Revive Our Hearts Podcast

If I Could Do It All Over Again, with Jon Gauger, Day 3

Leslie Basham: When you hear the regrets of those walking ahead of you, it helps you to avoid them. Here’s Jon Gauger.

Jon Gauger: 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?

And so, we just started doing some interviews. I was overwhelmed with the transparency of the people that we spoke with. 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.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Friday, January 6, 2017.

Over the last couple of days, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Jon Gauger about practical wisdom for daily life. He’s collected that wisdom by asking evangelical leaders what they would do over if they could live life again. Let’s pick up with day three of that conversation.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I have been so enjoying, I guess that’s the word, pricked by at times, convicted by at times, challenged by for sure of the conversation we’ve been having with Jon Gauger over the past few days. Jon, welcome back to Revive Our Hearts on day three of this series.

Jon: It’s an honor to be here. Nancy, welcome to the club of conviction and those sorts of things that kind of crept into your heart as you’ve looked at your own life in light of what we’ve been discussing. Boy, that’s certainly where I’ve been times ten.

Nancy: I often say when people say to me that something I’ve written in a book God used in their life or it convicted them, “You should have had to write it because you’re living with that, and the things you’ve written sometimes come back to haunt you, in a good way.”

And that’s what this book that you’ve written I’m sure has done for you. It does it for me, as well, as I was able to participate along with twenty-seven other Christian leaders, speakers, authors, musicians, in answering questions that you threw our way about things like: 

  • If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
  • What would you do more of?
  • What would you do less of?
  • What’s a Scripture verse that has really stuck with you through your life that you find yourself clinging to today?
  • What are some life lessons you’ve learned that are super important to you?
  • What principles would you want to pass on to others?

And then today we come to this one I think is haunting to a lot of people, and that’s living with regrets. You asked all of us who responded to this. And I’m going to answer some of these questions at the end of this series myself. But you asked all of us, “What is a regret you have that still haunts you?” What brought you to ask about this question of regrets?

Jon: Well, truthfully, Nancy, regret probably was the number one thing that I kind of wanted to address for me personally in this project. I’ve got regrets, and I think any honest person does at least if we’ve given some thought to our lives. Everybody’s regrets are different. My list would be different than yours, and that would be different from every other Revive Our Hearts listener.

But we’ve got them. They’re there. They haunt us. They nag us at night. What are we supposed to do with them? So the whole issue of regrets came up. I really wanted to know did the leaders that I so look up to, do they themselves have regrets? And the answer is yes, they do.

Nancy: You tell a story at the opening of the chapter on regrets that kind of sets the table for this whole subject.

Jon: I think if regret had a poster child, Maud Muller would be the face. Here was this girl born into poverty, Nancy, and living a quiet life on a quiet farm just outside the city. Her house was entirely unremarkable. Her wardrobe, quite honestly rather shabby. Maud hungered deep inside for I think a better existence. Something more. And that something was a person, a someone, a judge from the city.

Well, he sauntered onto Maud’s farm one afternoon, greeting her from his horse, asking for a glass of water. Well, naturally, what’s she going to do? She’s going to oblige this guy. This is the guy that she’s dreamed of meeting and being with. At first it’s kind of awkward because she’s very aware that her poverty is rather visible in clothing as his wealth is in what he’s wearing on that fine horse.

But the more they talked, the more comfortable they become. Maud is just lovely and better still, he observed she was kind and honest and hard working. So they’re talking there, and they finally part.

With every step of the judge’s horse, Maud is kind of sighing and dreaming, wishing this man could be her husband. At the same time, he is wishing and sighing that she would be his wife. But she’s so far below his station in life. He kind of dreams briefly of trading his considerable wealth to buy the better gold of purity and kindness that so described Maud.

Well, in the end, his dream kind of went away when he realized he wouldn’t do. His family wouldn’t appreciate him marrying someone from such a low strata of society. So he eventually marries someone in society, a woman whose dowry and standing is deemed suitable.

Maud goes on to marry a poor, uneducated man and has many children. Both of them regretted their choices, thinking of that golden afternoon now long gone. And in John Greenleaf Whittier’s haunting story which you might have now picked up on, Maud Muller ends with an immortal couplet:

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these that might have been.

I don’t think an honest soul among us lives without moments like that with regret. Some of them as deep and powerful as that – as long-reaching and long-lasting. Others maybe not quite on that scale. But we’ve all got those regrets.

Nancy: And the people you talked to all had these regrets. I want us today to listen to some of the audio clips. You included their stories in this book. You got them on audio. We want to hear what some of their regrets were. Not so we can focus on the regrets, but so we can focus on how to deal with those regrets.

