Revive Our Hearts Podcast

If I Could Do It All Over Again, with Jon Gauger, Day 6

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth suggests a resolution for this year. Whatever you’re doing, do it with all your heart.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: So if it’s time to party, then party! If it’s time to vacation, then vacation. If it’s time to work, then work. These are not wasted moments if they’re given up, offered up, for the glory of God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Wednesday, January 11, 2017.

Nancy: We’ve been talking, over the last several days, about this fun little book by Jon Gauger. Well, I don’t know if it’s fun. It’s interesting, it’s challenging, it’s probing: If I Could Do It All Over Again: Christian Leaders Share the Most Important Lessons of Their Lives.

This book is available. We’re offering it through our resource center here at Revive Our Hearts this week for a donation for any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Just call us at 1–800–569–5959. Let us know that you’d like to make a donation to the ministry, and then be sure to request a copy of If I Could Do It All Over Again.

Go to ReviveOurHearts.com, if you’d like to make your donation or if you’d like to hear the earlier parts of this series, if you’re just catching it for the first time. The interview with the author, Jon Gauger, last week, was a fascinating one. We heard clips from people like Michael W. Smith, Joni Eareckson Tada, Tony Evans, and others. I think that will be of interest to you.

When a friend of mine heard that I was doing this series with my response to If I Could Do It All Over Again, she sent me some notes from a speaking event she had where she talked about some of the most common regrets of people who were dying.

This list came from a combination of input that she got from a hospice care nurse who had talked with some of her patients, and also conversations that my friend, Margaret, has had with people who have cancer. She compiled all this, and here are seven things that are common regrets of the dying.

  • “I wish I had stayed in touch with old friends.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t held grudges.”
  • “I wish I had said ‘I love you’ more often, even if that love wasn’t returned.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t worried so much.”
  • “I wish I’d been more grateful.”
  • “I wish had not been controlled by fear.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

As I look at that list, I think, those are exactly some of the things that were said as we talked in this room a few moments ago—about what you would want to do less of or more of if you could live your life over again.

Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” So that addresses this whole issue of end-of-life regrets. As we think about deathbed regrets, things we wish we had done differently, I want to read to you a paragraph in a book by one of my favorite authors.

His name is Mark DeMoss; he’s my brother. He’s written a terrific book called The Little Red Book of Wisdom. This book is a book of short chapters. Half of them are wisdom for your professional life; the other half is short chapters of wisdom for your personal life. I love this little book!

The title of one chapter is "Anticipate Deathbed Regrets: Take Steps Now to Avoid Regrets Later in Life." Very practical, very wise! Here’s what my brother, Mark, says:

Even in high school I could see that while a person can only live a day at a time, life tallies—and one day presents us with—the sum of our actions. Clearly my father’s early death shaped my thoughts here. With that in mind, I began to notice when someone around me tried to reverse a harmful habit or lifestyle—the open-heart surgery survivor counting cholesterol, the newly-divorced father leaving work early for restricted time with his kids—it made sense to me, though I was only in high school, that if a young man were aware of adults’ most common regrets, he might try to avoid them. 

And that’s what my brother did. As a teenager, he set out in every area of his life to say, “If I don’t want these to be regrets when I die, let’s start now thinking about how to make sure that’s not the case.”

Make decisions now that you will be glad you made later! 

And Mark is one of the wisest people I know, so he has done that really effectively.

As Jon Gauger, the author of this book, was interviewing me on this subject for this book, here’s a question he asked. He said, “People hear you on the radio, and they’re quite convinced you’ve got it all together.” Then he said, “Let me ask you, what regrets haunt you every once in a while? What nags at your heart?”

And, again, depending on the day, I might answer that question differently. But here’s what I said to Jon when he asked me that question: When I get reflective, quiet, still enough long enough to think about these kinds of things, here are the two things I would say:

  • I regret that I haven’t loved better, that I haven’t loved more . . . that I’ve been more demanding and critical of others and not as gracious and loving and receiving of others as God has been of me.

Now, when we have that critical spirit, that narrow spirit toward others, it’s really an expression of pride saying, “I don’t need God’s grace; I don’t need anybody else’s grace.” But you are a mess, forgetting that we’re all messes who desperately need God’s grace!

Seeing ourselves humbly, as in need of God’s mercy and grace, is what I think can give us that loving approach to people. If I have a regret, that would be one of them . . . that I haven’t loved better!

