9 Keys to Confident Decision-Making

One of the areas that we most often question ourselves in is our decision-making. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had decisions to make that you’ve analyzed to death, both before and after you decided, and a number you’ve regretted. When Leah and I moved to Texas, we had to fight against regretting it. We believe God called us to be here, but it took nearly five months for me to get a job (I just started a week ago, so I will probably only be able to post a couple times a week now.) and our money was running low. She missed her family and we both missed our friends and our church. As if that wasn’t enough, Houston traffic is ten times worse than Colorado and we had the added stresses of finding a new church and not getting lost.

Now that I have a good job at a respected company and we’ve found a church we like, it’s easier to believe that we made a good decision in coming down here. The problem with that thinking, though, is this:

It was always a good decision to move down here.

There are several principles of good decision-making. If you follow these, you can consistently make good decisions.

1. First and foremost, follow God. If it weren’t for this principle, moving to Houston might well have been deemed unwise. We had little in the way of a safety net and we had next to no connections down here. I have no oil and gas experience (Houston’s biggest industry). We could have blown all our money, had to sell one of our cars, and piled up credit card debt before limping home to live with her parents while we got back on our feet. But because we believe God told us to do this, we went, having faith in Him to take care of us. And you know what? He did.

2. Gather all the information you reasonably can before making a decision. Sometimes God is silent and expects you to decide. When that happens, find out what you can about the pros and cons of a choice. Don’t obsess over finding out everything you can, but do your homework. For example, if the decision is whether to go to college, find out what student loan interest rates are, how much you’d be in debt when you graduated, whether the school you want to attend is well-respected in the subject you want to study, how much people in your field generally make, the downsides of their jobs, and how readily available jobs are. Then find out what jobs are available to you with your current skill set, what kind of pay you can expect, and how high you can climb without a degree. Only when you have all the necessary information will you be able to make an informed decision.

3. Make a list of pros and cons. If your decision has only two options, one list will do. If you have multiple options, make a pros and cons list for each. To use the college example, a pro for someone looking to get into finance is, “Financial analysts can make over $80,000 a year,” while a con could be, “But in four years of being a bank teller, I could rise to the level of manager and make $50,000 a year with no student debt.” Then assign two numbers to each item you listed: importance to you (on a scale of 1 to 10), then a realistic probability that each will happen. I emphasize realistic because, while becoming a programmer could make you a billionaire, the world has millions of programmers who aren’t, so the odds of you surpassing millions of other good programmers are very small. If you wanted to be a vet, a con would be a good chance you’d get scratched and bitten on at least a weekly basis, but if you have a high pain tolerance, that might not matter much to you, so you could put 4 on the importance and 90% on probability.

Once you have your numbers, multiply them for each item, then add the results. The side with the higher total is the one that makes the most sense for you given your values and priorities. If you have multiple options, have the pro side be positive and the cons be negative, then net them together. The option with the highest overall score is the one that makes the most sense.

4. Think long-term. This may depend, of course, on the situation, but I highly recommend emphasizing long-term goals over short-term ones. For example, you can buy that big TV now, but what are the costs? Will it prevent you from being able to save enough money should you lose your job? Will your credit card interest bury you and hurt your credit? And how will lower credit affect any efforts to buy a house? Also, could you live with your current TV or get by with one that’s not as high-end? Will the one you want be cheaper in just a few months or a year? Multiple studies have shown that the people who do the best in life are the ones who think long-term and are patient. 

5. Ask other people for advice. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” You may consider yourself very wise and prudent, but your friend may have a totally different take on your decision or think of a solution or possible outcome you missed. When possible, go to someone who you know had a similar decision to make. And for important decisions, I recommend asking at least three trusted friends, people who are willing to disagree with you, for advice. You don’t have to listen to them, but you’d be wise to hear them out. 

6. Don’t forget your heart when doing this. Certain decisions should be made without the heart, to the greatest extent possible. Others, such as what career to choose, need your heart for your decision to be successful. Success in life is more than money or a good job; it’s being content with where you’ve chosen to be. 

