Just having finished a marriage mini-conference, and a sermon that included at least one punchy statement on parenting, some of us are faced with the problem of regrets. The 72 year-old couple, who wishes they had followed God’s ways in marriage sooner, or had done this or not done that with their kids – these are significant, weighty regrets. We cannot go back. I am old enough myself to have these regrets – both in marriage, and in parenting.
Thus it’s perhaps God’s timing that Psalm 71 came up in my Bible reading this week.1 Take a moment now, and read through the Psalm once or twice.
What did you notice? It’s written by someone in his later years (v. 9 & 18) – probably David2. He has many threats in this season – the blue sky never really stays around.
Thus he cries out to God (v. 1-4).
And here is where the person with regrets might not appreciate this Psalm so much. Because the basis upon which David cries out is his life-long experience. He has had the privilege of walking with the Lord since his youth (5) – from God’s perspective, even before David was born (6). This is a great and unmerited gift – a grace – that can only be seen (sometimes) from the vantage point of years. Those with a “boring” testimony, who got saved early on should not feel at all inferior to those who were saved dramatically – so much wreckage is avoided by those who trust in the Lord from their youth.
And yet David is still in need, and so he cries out, in confidence, essentially saying to God, “Finish what you started in me, so that your glory will be full, in me.” You see this in v. 17 and 18: because you’ve carried me from my youth, don’t pull up short, now that I’m in my old age. Don’t let me fall – at least until I’ve proclaimed your glory to another generation. Your glory is on the line, God. Finish what YOU started. For YOUR glory.
It’s at this point, that we might begin to build a bridge to us, today, in constructively responding to our own regrets. I see the following ways the Psalmist helps us:
- We must always ask ourselves, “How do I get ‘into’ this Psalm?” Put this another way: how do I get the same confidence here that David has – even when I have NOT known God from my youth, like David? And when I have so many regrets? And the answer is that David points us to a greater David, who walked with God perfectly, not just from his youth, but from eternity past. And if I have trusted in him, then I am united to his obedience before the Father. Thus I can come to the throne of grace for mercy and help in my time of need. Even when my need is sometimes of my own creation. I can have even MORE confidence than David did – because of my union with the Greater David, Jesus.
- And when I come, I remember that God is utterly sovereign over my days. He is GOD – with all – all – that that word means. That means that He is sovereign even over the things that I regret – even over my lost time, my wayward years, the sins that inserted into my family, and those I committed by my absences. “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities” (20a) – God does that. He’s God. He is sovereign, in control – GOD – over it all. Every bit. There is mystery here – this does not remove my culpability – not at all. But it draws some of poison from regret’s bite. I CAN – by faith – leave with Him my contributions to my own regret.
- But keep reading the rest of verse 20. God is not done yet. We miss the fact of how much a miracle is our own salvation. Yes, God uses the means of Christian families for the salvation of children, all the time. And yet, that means itself is a doggone miracle, dressed in human, ordinary clothes. A doggone miracle, every time. And He is still in that business, of lifting up those He chooses from the depths of the earth (20b), increasing their glory, and comforting them again (21). Your wayward child may yet come to know the Lord. Your marriage may yet still rise out of the wreckage, to a greater glory. In the end, we will all lay down our crowns around the glassy sea and proclaim that it was all of the grace and mercy of God. All of it. All the praise will be His.
- So then, part of our “therapy” for regret is to not linger in it too long, but to get busy telling the next generation of the goodness of God. Some regret is good – it’s the natural consequence of growth, of seeing things more clearly. It has to happen. And yet God does not intend to leave us there. Because His glory is not found in regret, but in joy. Our regret is meant to sting, but not to become inert in grief. The sting of regret is meant to spin us out to a trajectory of life that is more conducive, more constructive to God’s glory. Thus the Psalmist doesn’t just pray, “Don’t forsake me” (18). He prays, “Don’t forsake me UNTIL I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”
His righteousness reaches the highest of heavens. If we proclaim it with every moment of the rest of our lives, we will still only be making a start of describing it. And yet that’s just what we’re called to do.
And one day, when we’re done, all our regrets will be wiped away. And then there will be only joy. I think about Moses, on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses, who had BIG regrets – because he hit the rock twice, and didn’t speak to the rock, was excluded from the Promised Land. And yet, after he went into the ground, God graciously revived him again from the depths of the earth, on the Mount of Transfiguration, to see with his own eyes the REAL Promised Land, in the face of Christ.
In that face he saw why God was so severe in His discipline, and yet that even that discipline was worth it. He would not have traded this moment, to avoid that.
You too, dear brother or sister, will come to that same vision, some day soon. And all will be well. All tears will be wiped away, and your faith will be sight, and you will see the wisdom and glory of God, in all your steps. You will see it, and rejoice. And in that joy, God will be glorified, yet still more.
So then, in that hope, in that faith, let us proclaim, as best we can, His might and power, to another generation. Shall we?
- By the way, I wanted to let you know that I often only get to one chapter of Bible reading per day. I set out to do a two-year Bible reading plan each year. That’s two chapters a day. But plenty of days I only get to one – not (usually) because of sloth, but because I have an early-rising daughter, and because I just don’t want to move on so quickly from what I’m reading in the first chapter. In short, it’s what I got for that day, and that’s just alright.
- Psalms 70 and 71 are often considered together, and David is superscribed over 70