Author Erwin Lutzer said, “Five minutes after you die, you will either have had your first glimpse of heaven with its euphoria and bliss or your first genuine experience of unrelenting horror and regret. Either way, your future will be irrevocably fixed and eternally unchangeable. In those first moments, you will be more alive than you ever have been. Vivid memories of your friends and your life on planet Earth will be mingled with daunting anticipation of eternity. You will have had your first direct glimpse of Christ or your first encounter with evil as you have never known it. And it will be too late to change your address.”
How do you feel about facing God? For those of us who have experienced the grace of Jesus Christ, the thought of eternity should thrill us. Instead, it terrorizes many of us. Why?
1. The Reality of Spiritual Regrets
Some might argue that many professing Christians have not been genuinely born again and therefore are fearful of eternity. My pastoral experience confirms that there are indeed many tares sown among the wheat.
Others might reason that it is natural to fear the unknown. Since the Bible only gives us a sketch of what heaven is going to be like, it is understandable that we might be somewhat fearful of life on the other side of the grave. No argument there, either.
But I am convinced that one reason the thought of our inevitable death and confrontation with God terrifies many of us is because of that negging sensation that we haven’t been obedient enough to please God.
For many of us:
- Our prayer times are sporadic.
- We can count on one hand the number of people we have won to Christ.
- The only thing more embarrassing than our lack of knowledge about the Bible is our lack of interest in the Bible.
- We have at least one secret sin in our life that we are unwilling to surrender—regardless of what God says or thinks.
No wonder we are less than enthusiastic over the prospect of meeting God and listening to His evaluation of our lives. It would be very easy at this juncture to head in the direction of God’s grace. “You can never do enough to earn God’s forgiveness. The reason Christ came to die on the cross was to make up for your deficiencies. The grace of God means there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less than He already does.” As true as those statements are, however, they do not erase the reality of regret that many Christians will feel five minutes after they die.
Look at what Paul said about the subject of rewards for believers at the judgment seat of Christ. Scripture teaches us in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 about the possibility of rewards and the probability of regret.
Three Truths About Spiritual Regrets
- Every Christian’s life will be evaluated by Christ.
- Some Christians will experience greater rewards than others in heaven.
- Some Christians will experience real, measurable loss because of their lack of faithfulness.
2. The Four Most Common Spiritual Regrets
Allow me to rephrase a popular question used in evangelism training: “If you were to stand before God and He were to ask you, ‘What do you regret about your spiritual life?’ what would you say?” Most of us don’t have to wait until heaven to answer that question. We can list our regrets right now.
- “ I Wish I had become a Christian or I wish I had become serious about my walk with God earlier in life.”
Two Words To Remember
- Justification (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- Theologically, the word describes the legal action by which God took your sins—all of them—and laid them on His Son, and He took the righteousness of His Son and bestowed it upon you.
- Sovereignty (Psalm 139:16)
- The word refers to God’s plan for your life that was formulated before the world began. God’s sovereign plan for your life includes every choice, every circumstance, and every mistake of your life.
- “I wish I had spent more time praying and reading the Bible.”
This is a common lament among many Christians—the lack of a consistent devotional life. It is an understandable regret.
Think about the hours you may have wasted watching television programs you can no longer remember, reading the newspaper whose headlines have quickly faded into insignificance, or playing games on your smartphone or computer. Imagine what a spiritual dynamo you would be today if you had invested those hours in strengthening your relationship with God.
If you regret your lack of consistency in your devotional time, let me suggest a simple program that Robert Foster advocates in his booklet Seven Minutes With God. Foster suggests that you commit to spending seven minutes—no more and no less—each morning in a sacred, unbreakable appointment with God.
Spending Seven Minutes With God
- Prayer – The first 30 seconds should be spent in a brief prayer, thanking God for a restful night and asking that He make your heart responsive to the next few minutes.
- Scripture – The next four minutes should be spent reading Scripture, not for the purpose of study but for application. Ask yourself the question, “What does God want me to do differently because of the truth I am reading?”
- Prayer – The final two and one-half minutes should be devoted to prayer that is balanced between adoration (praising God for His attributes), confession of sin, thanksgiving for His blessings, and supplication (requests).
- “I wish I had done more to serve God.”
Several years ago, at a gathering in Washington DC, Tony Campolo persuaded thousands of collegians to become involved in ministry with this challenge: “The average person spends 20 hours a week watching television. Will you commit to spending just three hours a month visiting the elderly in the nursing home, teaching a Bible study, or working in some other form of ministry?”
- “I regret not doing more to encourage my children’s spiritual growth.”
Many years ago, I conducted one of the saddest funerals in my entire pastoral history. A six-year-old boy was run over by a car as he darted across the street in front of his house to retrieve a soccer ball.
But what made this service particularly tragic was the regret the father felt about his lack of spiritual leadership in the family. The father was a salesman for a growing company, and his work demanded that he fly out early every Monday morning and return home late on Friday night. Because of his absence from his family, he felt that the weekends were the only time the family could spend quality time together. So they purchased a lake house and spent every weekend swimming, camping under the stars, and enjoying being together.
However, the little boy possessed an insatiable spiritual appetite. He loved to read the Bible and sing Christian songs. He had a prayer list a mile long of requests he fervently prayed over each night. He was continually begging his parents to stay in town for the weekend so they could attend church together. But the father, understandably frustrated over his continual absence from home, refused.
It wasn’t that the father did not place a premium on spiritual matters. He just assumed that there would be plenty of time for that later on. He did not plan to keep up his hectic pace at work forever. Within a few years, he thought he could take early retirement and his family life would return to normal.
He had no idea how little time he would have with his son. Instead of finding solace in those many weekends at the lake, this Christian father grieved over his failure to encourage his son in his spiritual life. Although he was fairly confident his son was a Christian, he wonders if he will ever be able to erase the memory of his son’s pleading to attend church.
Fortunately, most of us will never be faced with such a tragedy. But even if you do not live to see your child die, you may witness your child wander away from his spiritual commitment, fall into an immoral relationship, struggle with a destructive addiction, or endure a painful divorce.
When that happens, will you be able to look back without regret, confident that you did your best to encourage your child’s spiritual development? What we do in this life has a profound effect on the kind of eternity we will experience in our next life. You can make changes now that will impact your future.
Full Passage: Selected Scriptures