7. That said, accept responsibility for whatever the results may be. There are no guarantees with any decision. Moving across the country to accept a promotion sounds great…unless you get laid off three months later in a round of severe budget cuts. You may not have chosen to get laid off, but you chose that path knowing it was a risk. It may not be your fault that it happened, but you could have chosen to remain a lower-paid employee and had a greater chance of keeping your job. Either way, the sooner you accept the results of your decision, unintended or not, the sooner you can get to work repairing the damage or going down a new path. Every decision will have its cons, so don’t regret a decision just because something bad happened; realistically, you should know that something you don’t like will happen with every major decision you make. A good decision doesn’t get rid of all the bad results; it just has more good results than bad.

8. Know that the results of a decision do not determine whether a decision is good or bad. It’s the decision-making process you used that determines the quality of your decision. You can make a great decision, such as to go to work in the morning, and get t-boned by a drunk driver and end up in the hospital. Or you can quit your job, by a lottery ticket, and win. The quality of a decision isn’t affected by the results, especially the highly improbable ones. If you did your homework, weighed the outcomes objectively, and thought long-term, then your decision is good even if the results aren’t what you hoped for.

9. Most importantly, your decisions don’t affect your self-worth. You could make bad decision after bad decision and God will will still love you as much as He does right now, which is enough to sacrifice His Son for you. You can’t be either more or less valuable to Him and it’s His opinion that matters, so your value doesn’t come from your decisions. Realizing this will help you not stress about them, which will keep emotions out and let you think more clearly. The result will be both better decisions and less stress about them.

11 Steps to Christian Self-Confidence, Part 2

Yesterday, I posted the first six steps; today, I’m posting the last five. Keep in mind that you probably won’t master these after reading them just once through. That’s totally expected; it’s a process that can take as much time as you need. Just stick with it. Also, aside from the first four steps, the others don’t have to be done in any particular order. You’ll find that as you do them, your confidence will slowly increase. Finally, to echo yesterday’s note, I’ll be going over forgiveness all of next week because it’s such a large topic and because it’s such a huge barrier for most people having the confidence God wants for them.

Without further ado, here’s the rest of the list:

7.Treat yourself to something every now and again, just because you deserve it. Try to get out of this mode of rewarding yourself only for a job well done. It’s not wrong to do that on occasion and can serve as good motivation, but rewarding yourself only after completing a project or achieving a goal reinforces the belief that good deeds are what cause value and happiness. Invest in yourself simply because you’re valuable. Don’t over-indulge, but sometimes, go on a trip to the movie theater. Go to a ballgame or the spa. Stop at the grocery store early in the morning and pick up a very fresh doughnut. You’re worth far more than that to God, so why not be worth it to yourself?

Even Jesus invested in Himself. When He died on the cross, the soldiers cast lots for his tunic (John 19:23-24). Why? Because it was very nice, having been made without a seam, so they didn’t want to divide it, even though each one wanted it. Contrary to what some people may think about Jesus, He was no mean beggar. He was a carpenter for about 17 years before He began His ministry, and He was apparently willing to spend some of that money on Himself to get a nice, expensive tunic.

8.Focus on others. It’s difficult to really get a grasp of how much God loves and values you without realizing that He values others just as much and for the same reason. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slack in keeping his promise, as some count slackness, but he is longsuffering toward us, not willing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” God wants every last person to come to Him and is willing to forgive them all.

Look at someone else right now and think, “God loves that person as much as He loves me.” It’s a really hard thing to truly realize that God loves Hitler, you, and John the Baptist equally. Yet we are each masterpieces painted by the ultimate Master. His love isn’t dependent on what you or they have done. It’s His choice and He has decided to love no matter what. When it really hits home, at least for me, is when I think about someone who just upset me, whether they lied to me, insulted me, or were ungrateful. God loves everyone, no matter what they do…even when they do it to you.

