If I had to choose the three saddest words, it would be a toss-up between “I should have . . .” and “It’s too late.” Failures produce regrets and dwelling on regrets is far too easy.
Just before the crucifixion, Jesus asked the disciples to watch and pray with Him. But they fell asleep. In the moment, and certainly later, they must have experienced incredible despair. They failed Him at the time of His greatest stress.
Chambers points out that this is a very ordinary human experience; not doing what we had opportunity to do. Sometimes I feel like my whole life is made up of missed opportunities. I should have said this. I should have done that. Certainly I cannot go back and change my responses, no matter how much I would like to. However, what Jesus said to His disciples gives me a strong word of encouragement.
Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:45–46)
In other words, ‘sleep on now . . . that opportunity is lost forever, you cannot alter it, but arise and go to the next thing.’ Let the past go. Share it with Jesus and then go into the future with Him. He did not berate His disciples for their failure. Instead, He took them forward.
Right now I cannot think of one specific example from my life, maybe because there are so many. I feel an ache in my heart from the memories of all of them. Like Chambers says, this is an ache that comes from actual events and I cannot lift myself out of it.
The disciples must have felt that their failure was unforgivable. Going to sleep instead of praying with Him? How terrible, yet He said—‘Arise and do the next thing.’
This reminds me of Elizabeth Elliot. She was asked how she managed her busy schedule. She said, “I always do the next thing and as a Christian, I always know what it is.”
Sometimes God is silent on that next thing. In that case, we wait for direction but even waiting on Him is a ‘next thing’ and such waiting is just as important as doing something.
Jesus wants His people to know that the horrid sense of failure after missing an opportunity is not supposed to ruin our lives. Chambers says not to let the sense of failure corrupt my next action. God’s Word says:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)
This is another reason, among many, why I love Him so much.