Revive Our Hearts Podcast

If I Could Do It All Over Again, with Jon Gauger, Day 1

Leslie Basham: When Jon Gauger was a student, he discovered the importance of having the right goal in mind. He was playing flag football.

Jon Gauger: Nobody ever threw the ball to me, but the quarterback was about to get pummeled . . . I mean, pummeled! In a last desperation move, he threw the ball to me—to me, finally! I ran with that ball straight toward the end zone.

There’s cheering; there’s screaming; there’s yelling. I’m a little confused. I dash across the end zone line only to discover I had been in the wrong end zone!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Wednesday, January 4, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Over the last twenty-four hours, I put a question up on Twitter and Facebook, and I got some terrific responses. I asked this: “If you could have a do-over of your life, what you would do more of, and what would you do less of? Are there any regrets that you can share?”

Some of these responses were really ones that I think many of us would feel. One woman said, “I wish I would have waited more patiently for my husband. I married at twenty-eight, but it felt like eternity.” Another woman said, “I wish I had loved my mother better.” “I wish I had loved people better,” another one said. “I wish I’d had more patience with my children.” 

Then, here’s one: “If I could have a do-over, it would be the first twenty-eight years of my marriage!” Well, that’s a long time to need a do-over. This woman said, “Un-surrendered areas of deep-rooted, uncontrollable anger and idolatry nearly destroyed my marriage.”

Here’s one from a pastor’s wife; she said, “I would spend more time shepherding my children’s hearts and less time making sure the house was perfect.”

It’s a good question to think about, and I’ve been thinking about it over the past several months: “What would I do if I could have a do-over? What would I do more of, what would I do less of?” The one who prompted that question in my head and heart is a friend of our ministry, Jon Gauger, who is with us in the studio today. Jon, welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Jon: Thank you, Nancy. And “friend” is probably a right term indeed, because I confess, I’m one of those men who listen, and I don’t know if we have permission to listen [to a women’s radio program], but we’re out there and we do. And boy, do I appreciate your conversations, the studies, the truth that you share.

It’s one of the programs that, for whatever reason, I get to link up with—whether I’m driving or happen to be at work and it’s on—so we really appreciate Revive Our Hearts.

Nancy: Thank you, Jon. Jon serves with Moody Radio, which has been a partner of Revive Our Hearts since we’ve been on the air, over fifteen years. So we’ve worked together on different projects, been at different conventions, we’ve crossed paths . . . done some interviews together. 

You’re a radio host and producer with Moody radio, our friends on the other side of Lake Michigan. You contacted us—I don’t know—many months ago, and said, “I’m working on a project; would you be a part of this?” And it ended up becoming a book that I’m holding in my hand: If I Could Do It All Over Again. You asked twenty-eight Christian leaders to share the most important lessons of their lives.

What put this idea in your head, to start with?

Jon: I think, Nancy, I have wrestled for a long time wondering, I’ve got my regrets, my mess-ups, my mistakes. These people whose books I read, whose sermons I hear, whose music I listen to—do they have the same kind of struggles, or have they somehow reached a state of Christian maturity that kind of puts them outside of those circles of thinking?

So, we just started doing some interviews and collected fascinating conversations. We recorded all of them and, as you say, they all eventually made it into this book from Harvest House, If I Could Do It All Over Again.

Nancy: And those recordings, those audio clips, we’re going to share some of those on this program over the next two or three days.You talked to a lot of different people whose names would be familiar to many of our listeners.

Did you find out (I know what the answer to this is), were those people kind of beyond . . . had any of them arrived at a place where they didn’t wish for any do-overs?

Jon: Absolutely not! I would say I was overwhelmed with the transparency of the people that we spoke with. Not everybody was comfortable sharing intimate details of their failures, but many were. It was humbling to hear them and encouraging at the same time . . . because, by transference, I say, “Well, there must be hope for me as well.”

Nancy: So tell us who some of those people were.

Jon: Well, we talked to Joni Tada, Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, Michael Card. We talked to Tony Evans, Michael W. Smith, Anne Graham Lotz. We spoke with you, Nancy, Josh McDowell, Erwin Lutzer, Gary Chapman, Colin Smith, Kay Arthur, June Hunt, Jan Silvious, Joe Stowell, George Verwer (Operation Mobilization), Gail MacDonald, Walter Wangerin (New York Times best-selling author) . . . many, many others as well.