Why is it important to view others this way? For a variety of reasons:

A. Seeing them this way is a good reminder that it is about how God views them and us and not about how we view each other and ourselves.

B. Seeing them as valuable despite anything they may do will enable us to live like Christ has called us to live: in love and not in judgment. Just like your value doesn’t depend on actions, their value is based on how God sees them as well and is independent of their actions. Judgment is God’s place, not ours (James 4:11-12). Our place is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

C. You can’t guide them toward God very well while disliking yourself and them. If you have no faith that God will work things out in the end and don’t love and accept others and yourself, what kind of marketing tool are you for the Gospel?

The purpose of the Gospel message is not that our lives will be wonderful and perfect and certainly not that we have to live perfectly. In fact, one of the central points of the Gospel is that it is impossible for us to obtain perfection on our own. We are in desperate need of help to even want to come to Christ.

But another point of the Gospel is how much God loves every last one of us, how valuable we are to Him, simply because He chooses to love us. That love is the reason we can love ourselves, why we can love others, and how we know everything will indeed work out in the end. If you aren’t showing this love to others and loving yourself in the right way and for the right reasons, then they are not going to be interested in becoming Christians because it’s obviously not working for you.

D. Loving others is good for your mental and emotional health, too. You’ve probably worked with some really annoying people or maybe seen that guy at the gym who grunts like he’s having a hernia with every rep. The problem is that while the Bible tells us a few groups of people to avoid, “those who getteth thine goat” is not one of them. We’re called to be good to those who spitefully use us; how much more so should we be good to those who happen to have a different sense of humor, are a little cloying, or have annoying habits?

E. Lastly, it’s difficult to be angry with someone without feeling superior to them in some way. Instead, imagine viewing them as equals, as someone whom God has signed off on, as someone who, to God, is worth Jesus’ sacrifice, even after they’ve gone and offended oh-so-magnificent you. Every last person on this planet needs Christ as much as you do and is every bit as valuable as you’ll ever be.

9.Find out what you really want to do. Most people spend their lives doing what others want them to do, and thus they never really get to live their own lives. The Dalai Lama, when asked, “What thing about humanity surprises you the most?” answered, “Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

If you’re doing something that you don’t want to do, then it’s time to reevaluate. You are the one who has to live with the results of your decisions. You are the one who will have to stand before God and answer for them, who will reap the rewards or the punishments they bring, and who will remember and be remembered for them. Why then would you let other people make these decisions for you?

Keep in mind, of course, that there is a very distinct line between being irresponsible and being free. It’s wrong to abandon your family or your responsibilities; however, if you can support them with a job doing what you love, do it. Find a hobby you enjoy, a charity that recharges you, or a subject that fascinates you. Life is too short to waste doing only what you think others want you to do.

10.Eat a squid. This one is put in here just for laughs. The point is, don’t take life or yourself too seriously. Life is going to have lots of failures in it, by you, by loved ones, and by acquaintances, bosses, colleagues, and complete strangers. It will have other interruptions in the forms of the economy, bad weather, potential catastrophes, diseases, and a host of other problems. You’ve survived many of these so far, and there will likely be many more to endure. But guess what? You’ve survived them. Sure, those times were probably awful, but hopefully now, they provide some good funny stories or have given you the experience needed to avoid similar mistakes. You’re not perfect and the only people who really expect anyone to be perfect are the people who are dead set on being perfect themselves – that is, those who are so miserably unconfident that they are like I was.

Take responsibility for mistakes, then fix them. If it’s not a real issue, laugh about it and move on. Laughing will feel better than castigating yourself, and you’ll give others the impression that you’re not going to be harsh with them if they let down their walls.

Also, if you are so wrapped up in having to be perfect in the pursuit of confidence, then the entire point of confidence – the freedom to be your real self – is missed and the pursuit is just another thing at which you must excel.

11.Tell someone. This will probably be done by your actions, but be ready to just be open with them when they ask what has come over you. It’s a story not just of your own transformation, but of God’s transforming power, because that is at the heart of it. God can take out a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, like He promises to in Ezekiel 36:26. Once this change truly takes hold, you won’t be able to help telling others about it.

