This is the fourth sermon in a series called, “Restoration.” The basic premise of the series is that God can take what is broken, worn-out, and seemingly beyond repair, and restore the broken pieces and parts into something new and beautiful. So far, we have talked about God restoring our hearts and our broken relationships. Today, we’re talking about God restoring our fortunes.
I suspect just about everybody knows who Frank Sinatra is. Probably his most famous song was, “My Way.” In fact, he referred to it as America’s second national anthem. This is the second verse…
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I don’t know if Sinatra intended to be autobiographical, or if he was just singing the words to a song that people liked. But, in spite of his great success, fame and wealth, if you look closer at his life story, you discover that he had more than a few things to regret – multiple failed marriages, multiple publicized affairs, arrests, associations with the Mafia, and bad press, just to name a few.
I’m not condemning or judging Frank – far from it. Who am I to judge? My point is that few of us can say we only have a few regrets.
A regret is defined as, “a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.” Who, of us doesn’t feel sadness? Who of us hasn’t experienced disappointment? Who of us doesn’t have something to repent?
In fact, Scripture is pretty clear that we all do…
- “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
- “If we claim to be without sin,we deceive ourselves.” (1 John 1:8)
- “A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17)
Who hasn’t made mistakes; missed opportunities; experienced disappointment; suffered loss and set-backs; failed; sinned? Nobody!
You don’t get through this life without regrets. I regret…
- Not taking my college education more seriously.
- Not having a closer relationship with my father.
- Not being a better parent.
- Losing some valuable friendships.
- Not developing a routine and habit of exercise and healthy living at an early age.
- So many dumb, irresponsible things I’ve done.
- Things I’ve said, or should have said. But, now it’s too late.
- I even regret some missed opportunities in my ministry.
If we don’t have regrets, then I think we’re in denial.
But, when we draw close to God, there’s no avoiding it. We can’t help but face the regrets.
Think about Isaiah, who saw a vision of God in the Temple, seated high and lofty. Isaiah’s immediate response was an awareness of his sinfulness, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). One day Jesus stepped into the boat of a man named Simon, who had spent the entire night fishing, but had not caught a single fish. Jesus said, “push out the boat away, and throw in your net.” The net gathered a miraculous catch of fish. Simon immediately hit his knees, right on the deck of his boat, saying, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).
I think there are two categories of regrets.
The first comes from a line in a commonly known prayer of confession, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done…”
Sometimes we have regrets about what we have done. Sometimes we have regrets for things we failed to do. Either way, we know we are the responsible party for our regrets.
The second category is a simple edit of the first – “Those things OTHERS ought not to have done…”
Here is a fact – there are consequences to all of our actions and inactions. There are consequences to our sin. Obviously, sin impacts my relationship with God. It also affects me. But, sin also has consequences for others. Think about the Ten Commandments. Commandment 5 through 10 relate to the impact our sins can have on our neighbors. Thus, some of our regrets are a result of our own action or inaction, whereas other regrets are as a result of someone else’s sin. …
- Think about the ugly, mean words that have been spoken to you, or about you.
- Maybe there has been a lack of love and support from your parents or a spouse.
- Maybe something or someone you love has been taken away from you.
- Maybe you have experienced betrayals and broken trust.
- Perhaps you are the victim of some form of injustice.
The point is, whether we’ve caused our regrets, or we regret what’s been done to us, we all have regrets.
So, what can we do about it? Are we just stuck feeling this way? Or, can God help us?
Donald Miller writes, “When something happens to you, you have two choices in how to deal with it. You can either get bitter, or get better.”
As we talk about regret, I think it would be helpful to also talk about guilt and shame. The words, are related, but different. Guilt means that I’ve done something wrong. Shame means that there is something wrong with me.
Here’s an example. Imagine that I drive to fast. Imagine that I get pulled over by a Coral Springs Police Officer for speeding. He shows me the radar gun, that clocked me going 20 miles over the speed limit. I’m guilty. There’s no denying it. I’m guilty of exceeding the speed limit and breaking the law. That’s guilt.
Shame would say I speed because there is something wrong with me. I speed because I am a speeder. I am the kind of person who speeds. I am impatient. I am too aggressive. I don’t care about the law or public safety. My speeding is a symptom of my speeding shamefulness.