Nancy: So we’re going to have a chance, over these next two or three days, to hear the results of what you heard from these people. It’s really like being given an inside glimpse into some of these people that seem out there, up there, up on a platform—and to see their candor, their honesty.

Did you find yourself being encouraged as you listened to them share their thoughts?

Jon: Very much so. I don’t know—maybe it’s just a spiritual weakness to suggest that I found encouragement in the fact that they fail, too, or they have regrets, too. That doesn’t make any of us better, but the fact that they’re real and genuine . . .

I was absolutely blown away, in particular, with what we do with our regrets. The biblical perspectives I got there—wow—that was something to take home!

Nancy: Let’s start with this whole area of, “What would you do if you had it to do all over again?” The word that comes to my mind when I hear that question is “mulligan.” Are you a golfer? (I’m not.)

Jon: I’m not. But I know all about mulligans, and the fact that you get to just erase that one nasty shot . . .

Nancy: . . . and do it again, as if the last one didn’t happen. The last one doesn’t count on the score card, and you get to do it again. In some ways, there really aren’t mulligans in life.

  • You wish you could take back what you said. 
  • You wish you could reorder your priorities.
  • You wish you would have known Jesus sooner.
  • You wish you hadn’t made the choices that wrecked that relationship.

And you can’t go back and do it over again. But there’s something about the gospel that really does let us reset, through repentance and the grace of Christ—that gives us a fresh start.

It doesn’t mean that we didn’t have the failure, it doesn’t mean that we totally forget all about it. But that there is grace to move forward and have a new start. I think that’s what I loved as I read some of these comments by people as I thought about my own areas where I would wish for a mulligan—where I’d like to do it again.

At the end of this conversation, at the end of this little series we’re doing here, I’m actually going to talk about my answers to these questions, and do it with our normal live studio audience. So, I’m going to weigh in on those questions, also.

Jon: Well, you get an “A” for bravery there, Nancy! That’s good.

Nancy: It was really helpful to me. I remember when you first interviewed me and you sent these questions. I jotted down some thoughts, and I just think this kind of reflection is good for all of us. I hope that our listeners will take time to say, “What are my answers to these questions?” and to sit down and think it through.

We live such fast-paced lives—which I think, for many of us, is going to be one of our regrets when it’s all said and done. We’ll wish we had thought more, talked less, listened more. Those are some of the things I came up with as I was preparing for the initial interview when you were writing this book.

It’s not too late to start living today as I will wish ten or fifteen or twenty or thirty years from now that I had. Maybe that’s my big take-away.

Jon: “It’s never too late to become what you might have been,” someone said to me in the course of this project.

Nancy: So whatever your thoughts are about your regrets, about the things you wish you’d done more of, we can start doing more of that today, and doing less of the other things, by God’s grace.

Jon: I’ve got a couple of regret stories for you, Nancy. Are you ready for this? When I was in junior high . . . this is a very critical time for boys, for proving yourself athletically as a guy. I mean, it’s big stuff. I was always small, always short, always scrawny, underweight, and not athletic. I was desperate to try and prove myself.

We were playing flag football, and nobody ever threw the ball to me. But the quarterback was about to get pummeled—I mean, pummeled! In a last desperation move, he saw me standing there (nobody around me, because who’s going to be defending me?). He threw the ball to me—to me, finally!

This was my golden moment, Nancy. I ran with that ball. I ran straight toward the end zone. There’s cheering; there’s screaming; there’s yelling! I’m a little confused. I dash across the end zone line only to discover I had been in the wrong end zone. I scored for the other team!

Nancy: That’s every kid’s nightmare, and it actually happened to you.

Jon: That’s exactly right. You say, “What’s the big deal with that? You were in junior high; that’s flag football.” It really set the tone for a junior high experience of failure, athletically. That’s a really big deal.

Fast forward. We’re in high school, now, and I’m in marching band. We’ve got ninety-six finely-tuned marchers, and they’re marching at half-time. I’m in charge of our squadron of four. It’s all broken up into squadrons of four. We’re all marching in one direction.

And, at a very specific point in the music, bam! You’re supposed to all flip around and go in the other direction. All of this is captured on movie films, at the time, which are shown every Monday after band and at a big celebration at the end of football season. So they’re filming all of this. 

All ninety-six (it looked like ants in this movie; ninety-six ants) are marching toward the end zone. And then boom; all of the sudden—ninety-two of those ants are marching the other direction, but four are headed in the wrong direction!

Guess who was leading that squadron? Me, again, in the wrong end zone! It’s getting to be a pattern.