I honestly believe that this is part of what 1 Peter 3:15 is talking about when it says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” It’s not just the hope of Heaven, but of finding your true value, and in so doing, finding the freedom you’ve been seeking so long. I think a key factor of the Gospel message has been overlooked, or at least under-emphasized, for a long time. We get that God loves us enough to sacrifice Jesus for us and that’s mind-boggling to consider, but we miss the part where that makes us His sons and daughters, where we get a new identity, a better one than we could ever hope to earn. If you have an infinite supply of something so good and so needed, how could you possibly keep it to yourself?

11 Steps to Christian Self-Confidence, Part 1

Aside from asking God to help change your heart, there are 11 steps to getting true confidence. Here are the first 6, with the other 5 to come tomorrow. Changing how you feel about yourself is not something you’re going to achieve all at once. I say this not as a discouragement, but rather to give you hope. At the beginning, there will be a lot of backsliding into old thought patterns. That doesn’t mean this isn’t working, it doesn’t mean you have failed, and it most certainly doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. If reading the Bible once cannot make someone believe in and love God perfectly, then how can I hope that reading these posts once is enough to magically erase all the beliefs someone has built up about themselves over the years? No, thought patterns are far too ingrained for that.

These steps can take as long or short a time as you want. The important thing is to keep pushing forward with them.

1.Ask yourself how your current way of looking at life is working out. Any change has to be the result of a true, deep desire to change. Satisfaction with the status quo or a belief that change is too difficult will render all of my words ineffectual. A decision to change is a required first step before any change is possible.

Think about where you’re currently getting your sense of self-worth and ask yourself, “How’s this working out for me?” You’ve been spending so much time and energy trying to get acceptance from yourself and others and are apparently aware of the problem if you’re reading this post.

Is this really how you want to live?

If the answer is no, then it’s time to make a big change in how you view the world. Changing how good you are at certain things will never be enough because there will always be that need to perform or to change something else with every failure or rejection. There will never be a point at which you’ll feel you’ve arrived; even if you accomplish all your goals, there will always be the next goal or the fear that what you have can be taken from you.

You have a choice: either keep trying win this game or change your heart in such a way that you are no longer controlled by what others think of you, or even by what you think you should be. This choice must be made before any of the other steps matter.

2.Figure out exactly where your sense of self worth comes from currently. Acknowledge which actions are geared toward gaining the approval of yourself and others. Make a list of things you do and go through it thoroughly and with brutal honesty. There is nothing to be gained by lying and the lesson of a lifetime to be lost.

Go deep here, too. Don’t just say, “Well, I spend extra time at the office so I can get more money,” and stop there. What are you trying to earn or what purchase will these savings buy? If the goal is to buy a house, for example, what is it about owning a nice house that will make you more valuable to others? What is so important about being valuable to them? Where do these beliefs come from? It is imperative to know yourself before change can occur.

3.Find out who the Bible says you are. You are the son or daughter of Christ, an heir to the kingdom of heaven, and someone God has loved enough to die for. God has called you His friend, not His slave. You have been redeemed, made holy as though you’d never sinned. There is no position higher than this.

Think of the Greeks and their mythology. Who was deemed higher: a king of men or a son of the gods? Who had more power? Who is more often the focus of legend? If a son of the gods had more power, why hold to the idea that kings on earth have more power than you do as a literal son or daughter of God? Not to say you can order them around, for God has given those in power on earth their power to rule, but we hold to the idea that rich, powerful, or good-looking people are better and they’re not. All of that means nothing compared to the value we have by the Creator of the Universe creating us, choosing to love us, and valuing us above His own Son’s life.

