Living Life Without Regret

Paul in prison 3Background Passages: II Timothy 4:6-7; Philippians 3:2-14; Acts 7:58-60; Acts 9:1-22

The difference between night and day.
Negligible in the grand scheme.

Night.
A visual nothingness.
The kind of darkness
where imagination resides as the only frame of reference.
Where the mind conjures its demons.

Day.
A shade of deepest black,
lightened by the faint glow
filtering around the edges of the iron plate
covering the portal in the
ceiling of his prison cell.

Days upon days.
Months upon months.
A year?
A lifetime?
Time lost its meaning.

Paul sat.
Back against the damp wall of his dungeon.
Shivering beneath frayed clothes
devoured by time and the surrounding
rot and rock.
Body ravished by sores.
Skin raw and with infection
beneath the rusty iron chains
locked around wrists and ankles.

What his eyes could not see,
his ears could hear.
His nose could smell.
His mouth could taste.

The steady drip of water seeping
through the limestone walls.
The ragged breathing in his chest.
The moans of the criminal chained to his side.
The stench of
death and disease.
The foul odor of the sewer in which he slept.
The bitter taste of the air he breathed.
Of the soiled and stale bread he ate
for his only meal of the day.

Paul knew.
Rome’s most hellish prison was his
final home on earth.

Time…
his only competition.
Memory…
his only conversation.
Faith…
his only companion.

Months passed since he last heard from Onesiphorus.
A brother in the faith who had
scoured the city to find him.
A brother in purpose
who had offered brief, but bold words of encouragement.
A brother in heart
who bribed a guard to pass along parchment
to write a final message to Paul’s dearest friend.

Paul remembered…
life before he encountered Christ.
“Circumcised on the eight day exactly as the law required.
Of the people of Israel Of the tribe of Benjamin.
A Hebrew of Hebrews.
In regard to the law, a Pharisee.
As for zeal, persecuting the church.
As for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”

Paul recalled…
standing at the edge of the crowd.
Their outer garments piled around his feet.
Watching with a gleam of pride in his eyes as they hurled
stones at Stephen.
Cold in rage at Stephen’s plea to God to
forgive those who were killing him.

Paul reminisced…
pleading before the high priest.
Begging to bring righteous justice
upon people of The Way.
Those who lived in Damascus under the banner of Jesus Christ.
Leaving with his soldiers the following morning
“breathing out murderous threats”
against the followers of Christ.

Paul reveled…
in the memory of the blinding light.
The challenging voice.
“Why do you persecute me?”
Blinded by the truth of his own guilt.
Stung by the voice of Christ.
Awakened to the unmerited forgiveness of God
graciously offered that turned his
passion for persecution into a
firestorm of faith.

Paul reflected…
on his life spent sharing the good news of Christ’s salvation
extended to Jew and Gentile alike.
On the constant reminders of the Holy Spirit’s
guidance and direction throughout his ministry.
On God’s sustaining power through times of
problem and promise.

Paul knew…
his days were numbered.
His delivery from this cell would be by
spirit alone.

In the darkness of his prison,
Paul smiled a smile seen only by God.
By the thin light of a waning candle, he
scribbled on the parchment
words of hope and joy
that would escape the
depths of a dungeon.

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering.
The time has come for my departure.
I have fought the good fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith.
Now is in store for me
the crown of righteousness
which the Lord will reward to me on that day…”

*

Of all people,
Paul had reason to regret.
Consider his arrogant attitudes.
Lives he haunted and ruined.
People he persecuted in a planned
attack on all who would proclaim
Jesus as Lord.
Yet, he remembered his life, not for the …
misguided beliefs or misaligned purposes.
The hurtful things done or the helpful things left undone.
The bitter things said or loving things unsaid.
The hearts broken or hearts never touched.

Paul remembered his life as one forgiven;
his life forged in the crucible of his Damascus
encounter with the Living Lord.
His Lord.

Funny thing about God’s forgiveness.
A repentant heart finds every fault laid at the feet of Jesus
swept away and forgotten.
When we set aside that which God forgave,
he sets before us a new task.
A new work designed to spread the
good news of Christ to a
world desperately in need of
God’s good news.

Regret prevents us from opening ourselves to the
possibilities of God at work within us.
Leaving us feeling unworthy of his faith in us
to do what he called us to do.

Living life without regret means
surrendering all to him…
Our past.
Our now.
Our tomorrow.

Surrendering all to him…
Our bad.
Our indifference.
Our good.

Surrendering all to him allows us to try to do
what Paul tried to do each day:
“…forgetting what is past and
straining toward what is ahead.”

Paul sets before us a wonderful example of
living life without regret.
May we look back on our lives
content in the knowledge that we…
Fought the good fight,
Finished the race,
Kept the faith.

No worries.
No fears.
No regrets.

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