Tony Evans is an author. He’s a pastor of a large church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He heads up the Urban Alternatives Ministry. Many of us have heard of that ministry. He talked with you about a regret he had in relation to his ministry life.

Tony Evans: Regret. Probably in regards to ministry, that I would not have been so consumed by it. As important as it is, it can be the Martha and Mary thing where you spend so much time for the Lord that you don’t spend enough time with Him. I might have avoided that regret if I would have started each day with the Lord instead of “finding time” for the Lord.

Nancy: That’s a really important one, Jon, for me to hear. I think for all of our listeners, even if we don’t have some great big national ministry, many of us are involved in doing things for the Lord, serving the Lord, serving our families and others. But, like Martha of the two sisters in Luke 10, missing out on time with Jesus – time spent with Him, time listening to Him, sitting at His feet.

And I’ve told our listeners before, every day of my life virtually, I face a battle in this – wanting to run pell-mell out into my day. The email is there. The tasks are there. The deadlines are there. It's so easy to hurry and rush and even some days, neglect totally spending that time with the Lord. And it’s out of that intimacy with Him that ministry overflows. So it was a good reminder for me to hear Tony give us that brief message.

Jon: It’s interesting to hear you admit that. I think I’m kind of wired the same, Nancy, which is why I’m grateful God has built into my life the forced discipline of a thirty-minute train ride from my home in the suburbs of Chicago downtown.

That thirty-minute drive every day in is signed, sealed, set aside for my Bible time, my prayer time. I can focus even on a train with some conversation and that’s it. I think that God has designed that because I think He knew otherwise I might just be too tempted to just be “busy for Him” without being “with Him.”

Nancy: And Tony Evans really agrees with that because he says he wished he had started each day with the Lord rather than just having to find time somewhere in an already overcrowded schedule. So, that’s a challenge to all of us in whatever kind of ministry the Lord has placed us in.

Another person you talked to was Ravi Zacharias.

Jon: Yes. Here’s a guy who just is incredible as a speaker, as a philosopher even, as an apologist. This is where he talks about how he wished he had had a conversation with his dad where he asked, “What was it like when you were young when you were growing up?" He can’t have that conversation now. He’s gone.

Isn’t that interesting, Nancy, that Ravi Zacharias to this day regrets that he didn’t have that conversation with his dad. Very personal.

Speaking of family, let’s move on to this clip from Gail MacDonald – great writer. You know her husband, Gordon, is also a writer as well. And the family has everything to do with her regrets.

Gail MacDonald: I think that I regret that I was such a zealous Christian when I became a Christ-follower as a teenager that I turned my family off. Instead of telling them the good that they did give me, I tried to convince them of the good they hadn’t given me to my great distress.

It took them fifteen years to listen to Gordon and I spiritually because I had done that damage. So that is definitely a regret. I think it happens to a lot of young Christians because we are like the cans on the back of the wedding car. You know, look out! Here they come. Instead of recognizing that other people don’t need our brashness.

Jon: The good news, or as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story, is that these parents did come to faith eventually. They did share life together as couples in Christ, so that was neat. But boy, that’s certainly a regret there from Gail MacDonald.

Nancy: And a sweet reminder that God is a redeeming God who is making all things new, who can overrule the consequences caused by our foolishness or our regrets. Now, some of those won’t get overruled. Some of those will be permanent. Sometimes parents don’t come to faith in Christ, or things that we have caused don’t change. But we do have a merciful God, and we’re not to wallow in these regrets but to let them press us to Christ and let God take us to the place of mercy.

And I suppose, Jon, that all of us have regrets about times when we wished we would have been quicker to hear, slower to speak, and slower to get angry. Because those angry outburst, those quick words, those times when we just miss each other because we weren’t really listening, those cause some of our greatest regrets.

And so the Scripture there speaks to us and says, “Do you want to live without regrets in this area? Then listen a lot. Don’t speak too much. And don’t be angry. Because if you are, you’re not going to accomplish the good things that God wants to do in and through you.

Jon: Here on Revive Our Hearts we’re talking to an awful lot of moms. Jan Silvious, like most moms and if I could say, dads, certainly has her regrets. Listen to what she has to say.

Jan Silvious: There are things I wish I had done differently. I think it goes back to raising my children. I wish I had been more present. I was there. I was physically there, but I was always looking for something else. I always wanted to do something beyond just being a mother. I wish I had been more focused on just being a mother.

Now, that’s easy to say after the fact. That’s easy to say because now I’m a grandmother, and I’m a very good grandmother. I’m an excellent grandmother. I think I was an average mother. So I’d like to do that again.