4.Believe it. This sounds closely related to #3, but they are, in fact, worlds apart. I knew most of what the Bible said about me for years. It didn’t help. In fact, knowing without believing actually hurt because it made me think God didn’t want me to have anything else and so He made me lovable by just Him, and then only if I pleased Him enough. I felt like God loved everyone else and that somehow, based on something I had done, it didn’t apply to me at all. I was going to heaven, but couldn’t expect anything else from God. Feeling He didn’t love me personally, I sought love elsewhere. It was only when I started believing what He thought about me (Psalm 56:8 changed my perspective quite a bit) that I was able to finally believe I had value outside of what I could do or who I was with.

This belief is not going to come instantly. It’s been a few years since I first realized this and I still sometimes consider myself intelligent more readily than I consider myself a child of God. This new identity is really what I’m trying to help you grow with these steps. The purpose of this step is not to merely believe it and change your life forever from that moment. Rather, it’s choosing to believe it even when it sounds ridiculous. Whenever frustrations and self-deprecation start rearing their ugly heads, you’ll start to think, “This doesn’t matter because this doesn’t determine my value. My value is already set in stone and written in blood.” And then stop thinking about it. It will probably be hard at first, to either stop long enough to have this thought or to stop thinking about it afterward, but as you make the conscious decision to believe it, the actual belief comes much more easily.

5.Stop criticizing yourself. For years, I told myself I was a failure, that I would always be alone and never amount to much because I was worthless.

It was never true.

I’ve never felt better after criticizing myself. I’ve also never felt as motivated by being mad at myself as I have by being excited and happy about something. I have done a bunch of things out of anger at myself, but most of the projects I’ve started in such a state have not been finished. I stop them as soon as I’ve calmed down and never get back to them. Criticizing yourself is not worth the misery it causes. It never has been and never will be.

Also, don’t take it to heart when others criticize you. If what they say has merit, you can choose to change if it is a problem, but here’s the truth: nobody ever has been or ever will be able to make you think you’re worse than you already fear you are. Any time anyone has insulted you and caused your self-hatred to well up, they haven’t really done anything but feed your fears. Even if they pointed out something you weren’t aware of – such as a mistake on a project or some physical flaw – if the comment stung, then you already feared being a failure or being unattractive. Without a fear of rejection, that rejection would not hurt.

Now reread that paragraph, several times if need be. The problem with your self-confidence is not and never has been other people. It is self-confidence. It is your problem and yours alone. It doesn’t matter what others say, it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, and it doesn’t matter what their motives were. Self-confidence is only affected by what a person believes about himself, which is precisely why it is so important to stop cutting yourself down.

6.Forgive yourself and others. One of the hardest parts of getting confidence was realizing I had to forgive myself. For everything. For being 30 and single, for not having figured this out back when I was 18 or 19, for all the time I’ve wasted playing games or burying myself in work and avoiding my problems. For all the opportunities I passed up because I was too afraid to reach out and grab them. For all the people I’ve hurt along the way. For rejecting God so many times. I have to start completely afresh with myself, just as God starts each day with me (Lamentations 3:22-23). I can and should endeavor to learn from my mistakes, but I cannot keep bringing them up every time I make another one, neither can I fear the consequences of my mistakes to the point where I blow them out of proportion.

You also have to forgive others and let go of any grudge you have against God. Others must be forgiven because God commands you to forgive in light of all that He’s forgiven in you and because it’s a sign that their wrongs don’t diminish your value. You can’t forgive God because He’s never sinned against you, but you must let go of your grudge against Him (and do this before you forgive yourself or others) because it’s impossible to want to grow closer to someone when you’re angry with them. That grudge will put a barrier in the relationship that will only let you get so close, yet you need to be very close if you’re to have the confidence He wants for you.

NOTE: Because forgiveness is such a complex topic and is one of the biggest barriers to getting true confidence, I am devoting all of next week to talking about it.