  • The second one would be, all the time that I’ve wasted—so many hours, so many moments that add up to hours, and hours that add up to days—not living life intentionally.

It’s not that I don’t spend a lot of hours living intentionally. I do. It’s not that I don’t spend a lot of time being productive. I do. But, I think about—in the course of any given day—how many moments . . . half-hours . . . hours . . . are spent just being whiled away, wasted, not used carefully or wisely.

Sometimes I think about where I might be in my walk with the Lord today, in my knowledge of Scripture, how much more fruitful I might have been, how many more lives I might have touched in a personal way, if those hours and those days had been used more wisely.

Now, I want to be careful. This isn’t to say that I believe or that Scripture teaches that every moment of a Christian’s life should be spent in activity that can be accounted for in some worldly sense of productivity.

But I do mean that, even in the time that we are just enjoying the company of others, I want to be intentional about that—about focusing on others—not being distracted, not multitasking with my phone in my hand while people are standing there being ignored.

So it’s whatever I’m doing, to be “all there.” Not just thinking about the “next thing,” not zoning out, not escaping mentally, but being all there, in the moment, with the people in the places where God has placed me.

So if it’s time to party, then party! If it’s time to vacation, then vacation. If it’s time to work, then work. And just know what is the time and the season to all things God has assigned times and seasons—and to be more sensitive to what that is. 

Then whether they’re vacation or a mealtime or just sweet conversation with your mate or phone calls with your kids, these are not wasted moments, if they’re given up—offered up—for the glory of God.

So now as I’m in my late fifties . . . And, boy, doesn’t time go fast? Don’t the years go fast? I remember being eighteen, or sixteen, or fourteen, and thinking, That is so old! I’ll never get there! Wow, how fast it happened!

If I could have a do-over (which we can’t), if I could go back and do it again (which we can’t), I would like to be more intentional, more purposeful, about how I spend and steward the moments and the hours that the Lord has entrusted to me.

I can’t go back and do it again, but—as I said yesterday—I can make choices today with that in mind.

Let me read to you something else that my brother Mark wrote in this Little Red Book of Wisdom. He said,

Ultimately, we are what we do every day. What defines us is not one large intention to be a good person or parent; it’s a hundred-thousand ongoing choices of every size that arise when we’re tired, satisfied, distracted, full of ourselves, threatened, happy, reactionary, sentimental, hurried, bored, etc. It’s those little moments, those everyday choices, actions that ultimately determine who we are.

The ticking clock intimidates us—even frightens us. But, while time is unforgiving, God is not. What lies behind us is gone, and consequences are inevitable. But God is in the business of redemption, and we can still give Him the years we have.

Don’t you love that? I’m so thankful. That’s a word of grace.

My dad had a little paperweight on his desk that I now have in my possession, just a little marble piece with a plaque on it that says this little piece of verse (I’m sure you’ve heard it): “Only one life, 'twill soon be past . . .” It will soon be past!. When I used to see that on my dad’s desk, I didn’t imagine that this life could soon be past. But now I know. It will soon be past. 

Only one life, 'twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.

I guess conversations like this make me think of my dad. He’s now been with the Lord for many years. I think back on his life and the things that I learned from him, and the legacy that I want to leave.

My dad’s life verse was Acts 20:24, which reads this way—the apostle Paul says, “I don’t account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” 

Paul is saying, “When my life is said and done, this is all that matters. This is what I want to have been true—that I did what God put me here on this earth to do, that I fulfilled my calling. That I didn’t just wander aimlessly through this earth, letting life just carry me along in its stream (as most people do). And, also, that I didn’t fret and stress about things over which I had no control, but that I was intentional and purposeful in trusting the Lord, looking to the Lord, walking in His Spirit, following the leading of His Spirit.” And none of us does that perfectly.

None of us does that close to perfectly. None of us does it as we will wish we had done. But I think this kind of thinking and this kind of conversation and dialogue can help us be more tuned to what God is saying, what He is doing, and how He wants to use our lives.

I started out yesterday’s program by reading to you some of Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions. I want to read just a few more of those to you today, because in those resolutions you see a theme. Edwards purposed (he wrote these as a teenager) to live in light of the end—to live in light of his death.

Here are a few examples: Jonathan Edwards said:

I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live if they were to live their lives over again; therefore, resolved, that I will live just as I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

Now that’s wisdom! That’s what my brother Mark was saying, that we can’t go back and reclaim it. Consequences are inevitable, but God’s in the business of redemption, and we can still give Him the years that we have.