Nancy: Wow. And how many mothers listening today, mothers at different seasons of life, could echo what Jan said. And thankfully, now Jan is able to invest in her grandchildren in a way that she wasn’t as present with her children.

But we’ve got a lot of younger moms listening who are really hearing Jan’s words and can maybe make some choices today that will keep them from having to say with regret down the road, “I wish I had been more present in my children’s lives.”

Jon, as we were talking before the broadcast today about this issue of regrets, you talked about one in relation to your own children, something you wish you had a “do over” on.

Jon: Oh, I’ve got a lot of regrets in the way I parented, I’m sure. But the fresher one that comes to mind is when there was a small window of time, Nancy, when our children, both having graduated from Moody, were also working there. I’m there full time. And now I’ve got a son there, a daughter there. What can be more wholesome and wonderful than going to work in the morning with your kids? What a rare and privileged father I was.

Yet I confess to you that on more than one occasion I got really irritated because you had to feed the parking thing with quarters. I insisted that the little ash tray be only for quarters because that’s what the machine takes. And the kids would either take all the quarters for something else they needed, or they would stick in nickels and dimes and that wouldn’t be what I needed, and so you’d miss the train.

And I remember getting angry about that on a couple of times. I regret that. I regret that I couldn’t just say, “Would you chill out? There’s another train in twenty minutes. Can you chill on that?” But I didn’t. Instead I got angry. I regret that.

Nancy: I’ve often said to parents who have these regrets (and I don’t have biological children of my own).

Jon: Speak to me, Nancy.

Nancy: I’ve heard these stories from plenty of parents. You can’t undo that. You can’t redo it. And I’ve often said, “God can’t bless the sin of our past, but He can and He will bless a broken, repentant, contrite heart.”

And not only the way to get it cleared up with God as far as these regrets go, but in many cases it’s not too late to go back to children and say, “I see this now. I wish I’d done this differently.” The best thing is to acknowledge it when it happens, to be quick to come back and ask forgiveness.

But if those children are still alive and you’re still breathing, it’s not too late to go back and say, “Remember this? Remember that? The Lord has spoken to me about this, and I’ve asked His forgiveness. I’d like to ask your forgiveness.”

And I think there’s something, those kids know that their parents aren’t perfect. They’re not expecting perfection. But I’ll tell you what makes a huge difference. As I think back about my own dad, my own parents and the times when one or the other of them would come back and say, sometimes immediately, sometimes years later, “Would you forgive me? I was so wrong. I feel so bad about that.” And that humility that’s demonstrated there speaks volumes to those kids and can be so transformational.

So even with your adult children, let me say, it’s not too late where you have regrets. I’m not saying to wallow in those. But I think there can be freedom from some of those regrets by going back and saying, “I see this now.”

Jon: When our daughter, Lynette, was a little, little kid, she had done something wrong, and my wife, Diane, and I were trying to teach her a proper apology. You own your offense. You ask forgiveness and so on.

And we had to walk her through it—what it meant to do a proper apology. So when she finally said, “Would you please forgive me?”

I said to her, “Of course I forgive you. I’ll always forgive you, Lynette.”

It wasn’t but a month or two later where I did something that wasn’t right. I don’t remember the offense. But my wife had to point it out to me, and she said, "You should apologize to her.” So, I did.

I went into her room, and I said, “Lynette, Daddy was wrong. I was wrong for doing this. Would you please forgive me?”

And she said, “Of course I forgive you, Daddy. I’ll always forgive you.”

My very own words. I’ve never forgotten that.

Nancy: And those children do have amazing mercy and grace, as God does when we come to Him seeking forgiveness. So this pathway of humility, I think, is one of the key things in dealing with regrets.

Jon, one of the regrets that I read in here came from Joni Eareckson Tada. I want to share it because I think it’s something that applies to all of us and that is kind of at the heart of other areas of discontent and discouragement and fear and anger and evil speaking.

She talks about this whole issue of gratitude. That’s been a huge theme in our ministry and a huge theme in Joni’s life. In fact, Joni wrote the forward to my book, Choosing Gratitude. So I know this is a life message with her, and she shared really honestly about her battle in that area.

Joni Eareckson Tada: A regret. Let’s see. I have regrets that I was not more grateful—more grateful to my mom and my dad and my sisters. Gratitude now, for me, is just a way of life. I say “thank you” constantly to the many, many people who do all kinds of things for me—brush my teeth, brush my hair, give me sips of coffee, feed me lunch, undo my leg bag. I’m constantly saying "thank you."

But when I was little, when I was growing up, even when I was a teenager, especially when I was a teenager, grumbling and complaining and discontent was more the order of the day than saying “thank you.” So if I have any regrets, it’s that I did not try to cultivate a grateful spirit earlier on.