The 16 Traits of True Confidence, Part 2

Continuing yesterday’s list, true confidence:

8. Is not fearless, but is courageous. Confidence doesn’t mean fearing nothing and always pressing forward intrepidly come what may. Even Jesus didn’t do that. When faced with the cross, He prayed that if there was any way that cup could be taken from Him that God would do it. He was willing to submit to God still and, of course, did die on the cross for us, but He was so nervous and stressed that He sweat drops of blood. There was not a lack of fear in Him, but there was a recognition that He had what it took to get through it.

You should always be mindful of the dangerous situations into which certain decisions could lead. That does not necessarily mean not making a given decision, but rather being aware of it, having a plan to tackle it, and trusting God to work out everything in the end.

Confidence also knows its limits. This doesn’t just mean knowing your weaknesses; it means knowing the limits of your strengths as well. There is no need for bravado or for pushing your boundaries because there is nothing to prove to anyone. Value is not dependent on success or failure in a given venture and so there is no sense of pressure to risk it all just to please someone else or prove your own worth.

Most of us won’t have to face crucifixion, so what does that mean for us? It means not being afraid to make important decisions and stick with them. I moved from Virginia, where I had a large group of friends, to Colorado Springs, where I met my wife. Then we moved to Houston, where we know almost nobody. Yet I don’t regret it because I believe this is where God wants me to be, and so this is where I am.

Confidence also allows people to speak their mind when necessary. This includes calling out people when it’s needed, but also only during the appropriate time and place. There’s no need to speak just to be heard, but an opinion or idea that would benefit the conversation won’t be kept to yourself out of fear of being laughed at, rejected, or proven wrong. You’ll be able to take risks when they’re warranted, carefully analyzing the pros and cons beforehand. There will be no fear rejection or failure.

9. Is always honest. Think about it this way: people lie to others and themselves because they are afraid of the consequences of the truth. Why do people tell their bosses lies about car trouble when the truth is that they just slept through their alarm? Why do they tell their girlfriend or wife what they want to hear instead of what’s true when they ask? Why do they keep denying that there’s anything wrong when they clearly aren’t happy with the way life has turned out?

True confidence does not need to hide behind lies for any reason. It allows you to speak when it is necessary and be silent when it is prudent, both for the right reasons rather than any fear. Jesus never deceived anyone because there was never a reason to. He knew that God was in control at all times, so the consequences of actions were never something to fear and try to run from. With faith in God, there comes a peace that things will work out in the end, and that God doesn’t need to be lied to or manipulated into caring for you.

10. Gives without caring if it receives. Most people give in order to get something in return. It can be working for a charity in order to get recognition or to feel they’re holy and righteous. It can be being there for someone in the hopes of this someone falling in love with them. It can be giving a gift so that they can get a hug and draw closer to that person. Whatever form it takes, few of us can give without expecting anything at all in return.

Real confidence, even if it recognizes ingratitude, doesn’t get hurt by it. When Jesus healed ten lepers in Luke 17:12-19 and only one returned, Jesus did indeed point out that there was a lack of gratitude in the other nine. He did not, however, curse them, neither did He revoke their healing or dwell on it at all. His gift was theirs, regardless of whether they praised Him for it, simply because He decided to love them.

That is how we are meant to live, we are supposed to, “…love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” (Luke 6:35)

11. Is at least somewhat outgoing. God created some people introverts and some extroverts, so being introverted by nature does not mean confidence is impossible to obtain, Being uncomfortable around other people, however, is a sure sign of a lack of confidence. Regardless of whether you’d rather be around a small group of people or alone or in the midst of a huge party, you should be able to interact with people without fear or discomfort because there is nothing to prove to any of them and nothing to lose.

At the same time, there’s no need to be the center of attention, either. You can simply be there and let someone else have the attention or let there be no center of attention at all.

I also believe that being more confident will make you want to be around people at least a little more. Why? Because part of confidence is seeing others as God sees them. Seeing people as masterpieces rather than competition will give you more compassion and love for them. Their stories won’t be opportunities for judgment or condemnation, but things that show how they’ve sought love, safety, or escape in their own way. You might never get the energy rush an extrovert gets from meeting new people or being in a large crowd, but caring for others will cause you to enjoying meeting them more.