Nancy: This was before GPS. You needed GPS!

Jon: I still do! My wife is our GPS. 

Nancy: No mulligans . . . captured forever on the movie.

Jon: No mulligans. And I saw the crazy movie. There it was: ninety-two “ants” behaving properly, four of them improperly, under my direction.

Nancy: Those kinds of experiences—as a junior high football player, as a high school band member—may stay with you for a long time. It’s embarrassing. It maybe creates some sense of insecurity—but it’s not really painfully life-altering.

Jon: It’s not high stakes.

Nancy: But some mistakes are, and some choices . . . As I read the things that women wrote to me on this Facebook question I put out there last night are some huge mistakes, some really tragic choices that were made. And so, when we say, “What would you do if you could do it all over again?”—for some people, that really brings some painful memories. 

Some are not just things that other people did to them that they had no control over, but they are the choices they made, that if they could do it again they would do it differently. So as you talked with some of these leaders, some of these people who have these amazing ministries and great spiritual accomplishments, what were some of the kinds of things you heard from them when you asked, “What would you do more of, if you could live your life over again?”

Jon: You have asked the proverbial $64,000 question, Nancy, because no other question that we asked garnered the same powerful similar response than this one: “What would you do more of?” To a person, almost all of them said, “I would spend more time with my family . . . more time with my children . . . more time with my wife”—person after person after person.

And then they would sort of say, “Well, we did spend time, but I would spend more,” or “The demands of ministry were there, and I’m not sure I handled it really well. I would spend more time with my family.”

You know, of all the people that we spoke with, Nancy, I think Erwin Lutzer gets the award for most transparent.

Nancy: Erwin Lutzer was for many years the senior pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. He recently retired. He’s been a dear friend of our ministry and a solid Bible expositor. He's a great pastor, great man of God. When you asked him what he wished he’d done more of, here’s what he said. 

Erwin Lutzer: The first word that comes to my mind, that I’d like to have a re-do on, is “family.” When I came to Moody Church, there’s no doubt as a young pastor (and I was young back then!) you want to succeed.

Of course, I was getting invitations to speak in different parts of the country. What I didn’t realize (well, I did, but I turned a blind eye to it) was that Rebecca, my wife, was hurting. I look back on this, and I couldn’t understand that she was struggling with depression.

When I left on speaking engagements, I knew that the kids were in very good hands, because Rebecca’s very competent and very capable. I knew it wasn’t as if things would fall apart. But, at the same time, I was insensitive to her needs. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t rejoicing in all that God had done in our lives—as I was.

I looked at the opportunities we had, and I thought, How wonderful! Who could have predicted this? And yet, at the same time, she was going through her own time of depression and [struggling with] a real sense of identity. That was the mid-eighties. Thankfully, she came through that. I learned some lessons along the way, and we’ve had a wonderful harmonious relationship.

But I look back and I say, “I should have relaxed more. I should have invested more time in my family. When I got home at night I should not have, in my tiredness, simply sat down and even watched TV, because there were important investments that I think I didn’t make along the way.”

Jon: Boy, you do sense, Nancy, don’t you, the transparency of Pastor Erwin Lutzer there in that comment?

Nancy: Yes.

Jon: Bob Moeller is a marriage expert and has written a number of books on the subject. He has a ministry called For Better, For Worse, For Keeps. When I asked him this question, he said,

I would have invested more time in my friendships. I tell people, if you’re wondering what to do with your time, consider the nursing home test. The nursing home test is this: thirty, forty, fifty years from now, you’re in a nursing home, unable to care for yourself. Who’s going to come visit you? Is it going to be your business associates, your clients, the people you’re trying to impress now? No. It’s going to be your family, your kids. So that’s where we should placing our investments—our time, our priorities. 

And I think that’s well said.

Nancy: So the challenge here is to live now as we will wish we had lived when we’re in the nursing home or at the later season of life. And that’s why I think it’s helpful to hear an older man, like an Erwin Lutzer, reflect back.

I remember my twenties and thirties. I mean, I was living intentionally—but not the way I’m living now. And when I’m in my seventies and eighties (Lord willing), I’m going to be looking back and saying, "I wish in those in those earlier decades I had lived more intentionally."

Here I am, as a newly married woman, needing to think differently about my priorities. I am doing that, but it’s kind of a daily thing of living purposefully, living intentionally—not just going with the flow, not just drifting, not just getting through each day—but thinking about the big rocks, the big picture, what really matters.