Nancy: My husband, Robert Wolgemuth, often says that on his tombstone he wants to have, “He was a grateful man.” And he lives that way. He is a grateful man. He doesn’t whine. He doesn’t like whiners. He doesn’t like whining. He’s gentle about it. He’s kind about it.

This has been so good for me in this first year of marriage to live with a man who is truly grateful and who resists whining. His life is so blessed. His spirit is such a blessing to others because of putting this into practice. And so, I think he will not have regrets along these lines as much as so many of us will.

But I relate to Joni saying it’s easier to whine than to be grateful. Now, Joni said that the Lord had changed her in this area and that she has really become a grateful person. I can attest to that over many years of knowing Joni personally. So that says that areas where we have regrets in our past are areas where we can, by God’s grace, change.

But there’s some things that can’t be changed. And I’m so glad, Jon, that you devoted a whole chapter in this book to dealing with our regrets. You asked these people if these things are done, they’re past, they’re over, how do you deal with them?

Jon: Yes, this I would say is the mother lode of the book. This is the hope. This is, I think, where a lot of people are going to say “thank you” that these kind of biblical truths were all put together by leaders I’ve known and respect in one place like this. Man, I was encouraged.

And George Verwer points out something very important though about regrets. If we’re going to understand the role they play in our lives, we have to also understand that there’s a dark side to regrets that we often don’t think about.

George Verwer: I’ve never hardly gone to bed at night with any regret not dealt with because I’ve been fed very strong on strong Christian books. And I read ages ago, “Regret is the most subtle form of self-love.” So here’s a guy that declared total war against self, Galatians 2:20. And so there’s no room for regret. I've never allowed it to be anything more than one more temptation.

I was just thinking of this girl when I was a young Christian, parked in the woods, started necking with her. The police came, caught us there. I backed up the car into a ditch instead of getting out of there. Then her father found out, and he just fused out. We then broke up. I think she then reacted and married her step brother. Humanly speaking, I’m so ashamed of that. That’s a regret that’s popped back into my mind from my teenage years. I was maybe one year in Jesus.

But it’s under the blood. I’m forgiven, and I’m going to live in the reality of forgiveness. So the regret temptation comes just like any other temptation. But praise God that even if you’re on plan B in your life or plan D, plan F. Praise God for a big alphabet. Receive God’s grace and press on.

A lot of people have had their lives filled with failure and do really well at the end, so we need to just encourage one another with that. He’s forgiven you. He knows how to work things out for good.

Plus, God often says to me, “Look, just be real.” We can’t dwell on that. We’ve got to somehow move forward. It’s a form of anxiety to dwell on our regrets and to realize we’re paying too much attention to ourselves. We need to claim God’s forgiveness and grace and press on.

Nancy: What a good word from George Verwer who’s had such a heart for the world and God has used him in such a great way in evangelism around the world reminding us that sometimes our regrets, the ones we hold onto, can be a subtle form of self-love. We’re saying God’s grace isn’t enough to deal with this.

Jon: Very convicting for me when I heard George Verwer say that. I thought that was the Holy Spirit of God using George in my life. Maybe that’s somebody else listening to Revive Our Hearts and they’re saying, “I never thought of it that way.”

Nancy: And here’s another good, practical word about dealing with regrets from Dee Brestin, author and conference speaker.

Dee Brestin: Well, definitely, we need to talk to our souls instead of listening to our souls. Like Psalm 42 says, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God” (v. 5 paraphrase). And Jesus paid for it in full. So we need to tell our soul, remind our souls of that. But also to learn from our regrets.

I think that when my husband was dying of cancer, he didn’t want me to cancel all my speaking engagements, and I wish I had. We didn’t know how long he had. But then my mother in the next two years became very frail, and I thought, I am going to be at her side. I am going to learn from this regret and not let this precious time slip away.

So we can learn from our regrets, but we mustn’t beat ourselves up because it is paid in full.

Nancy: What a good word from Dee Brestin. A good reminder. I know so many of our listeners who write to us, sometimes do beat themselves up and need to be reminded that Christ has paid the price in full.

Joe Stowell takes us kind of a similar direction. Dr. Stowell is the president of Cornerstone University, international speaker, and author. He reminds us again that Satan wants to use these regrets to defeat us. But we don’t have to let that happen.

Joe Stowell: One thing we can’t do with our regrets is go back and reverse them. They are what they are, and they are what we chose to do. And so, I think one of Satan’s great moments in our lives to defeat us and to take us down is to continue to accuse us of these things that we have done wrong.