12. Does not seek its own glory. This is because it feels no need to. God is confident and seeks His own glory, but the difference is He’s earned it. You haven’t. Also, glorifying Him keeps us from trying to glorify ourselves, which leads inexorably to failure and pain for both us and those around us. Our glorifying Him adds a life-changing element to us and nothing to Him.

Since we, however, do not deserve worship, we should feel no need to let everyone know we are fantastic and wonderful, or even that we are now confident. We simply are confident and that shows through. True confidence doesn’t even care if other people see it because there is nothing to prove and nothing lost or devalued if it’s missed, at least not by the person who is confident.

13. Apologizes and forgives easily. When we know we’re wrong and refuse to apologize (usually because the other person hasn’t apologized to us), we let our pride get in the way. Pride is just a way of claiming to be better and more important than someone else, and that’s always rooted in insecurity rather than actual confidence. Neither sin nor their lack of forgiveness lessens your value, nor does admitting to being wrong. At worst, you will extend an olive branch and, at best, receive the sought after forgiveness and/or apology. If not, know that their refusal to forgive is a reflection on them, not on you.

NOTE: All of next week is devoted to the topic of forgiveness, as that is one of the biggest barriers people have to obtaining true confidence.

14. Allows you to turn the other cheek without becoming a pushover. Let’s be very clear about one thing: some people will take advantage of you. It happened to Jesus, why wouldn’t it happen to everyone else? But what did He do when it happened? He turned the other cheek. He forgave.

What’s the difference? The difference is that Jesus never felt indebted to people. He never let their will override His own. It was His love for people that compelled Him to do what He did, not a fear of how they’d react if He didn’t. He didn’t forgive and heal because He had to, but because He chose to.

It’s impossible to really turn the other cheek without confidence, because there is something in getting beaten, shamed, taken advantage of, or robbed that will eat at you, further cementing your perceived worthlessness. There are people who believe they deserve for these things to happen to them, or at least, that they don’t really have the right to fight for what they deserve. With that belief, each offense is piled on top of the others to make these beliefs more permanent.

15. Is not defensive. Lots of people have a hard time taking criticism, even the constructive sort. As a writer, I know that editing is a part of the book-writing process. It may be my least favorite part, but I can see the value and necessity of it. The difficulty used to come when that knowledge is tested with other people’s criticisms. Before writing this book, if someone else found a single typo, I thanked them and fixed it. With two or three, I’d get frustrated with myself. By the fourth, I wondered if I did anything at all right and wanted to go through the whole thing again line by line. I started to fear these other people would think I didn’t care about my work or was incompetent or that the message must not be worth reading if there were that many mistakes in delivering it.

What I eventually realized is that these people are doing me a favor by pointing out shortcomings in my manuscript. But even if their reaction was to burn it in front of me and tell me they did it to save anyone else from having to read it, that does not make me in any way a failure or worthless. It means only that this person didn’t like a particular manuscript. It was a hard thing for me to separate my work from my value because of how long I’ve found the latter in the former, but as I find it more and more in God, I’m more able to let the criticism go. If none of my failures matter, then I don’t have to be defensive or prove myself right or better than anyone else. I need do nothing except for thank them for pointing out my errors and then go about fixing them.

16. Is free. Real confidence is, because of all the traits listed above, free to do what it wants. Naturally, I don’t mean that confidence places someone above the law or moral codes; no, I mean that there’s no feeling of enslavement to others or need for approval. Past mistakes won’t be prison cells and current shortcomings won’t be shackles. People with more talent in certain areas no longer pose a threat. There’s no need to impress people or to hide from them. You can be yourself, embracing the uniqueness God has put in you, and let others see it. I have honestly never felt anything like it, and the more I get of it, the more I think that being a true Christian has to include some element of finding this freedom and self-confidence.

The 16 Traits of True Confidence, Part 1

People cannot make changes unless they not only see, but need or are excited by the benefits the change will bring. I talked last week about how confidence will free you from playing the world’s game, but there are numerous benefits included in that freedom. I’ll start the list today and finish it tomorrow.