Jon: You bring up an interesting point here. I feel like I have lived a whole lot of my life unintentionally. Maybe even working on this book has been a steering of life for me.

Nancy: I can imagine that it would be. 

Jon: I’m thinking more and more and more . . . I try to pray this every day (and I’m sure there are days I miss): “Lord, I do not have time for any more wood and hay and stubble! I need this to be gold and silver and precious stones. And if it’s just me doing this, it’s going to burn up. But if You’re there, if You’re present, if You’re in this, it could become gold and silver and precious stones.”

So, that’s the kind of praying I’m trying to do before I ever sit down and do anything in front of a microphone, or whether it’s writing or speaking, or whatever it is.

Nancy: What did people say they wish they had done less of?

Jon: Well, a lot of answers to that—certainly, less time on the computer. I got a lot of that. Tim Keller said the Internet is a friend of information but an enemy of thought. He said, “I would spend a whole lot less time surfing on the web—a hundred things that would be better than time on the web.”

And I would have to say, “Ooh, ouch! He got me there.”

Nancy: I wonder if ten, twenty, thirty years from now, if you were to do this same little survey, if a lot of people would be saying, “I wish I would have spent less time on social media”—a subset of the Internet.

I think a lot of us are going to get to the end of our lives and feel, Where did all that time go? I had time for Facebook, but I didn’t have time for His Book. Again, to be thinking now about those things rather than getting to the end of life and having it be a regret. It could be really a course change if we would think about those things in our younger years.

Jon: Nancy, you of course are quite familiar, as our listeners are, with June Hunt. She's a radio host herself, author, and conference speaker. We asked her, “What would you do less of?” Listen to her response:

June Hunt: For years, I was fear-based—not that I looked that way to the outside world. It would have a made a huge difference in my life if I would have learned to not be manipulated, less controlled by others, and I didn’t see it that way at the time.

But I will tell you, what really helped me the most was Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I am still trying to please people, I would not be the servant of Christ” (paraphrase).

Once I saw that Scripture, it began a process of change for me. So the Word of God convicted me that I was allowing someone else to have undue control, and at times I would violate what I really believed was right.

Jon: I love the power of the Word, there, in steering her life in an entirely different direction.

Nancy: And I think that’s a huge thing for a lot of us as women, in particular. Maybe not that men don’t wrestle with this . . . but this fear of what others think of us, being controlled by that instead of grounding our lives in the truth of God’s Word—what He says about us—and believing that to be true.

“The fear of man brings a snare,” but the fear of the Lord is what sets us free. I’ve watched June as now, an older woman, live in that grace and walk in that grace as she’s gotten free from that fear of what others think.

Jon: Nancy, nobody has more octane—more zing and zip, I think—than Ron Hutchcraft. And when we asked him this question about what he would do less of, if he could do it all over again, he shared something rather personal. 

Ron Hutchcraft: Less trying to make things happen instead of letting God make them happen. I am a doer; I’m an aggressive person. Psalm 37:5 has become an anchor verse for me, ”Commit your way to the Lord.” Then after you’ve done that, now you start to slip away a little bit and take it back . . . but, “keep trusting also in Him. . .” and “Ron will bring it to pass.” Wait! Whoa! No, it doesn’t say that in English or Hebrew. It says, “He!” He will bring it to pass.

Jon: In the conversation that we had, he went on to say, “I am not the Messiah. I don’t have to fix everything. It isn’t all up to me. So I would do more praying, more depending on God, more waiting on God, and less trying to make things happen.

Nancy: I think this whole thing of waiting . . . We get anxious; we get impatient. And you see in Scripture over and over again where, when people pushed on, they forced things to happen. You think of Sarah stepping out and saying, “We’ve got to have a child. So we’ll fix this. We’ll take Hagar. . .” That never leads to a good place.

When I asked women on Facebook and Twitter, “What would you do more of or less of?” one of the things they commented on often was, “I wish I hadn’t been in such a hurry to make things happen.” In fact, Gail MacDonald (who is a pastor’s wife; her husband’s a pastor and author, and she’s an author) talked about less hurry—just waiting more for the Lord to act.

Gail MacDonald: There is something that is so mysterious about the power of prayer, and it takes a quiet soul to get there. I tend to be a doer, and I’ve had to work really hard at being the be-er, all my life.

Jon: You know, at a point in this conversation, Nancy, you have to ask yourself: “Why can’t we do better?” Why do we have to have lives lived with regrets? Let’s be honest—as followers of Christ, we’ve got the whole Bible at our disposal—unlike the Old Testament folks.

