Hard as we try, it is impossible to ‘leave no trace.’ Our lives will always leave a mark. But what kind of mark will we leave? Like a child’s name carved into a family heirloom, the marks we leave produce a mix of painful regret and powerful remembrance. But what will be the final assessment? Is it possible to live life and come to the end with no regrets? As a pastor who thinks a lot about what is said and sung at funerals, I was shocked recently to hear that a perennial favorite song for funerals was “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
In his ultimate tribute to a narcissistic life, Sinatra declared: “I’ve lived a life that’s full, I traveled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.” But anyone who lives this way leaves tsunamis of brokenness and regret in their wake. Assuming we do not live only for ourselves, is it possible to come to the end of our life without regrets? Most of us would probably say no! But the Apostle Paul says something shocking in a letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, as he talks frankly about his impending death.
“…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7
Paul has no regrets. Not because he made no mistakes or checked off every item on a bucket list. From the world’s perspective his life was a failure. He was from an influential family, studied with the luminaries of Jewish thought, and by his own assessment, was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” Yet, he threw it all away to follow Christ. He might have looked back over his life with many regrets. Others certainly did. He brought death and destruction to Christian families before his conversion. He caused riots all over Asia. He had to say painful things to close friends. He made enemies of his fellow Israelites everywhere he went. He faced a death sentence simply for preaching the gospel. Even many of his Christian friends had deserted him in his imprisonment.
Yet, Paul has no regrets, because unlike Frank Sinatra, he did not live life “his way,” but “Christ’s way.” The indelible marks he left behind were carved out by faithfulness in following Christ, not the fickleness of worldly acclaim. A more literal translation of Paul’s statement would be, “The good fight, I fought. The race, I finished. The faith, I have kept.” God laid out the course of Paul’s life. He simply followed. He is not boasting in what he has done, but in what Christ has done. His past, his present, and his future can only be rightly assessed by what Christ has done, is doing and will do. In another letter in which he describes his thoughts on death, he goes onto say, “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12) The only way to come to the end of life with no regrets is to live a life of following Christ.
I once visited with a dying man who had a framed t-shirt hanging on his wall. On it was printed, “live in such a way that the preacher won’t have to lie about you when you die.” Will the pastor who conducts your funeral be able to preach from Paul’s words? “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith?” Will you be able to die with no regret, knowing that despite all the failures and failings in your life, you did it “Christ’s Way?” Paul closes this short passage with a remarkable hope.
“… 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.” 2 Timothy 4:8
Have you loved his appearing? Have you loved his appearance in his Word, in his worship, and in his body, the Church? Is the thought of his appearing a source of joy or terror for you? Does Paul’s statement “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” resonate with you?
Join us this Sunday, May 19, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and consider what it looks like to live life without regret. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.