thinking about the wrong things he had done when he was in the Jewish religion. Instead, he used all his energy to stay faithful, so that he could receive the prize of eternal life.
Let us stop worrying about the past, give God our best now, and think of our wonderful future
18 What can we learn from what Paul said? Instead of worrying about things in our past that we cannot change, we should focus on what we can do now to receive blessings in the future. We may not be able to forget our mistakes completely, but we do not need to keep feeling guilty about them. We can stop worrying about the past, give God our best now, and think of the wonderful future we will have!
The Bible many times mentions that women were among those Saul persecuted. This shows that women had an important part in the preaching work in the first century, just as they do today.—Psalm 68:11.