One of the liberating things that Jesus Christ brings to us and it doesn’t make any difference how bad it was or how deep it is, His blood cleanses us. There’s an old hymn that talks about that there is a wideness to God’s mercy.

And how many times in Scripture in the midst of sin and failure, Scripture reminds us that He is a God of steadfast love, willing to forgive. To realize then that for the rest of my life I live as a forgiven failure and that I will learn from that and I will seek to help others in that and that I will love Christ deeply that He has forgiven me for that.

To know that the day is coming, one of my favorite passages, I can’t wait. The day is coming when there will be no more death and no more dying and He will wipe away every tear and every sorrow over every regret will be eliminated, and we will remember them no more. He ushered in to eternity and in His presence, where in the place of these regrets is the eternal joy of being in His fellowship without hindrance, without the possibility of ever failing again.

So I think maybe hope, that hope in the reality of Christ's forgiveness and the reality of that day that will soon be with us when everything will be erased and gone and joy will replace it, is the benefit and the reward of knowing Christ as our Savior.

Nancy: What a great encouragement.

Jon: Yes. Almost a sermon there in a couple of paragraphs from Dr. Stowell.

Nancy: So, regret turned to hope. The day coming when there will be no more failure. And in the meantime, we can live as forgiven failures. I love that.

Kay Arthur has shared very openly about her failures of the past, regrets that she has had. But God has used His Word to bring her freedom from regret. Here’s what she had to say to you.

Kay Arthur: First of all, you’re talking to a woman that was religious, that was married, that was divorced, that was immoral, that was saved. You’re talking to a woman, and I’m just being very blunt about it, whose son saw her be immoral, I mean my oldest son. You’re talking to a woman that has dealt with a lot of pain.

But you know one of the things that I’ve learned is I’m not to live with “if only’s.” I cannot change the past, but I can change the future. I cannot recover anything from the past. God can redeem it. My job is to know my God.

I would tell those people, if you’re putting your head on the pillow and living with those doubts and you haven’t been in the Word of God . . . I’m not talking about a verse from a devotion. I’m talking about knowing, I mean, knowing the Old Testament, knowing God. Paul says, “Forgetting those things that are behind . . . I press forward towards the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14 paraphrased).

We don’t let the past cripple us because Jesus is the Redeemer. And He redeems us from everything. And so, Paul says, “Forgetting those things that are behind, I press forward.” He says, “I count it all joy.” So if I’m living with regrets in my life, then I’m denying the sovereignty of God that rules even over my mistakes and my flaws.

Nancy: I don’t know where God may find you as you’ve been hearing this discussion today about regrets, but chances are some things have surfaced. Maybe there’s some of those that you need to go back to another person who was involved and confess that you’ve failed and seek forgiveness, particularly as you think about family members. Maybe it was something that just happened this morning. You don’t want it to become a regret. You can go back and deal with it now.

But regardless of what kind of regret it is, get to God’s Word. Get to His grace. Get to the cross. Get to His forgiveness. Live in the hope and the promises that we’ve heard about from these speakers and authors.

Jon, I’m so grateful that you’ve written this book. I’m grateful that you’ve tackled this subject with the theme of regrets. We all have them. We all need the gospel—to preach the gospel to ourselves when it comes to these regrets. I’m thankful that you’ve compiled this helpful, small, hardcover book sharing the lessons that these leaders have learned.

If I Could Do It All Over Again is the title of the book. We want to make it available to all our listeners this week as our way of saying “thank you” when you send a gift to help with the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. It’s a way of our investing in you and helping you to grow in your walk with Christ, helping women to experience freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. I believe this book will be a great little tool, not only for yourself, but for someone that you may want to share it with, as well.

Give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. Let us know that you’d like to make a donation to support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Then be sure and let us know that you’d like to have a copy of Jon’s book, If I Could Do It All Over Again. I think you’ll find it a huge encouragement as you think through your past and your future.

If you’ve missed any of these conversations with Jon Gauger, you can hear them or read the transcripts at ReviveOurHearts.com. If you scroll down to the bottom of those transcripts, you’ll find a place where you can enter comments. We call it our listener blog. If you have some regrets or some ways that the Lord has helped you deal with those regrets, we encourage you to go to the bottom of today’s program and just make a note, make a comment there. Share out of your own journey. God can use you to be a means of hope and grace to some of our other listeners.

Be sure and join us on our next Revive Our Hearts because we’re going to be talking with Jon about some questions he asked these leaders about eternity, about heaven, and about what they’d like to have on their tombstone. Important things for us to think about as we consider where our lives are headed as well. Be sure and join us on the next Revive Our Hearts.

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

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