So, Edwards said, “I hear all these old people say, ‘I wish I could go over and do this again.’ I’m resolved, I’m going to live now—while I’m eighteen—in a way that I will wish I had done when I’m seventy.” (Or whatever old age may be for you.)

Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. 

When it’s time to die, will I have lived the way I wish I had? So he says, “I’m going to choose to live that way now.” He purposed to live in light of eternity. He said it this way,

Resolved, that I will act so, as I think I shall judge would have been best, when I come into the future world. 

So, when I see the Lord, will I have lived in the way that—in light of His presence—I will think would have been the best way to have lived?

Well, that leads me to a couple of other questions that Jon Gauger asked in our conversation. (He included responses to these questions in this book.) He asked, “What do you want on your tombstone?” Now, I don’t know if I have any say over that. This is not, so to speak, chiseled in rock yet.

But here are two things that I think I certainly would want to be the spirit of the legacy of my life: Number one is, “handmaiden” or “bondservant of the Lord.” Those two words mean the same thing. That thought comes from my life verse (if I have one). Some of you have heard me talk about this in the past, Luke 1:38.

Remember that account when the angel comes to tell Mary that her life is about to be upended—and turned upside down and inside out—and that God has a plan and a purpose for her life that is humanly impossible! As a teenage girl, young teenager probably, she is going to be the mother of the Messiah!

And Mary’s response, after saying, “How can this be, this is impossible!” The angel tells here that God’s Spirit is going to do this in her and through her. Mary’s response in Luke 1:38 is what I want to be my life-long response to the Lord.

She said, “I am the Lord’s servant [I’m the handmaiden, the bondservant] of the Lord; may it be to me as you have said.” It’s really just a way of saying, “Yes, Lord!” I’d like to think, at the end of my life, that my life had been lived as the servant—the slave, the handmaiden—of the Lord, and that whatever He wanted me to do, whatever He assigned to me—no matter how hard it might have seemed, no matter how laborious it might have seemed, no matter how thankless a task may have been—that my response would have been, “Yes, Lord! I am Your servant. May it be to me as You have said.”

Not just in the things I do, but in the things I receive as from the hand of the Lord, to say, “I receive whatever You have for my life—whatever Your choice is." Whether that’s singleness or marriage; whether it’s children or not.” Now, “not” is the answer to that question, at this season of my life. I don’t believe I’m going to have biological children. But when I was a young woman, that was one of the things that saying “Yes, Lord” meant.

“Lord, if you want me to be married, I’ll be married. If you want me to be single, I’ll be single. I’ll serve you either way. If you want me to have children—a lot of children, a few children, no children—may it be to me as You have said. Whatever You want me to do, wherever you want me to live, wherever You want me to go . . .”

When Robert and I were courting (now, I know this may not sound really romantic—it was romantic) . . . When it came down to it, as we talked about God’s will for him as a widower, in that season of his life, and for me as a then fifty-seven-year-old woman, in that season of my life, it came down to, “What is the Lord’s calling? What is He saying to us? What is His will?”

We prayed, we sought the Lord, we fasted, we asked counsel, we stayed in His Word, we talked a lot. But it ultimately came down to, “Is God calling me to switch from that calling I’ve had as a single servant of the Lord for all these years and take on the responsibilities, the joys and the challenges, and the distractions that Paul says will be true of marriage? Is that what’s God calling me to?” I had never, ever envisioned this for my life.

When Robert said, “I want you to have the wedding of your dreams!”

I said, “Honey, I’ve never dreamed of a wedding!” (laughter)

Now, some of you think that’s crazy—and maybe it is—but it came down to this (this has been at the warp and woof of my life): “What does God want for my life?” And now that we are married and there is all of that calling there—the joys, the blessings—this is an amazing man . . .

But there are days when you think, You know, I could use some more time here to work on this or that. Then I counsel my heart, and I remember, “God called you to this. This is your assignment for this season. This is your number one relational priority in life, so say, ‘Yes, Lord!’”—capital “L” God, and lower case “l” for Robert, lord, husband.

“Yes. May it be to me as God has said!” I want to be the handmaiden of the Lord!

I suppose the other thing I might want to wish could be chiseled into my legacy—perhaps on a tombstone—would be, “She loved Jesus and others well.” I don’t know if it will be on my tombstone. It doesn’t really matter, because my goal in life isn’t to live in such a way that others will march past my tombstone. 