Most of us know that Jesus carried the guilt of our sin to the cross. But, we forget the cross also heals our sense of shame. Lent is a great time to confess and admit our guilt and our shame. According to Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Now here is where regret comes in. We confuse shame and regret. The cross sets us free from guilt and shame. But, there is no escaping the consequences of my sin in this life. If I get caught speeding, I will have to pay a ticket, have points added to my record, go to driving school, and have my insurance rates go up. I regret the mess I have made by driving too fast.
But, watch this. It is possible that I learn something from my getting a ticket. Maybe I feel bad about my irresponsible driving. And, maybe the cost of the ticket and the driving school make an impression on me, that leads to me being a better, safe, more responsible driver. Then I don’t just regret getting a speeding ticket. I would regret that. But, some good – my improved driving – has come as a result.
Regret is healthy and honest. Regret acknowledges wrong that’s been done. But, that’s not the same as shame. Whatever your regrets might be, God can actually take the brokenness of our past, and restore your fortunes.
Before we move on, let me ask you, what are your regrets? What shame are you carrying? What memories haunt you?
The phrase, “restore our fortunes” comes from Psalm 126,
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
Psalm 126 was probably written about 500 years before Jesus was born. The Israelites were returning to their homeland, after 70 years of slavery and captivity in Babylon. 70 years prior, the Babylonian armies invaded and utterly destroyed everything – homes, cities, orchards, vineyards, groves, Jerusalem and the Temple. People were led away as captives.
They had been released and were going home. But, they were returning to rubble and wasteland. And, it was their own fault – a result of their straying from God. Many had been born during those 70 years of captivity and into that communal regret. They would always feel regret about those years of captivity, the loss of what had been, and the shame they had experienced.
But, now God was doing something new. They were going home. Dreams were coming true. They had been carried away as weeping captives, but they were returning, singing songs of joy. Someday, the surrounding nations would say, “The Lord has done great things for them.” And, as they returned, they prayed, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord.”
We often associate the word “fortune” with financial wealth. We say that millionaires are worth a fortune. We say the lottery winners win a fortune. It is about financial gain, potentially. But, it is bigger than that.
Think about the relationship of the word “fortune” with the words “fortunate” or “unfortunate,” or the phrases, “good fortune” or “bad fortune”. Maybe you go to fortune teller to tell you about your future. At Chinese restaurants, they bring you a fortune cookie with your bill, with a little slip of paper that tells you some good thing is going to happen to you – but never does.
“Restore our fortunes, Lord,” is simply asking God for a better future – whatever that might mean. It doesn’t erase the regret or consequences of the past. But it is the hopeful belief that God can take our biggest regrets, and redeem them; that it is never too late to live the abundant life that Jesus came to give us. As the Psalmist wrote, even with regrets, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.”
I don’t think there is a verse of Scripture that I quote more often than Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” I also like The Message translation of that verse, “We can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”
All things. Every detail. Not just the good things. Not just the godly things. Not just the things we like. All things – every detail.
Think about your biggest regrets. Dare we believe that God can take the very worst things we have done, or that have been done to us, and use them for something good?
- Former addicts, at Alcoholics Anonymous, becoming sponsors to guide addicts who are new to recovery.
- Victims of sexual assault, who have been healed from their trauma, offering help to more recent victims.
- Convicts, using their incarceration as time to turn their lives around; getting education, and training, and possibly even finding Jesus.
- Older vets helping younger vets who struggle to re-enter this world after war.
- Those who have grieved helping those who are now grieving.
- Or, the wisdom that comes from accumulated life experiences – good and bad.
Think about the horror and ugliness of the cross, where Jesus died a death he did not deserve to die, and the beauty of our redemption.
God causes all things to work together for good – every regret, every detail. That doesn’t mean that what happened wasn’t horrific – nothing can change that. It doesn’t mean that God causes bad things to happen. But, God doesn’t let any opportunity go to waste to redeem and restore what is so terribly broken.
Brennan Manning, who was a Catholic priest for years and an alcoholic, in and out of recovery, once wrote, “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark (substitute regrets). In admitting my shadow-side (substitute regrets, again) I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”
Wherever you have been, whatever you have done, whatever has been done to you, whatever pain you have carried or are carrying; however horrible, tragic, embarrassing, foolish, or shameful your past may seem; God has a better future for you. And, God doesn’t just erase the past. God actually use the details of your life – good and bad – to create something new and beautiful.
So, what are your regrets? What are your regrets?
Restore our fortunes, O Lord.