We’ve got Bibles on our shelves, Bibles on our smartphones, audio Bibles on our tablets, unparalleled access to commentaries, language tools. We’ve got the passion of Luther, the wisdom of Augustine, the pen of Bunyan, the brilliance of Spurgeon. We have all this going for us. Why can’t we do better?

We asked this question, and Kay Arthur had the most blunt and bold response. And boy, I think she is spot-on! Check this out:

Kay Arthur: When we talk about looking back and getting advice and why do we keep making the same mistakes, I think the only thing that is going to break the cycle is knowing the Word of God and coming face-to-face with it; knowing how to handle the Word of Life, to study to show ourselves approved unto God, accurately handling the Word of God—cutting it straight. I think if we would do that, then we wouldn’t live with all the regrets that people live with.

Nancy: That’s the wisdom of a woman who has a lot of regrets from her younger years—she’s been very honest about that. But she has walked as a woman of the Word for many, many years.

Now, here she is in her eighties, speaking to those of us who haven’t walked as far, and I would like to spare myself—and you, Jon, and our listeners—from getting to that season of life and having to say, “I wish that I could do all this over again.”

I think Kay is totally right. If we would really anchor our hearts in the Word of God—reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, personalizing it, living it out—how different would our lives be at the end! Here’s a woman now, coming to the end of her race, who has faithfully—over decades—lived in God’s Word.

I get around Kay and I think, Here’s a woman of wisdom, a woman who—her life has not been easy; she’s had a lot of challenges—is full of the Word of God! That’s the kind of woman I want to be, but I’m not going to be that woman in my eighties if I’m not that woman in my fifties.

We may have a listener today thinking, I wasn’t that way in my twenties and my thirties. Well, where are you now? Get started! In order to do that, that means there are things we have to say “no” to—things that aren’t as important, that we need to do less of. You can’t do more of some things if you don’t do less of some other things.

As we’ve been talking about this whole matter of end-of-life-thinking or now-life-thinking—“What would I do over again if I could? What would I do more of, what would I do less of?”—my mind just kept going back to the book of Ecclesiastes. 

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (in some respects, but in some cases a very foolish man who didn’t always apply the wisdom he had) when he comes to chapter 12, after he’s pondered all the comings and goings and ups and downs of his life and the empty pursuits, the vain pursuits. Then he says in verse 1 of chapter 12: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” 

That’s a man speaking with some regrets, and saying, “Don’t forget when you’re young to honor God, to put Him first in your life—because the days will come when you wish that you had.” And then he comes to the very end of the book, the end of chapter 12, and he says . . . (I can just imagine Solomon being one of your interviewees in your book. What would he say?)

As he reflected on his own life and his own regrets and the things he wished he had done differently, he would say, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ro have a life that is centered in God . . . not centered in job, not centered even ultimately in family . . . because if you spend a lot of time with your family, but don’t honor the Lord, don’t fear the Lord, then your family’s an idol. We don’t want that. He says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

And, of course, we come to the New Testament, and we say, this is why God sent Jesus. This is why the Cross. So that we could fear the Lord, so we could obey His commandments. We didn’t have the ability to until Jesus came to save us from ourselves. What a challenge. To live our lives, now, as we will wish we had lived them one day.

We’re going to continue with this conversation, but I want to encourage our listeners to get a copy of this book, where you’ve compiled a lot of these things that these twenty-eight leaders told you: If I Could Do It All Over Again. It's the most important lessons of their lives that they shared.

The book is by Jon Gauger, and we’re offering it this week on Revive Our Hearts as our way of saying "thank you" when you make a donation of any amount to help us keep getting this message into the hearts of listeners around the world.

Give us a call at 1–800–569–5959, or visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com. Let us know that you’d like to make a gift to help support the ministry, and be sure and let us know that you’d like the book If I Could Do It All Over Again.

We’ll send that to you as our way of saying "thank you for helping this ministry continue," and I know you’re going to be challenged by it. It’s a little book, and it’s worth its weight in gold—and I mean that—to hear and to read what other people have said. 

Some of those you’ve heard today—and many others—they’re thought-provoking. They’ll challenge you to ask this question, and perhaps to make some course adjustments while there is still time to do that.

Leslie: Tomorrow Jon Gauger will be back to share practical wisdom he’s gleaned from leaders like Joni Eareckson Tada, Josh McDowell, and Tony Evans. He’ll share some of that wisdom with us, just in time for a new year. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

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