“In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.” Ephesians 2:13
I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could change one thing about my past…”
I’ll bet you can finish that sentence with a few thoughts of your own. “I would have gone to college.” “I would have chosen a different career.” “I would have (or wouldn’t have) gotten married.” It doesn’t always have to be choices as big as those. “I wouldn’t have said that.” “I wouldn’t have eaten that.” “I wouldn’t have made that purchase.” Who hasn’t lamented something in their past. For some, the choices were huge and life altering. For others, they were moments, that while not quite as monumental, still, things we wish we could do over. I have spent so much time living with regrets, living in the “if onlys,” and wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently. I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life. But I am learning some things that I would like to share with you.
One of the most important lessons about regret is to learn to trust in the sovereign providence of God. That is a really old-fashioned term, but in the original Hebrew, the word combination has a rich and significant meaning. The word “sovereign” speaks to God’s rightful authority; an authority that extends over nature, nations, mankind, and individual lives. It is the thought behind Psalm 33:9: “[The Lord] spoke, and it came to be; He commanded and it stood firm.” God spoke, “Let there be…” (Genesis1) and it was so, because God said it must be. If God has spoken a promise through His word, it is as good as done. And if He has spoken a word over your life, it is as sure as His Name. “Sovereign” is addressing God’s rightful authority and majesty as Lord.
Likewise, the word “providence” is speaking to God’s charge over you; the root word is so precious to me, it means “to pay attention, to care for, to be in charge of.” Here is God’s tender, loving care that shows Him as “the Good Shepherd” and as our Heavenly Father. By this word, God has pledged to pay attention to you, to care for you, and to be in charge of your life – not as a dictator – but as One who seeks always and only what is best for you. Job 10:12 expresses this beautifully. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in Your providence watched over my spirit.”
The combination of terms tells us that God is always looking out on your behalf, knows what you need, and has the authority to move heaven and earth to accomplish all things for you – because He loves you.
If you study the Scriptures you will find, over and over again, the sovereign and providential hand of God. In John 4, a woman with a very tainted past decides to go fetch water from a well at mid-day. There she meets Jesus, who changes her life and the lives of her neighbors. Every day choices become life-altering, even community-altering. What often seems to be a devastating situation, in God’s hands, turns into deliverance for an entire nation. Genesis 37-50 tells the story of Joseph, who is sold into slavery by his brothers, and imprisoned under false accusation. But under the sovereign hand of God, Joseph becomes the second in command in Egypt and saves millions of people, including his own family, from starvation during a seven-year famine. Listen to his testimony from Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” In God’s hands, even our sin can be turned around, as David and Bathsheba found out. After an affair, a murder and a pregnancy that ends with the death of a child; God blessed these two sinners, as well as the nation of Israel through their son, Solomon. 2 Samuel 12:24 tells us that “the Lord loved Solomon,” and made him the wisest and wealthiest king ever (1 Kings 3:12-13). During Solomon’s reign the people of Israel built the Temple of the Lord, became a powerful nation and enjoyed forty years of peace and prosperity
Lest you think God has ceased His sovereign and providential activity in our day, I have countless times I can look back and see God at work in the most unexpected ways. He has rescued me time and time again through circumstances and situations that should have crushed me – but by His hand I emerged stronger and more confident in His love and care. I have seen His hand at work in so many other lives as well. He is for His children, He watches over us, protects and cares for us, and moves mountains on our behalf.
Another important lesson I am learning I call, “Look ahead, not behind.” God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19) On the other side of these difficult seasons, is the promise that God will bring us out of the darkness and into the light of a fresh new day. God is able to give you a fresh start. More than a do-over; Isaiah proclaimed the genesis of “a new thing.” He has and continues to do that for me. This writing ministry is “a stream in the wasteland.” And He had made a way for me to return to school, a dream I thought had died ten years ago. Surely He has made “a way in the desert” of my life. But if I choose to sit in the ashes of my past, I will not see the new things God wants to do.
If you have grieved choices in your past, know that Your sovereign, providential Father has been watching over and caring for you all along. In His hands the very thing that caused you the most pain can be the growing point for a whole new future. Dear friend, God loves you too much to waste the struggles of your life. He has a plan. He has a purpose. And He has you in the palm of His great hand.
Holy, sovereign God, please work all these hard things in my life to good, as I will in Your providence and love. Amen