We have all made mistakes and wrong choices throughout our lives. Some of those choices were good and some brought heartache and much regret. Some were foolish, youthful mistakes. Some choices were thoughtless and selfish. And then there were those choices, whether good or bad, that changed the course of our lives. Unfortunately, there have been choices that have caused many to live in a debilitating valley of regret, where they continually revisit the choice and question what might have been, if they had only done things differently.
I struggled with self-recrimination and self-doubt for many years, until I realized that mistakes are part of the human journey to spiritual growth. It is through our mistakes that we learn. The Word tells us that only a fool does the same foolish things again and again (Proverbs 26:11-12).
When my son was two, he was very curious about many things, including the stove's burners. I cautioned him that if he touched them, he would get burned. One day, while I was cooking, he touched the front burner and screamed in pain. Fortunately, his minor owie taught him a valuable lesson, and he never again touched the stove.
Mistakes are only mistakes when we don't learn from them. However, the enemy relentlessly reminds us of past failings, imperfections, and weaknesses in order to prevent us from fully engaging in the present. But God tells us to “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 wilderness and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 48:18-19). God never intended that we wander in a wasteland of regret and despair. He made a new way through Christ, Who brings refreshing to our souls and healing to our wounds.
The moment we surrendered our life and will to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we became a new creation; old things passed away and all things became new (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV). However, to embrace the new, the apostle Paul cautioned us, "Pay careful attention to how you walk —not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don't be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (Ephesians 5:15-17 HCSB). Yesterday is irretrievable; therefore, we are to use the time that we have today wisely and prayerfully as we seek God's will.
Paul admitted that he was not yet all he should be, but that he was using all of his energies to forget the past and look to what was ahead (Philippians 3:13). Before his conversion on the Road to Damascus, he had been a Pharisee who persecuted and murdered Christians. Now as a follower of Christ, he said, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life" (I Timothy 1:15-16).
Like Paul, God uses our failures for His glory and for our growth as Christians. Past successes, achievements, and failures have all been stepping-stones to where we are today. Jesus said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). We can't move forward with God, if we are always looking backwards, wishing things were different.
We all have had regrets, and Peter was no exception. Jesus told the disciples, “This very night you will all fall away on account of Me..." (Matthew 26:31). Peter responded that he would never fall away. Jesus answered, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.” But Peter vehemently declared that even if threatened with death, he would never deny Jesus (vs. 33-35).
Jesus knew Peter's heart, just as He knows the content and intentions of every heart and how we will exercise our free will to make choices. He is never surprised by our choices or what we say or do.
Peter had the best intentions. He thought he knew his heart. But often we make statements and decisions from a heart that deceives us. That is why Jesus cautioned the disciples on that very night of His betrayal, "Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Matthew 26:41).
After Peter denied Christ the third time, the rooster crowed. Grief stricken, Peter locked eyes with the Lord as He was taken away and Peter remembered the Lord's words: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown Me three times" (Luke 22:61-62).
Fortunately, the Lord's mercy is so great that He doesn't want us to live in our past mistakes and sin. So after Jesus' resurrection, He gave Peter an opportunity to be forgiven by asking him three questions, followed by three commands:
1. “Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” You know that I love You.” “Feed my lambs.”
2. Again Jesus asked, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?" “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You. “Take care of My sheep.”
3. Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked a third time if he loved Him. Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-19).
Peter had denied the Lord three times, yet Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to be forgiven and reinstated as a powerful advocate and pillar for Christianity. His reinstatement tells us that we have been given that same opportunity to be forgiven, to forgive ourselves, and to move forward with the Lord. For He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness (Psalm 103:8). He treads our sins underfoot and hurls all of our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Let our past mistakes stay in the depths of the sea and let us not go fishing for them.
Father, Your Word says that You tread our sins underfoot and hurl them into the depths of the sea, never to be recovered. Just as You have forgiven me, help me to forgive myself, so that I can move forward with You, for I am Your handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which You prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). In Jesus name, amen.