But I do want to live in such a way that my life will have made an impact on people. That’s what you want, to make an impact on your children, your grandchildren, your friends—people who you don’t even know you’re influencing.

I want my legacy when it’s all said and done to be, “She loved Jesus and others well.” Do you notice what isn’t in any of that? I don’t really have any aspirations about my legacy being, “She built a large ministry; she wrote twenty-some books; she could teach the Bible well.”

I want to teach the Bible well. I love doing that! That’s part of my calling, but when it’s all said and done, I think the things that matter most to me, or that will matter most to me, or that should matter most to me will be having been faithful to whatever God put on my plate to do; and being a lover—loving Jesus and others well.

If somebody had asked Paul, “What do you want on your tombstone?”—he might have answered with 2 Timothy 4:6–8. It was something he wrote toward the very end of his life when he knew the end was near. He said,

I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Doesn’t that give us a heartbeat that we want to live for—a cadence that we want to march to—to be able to say words like that? “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. I have loved the Lord. And in that final day, the Lord will be my reward.”

As we talk about all these things, we—all of us—cannot help but have some regrets, no matter what age we are. One of the questions Jon Gauger asked was, “What do you do with regrets?” We all have them. And just a few comments about that, because those regrets weigh heavily on us at times for all of us.

We thank God for grace! We go back to the cross. We preach the gospel to ourselves, and we realize: 

  • I am not the Christ!
  • I am a sinner who needs a Savior—and thank God, I have a Savior. 
  • I’m so grateful that God has not dealt with me according to my sins or as I deserve.
  • I’m so grateful for His mercy, for His grace for each step, each day of my life. 
  • I’m so grateful that at the very point of my failures—my lack of discipline in so many areas of my life, habits that I wish were different, and all of who I am with my failures, faults, flaws, sins, weaknesses—I can take it to Him, to the cross. 

I can be thankful that He took all that sin, all that failure, all that weakness on Himself and that He has clothed me, in exchange, with His righteousness. Jesus never failed to please God 100 percent of every waking and sleeping moment! He never failed to say that which would give honor and glory to God.

I’ve failed so many times. But I give Him my failure, and He gives me, in exchange, His righteousness. I remind myself, as I think about regrets, that the sum total of my life or your life—when it’s said and done—will not be about how well we performed, how well we lived up to our goals, how perfectly or successfully we overcame our bad habits or our sinful patterns. When it’s said and done, the sum total will be Christ and Christ alone, my righteousness! He took my sin, He who had no sin, He took it on Himself. And that is the only basis on which I will ever be able to stand before God without shame or regret!

When I stand before Him, what will I say? Not, “Oh, I did all these things for You. I was such a good, helpful servant of Yours. Oh Lord, I wrote all these books—did You read them?” (laughter) No! What I’ll say is, “Thank You for receiving me into Your presence. It’s all because of Jesus! It’s all what He did.”

So every day of my life between here and then, I have to preach that gospel back to myself and live in the constant conscious awareness that Christ is my life. He is my righteousness, and He is my only hope—in life and death!”

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been giving us wise, useful insights for a new year. She was moved to teach this series when she was interviewed by Jon Gauger for a book he wrote. It’s called: If I Could Do It All Over Again: Christian Leaders Share the Most Important Lessons of Their Lives.

In this book, John interviews leaders like: Tony Evans, Michael Card, Kay Arthur—and many more. As these thinkers look back over their lives and reflect on what they’d do differently, you’ll learn from their example.

We’d like to send you the book, If I Could Do It All Over Again, when you help keep Revive Our Hearts coming to you over the radio and podcasts. Your donation makes it possible. When you provide a gift of any amount, we’ll say "thanks" by sending the book. Ask for it when you donate by phone. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Tomorrow, Nancy will call you to play a role in protecting those people who are most vulnerable and most at risk. I hope you can join us for Revive Our Hearts. Here’s Nancy, to close in prayer.

Nancy: Thank you, Lord, for these reminders to my own heart—and to our hearts. Thank You that You did it all for us. We can’t do it again, but You did it all for us, so this day we can live in the resurrection power of Christ, filled with your Holy Spirit, making choices and priorities, and living our lives in a way that is honoring to You.

And when we blow it (which we will before tomorrow), we’ll come back to the cross. We’ll come back humbly and say, “I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee. Bless me now, my great Savior and Redeemer!” Glorify Yourself in and through our lives. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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

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