There is no way to have true, lasting confidence outside of God. Confidence can be faked for a while, even convincingly, but if it’s not based in God, it will always either result in enslavement to others or be based on a false sense of worth, both of which will eventually fail.

Note how many of the traits below mirror the traits of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Confidence, because it takes away the pressure to seek love and acceptance, enables a person to show love and acceptance in a purer way than they can hope to without it.

True confidence:

1. Has a true self image and embraces it, knowing from where value and power actually comes. Note that I didn’t say a gushingly positive self image; I said a true one. This means seeing both the good and bad things about yourself. You can recognize a gifting in art but a handicap in math, or skills in money management but a short temper, or whatever else the balance might be. And then you love yourself.

This self-love doesn’t come from being awesome enough to deserve it, but because God is so awesome and has given you love. The fact that this love can’t be earned should be the most freeing truth you ever hear.

Understanding the true measure of how much you mean to God will make it easy to give honest self-evaluations because there will be no reason to hide.

That includes magnifying failures in a false humility as well. Many unconfident people do that, don’t we? I know I used to. We build up our failures, and it may be because we really want to beat ourselves up or because we want others to tell us we’re not so bad, but that humility is all false. We feel we’re really important, but we’re trying to find the reason other people don’t see it and castigating that aspect of ourselves.

2. Is unique, but does not derive value from that uniqueness. It’s rare that an artist paints the exact same thing a second time. It may look similar to another painting, but there’s some new angle or brush stroke that makes it different, maybe a different color here or a new element there. Likewise, God has made each of us unique. We can group ourselves into personality types, but your thoughts, personalities, fears, hopes, dreams, struggles, insecurities, talents, and outlook all combine to make you a person unlike any other on the planet. God made you, knowing exactly what would happen…and then He let things develop in your life to bring His will to fruition.

In Matthew 25:14-30, a man goes on a journey and gives his servants talents to watch over while he’s away. To one, he gives five talents, to another two, and to another one. The first two doubled his money while he was away and got the same praise. The last one did nothing productive with his master’s money, but buried it. He was cast out. The obvious point of this parable is that we are meant to use the gifts God has given us, but I think there’s a subtler point that’s often overlooked: Neither the talents they received nor the amount they gained made these servants more valuable because the talents were always their master’s.

Likewise, your gifts and talents don’t make you any more valuable, for you are God’s and everything good you have is from Him. And if it’s from Him, and you’re His, then all of what you have is His. Even the results of your labor are up to Him to provide, as Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” So there’s no reason to puff yourself up from your efforts or skills, neither is there any reason to desire someone else’s gifts. God has given to each of us what He knows is best for us, and none of them increase our value in any way.

Your worth doesn’t depend on actions, but God loves the individuality that causes those actions. These unique traits do not cause Him to love us, but are things He has given us to love about us.

3. Needs no mask. When we’re not confident, we all try one of two approaches with people: either to put our best foot forward and hope they’ll like us, or our most self-deprecating foot forward in the hopes that they’ll leave us alone or tell us we’re not so bad. Both approaches are masks that we use to hide who we truly are.

For the former, the reasoning should be obvious: we feel like we have to earn their affection and/or respect, so we show them the things we like about ourselves and believe others should like about us.

There are two possible pitfalls here. The first is that not all people like the same things in a personality, so what you think are your best traits may make others not like you. The second pitfall is that a mask must always be worn if the person is to remain hidden, and these masks get heavy.

True confidence doesn’t need to prove itself or hear that it has been accepted. It simply is, and is completely fine if it is rejected, so it doesn’t need to hide behind anything. Adam and Eve were naked, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally, before God and each other.

I hear so many people say how important it is to guard your heart and be careful to whom you open up. The reason is that these people want to avoid getting hurt, which means they’ve given that power to people they’ve shared their heart with. I don’t believe that’s how God wants us to live, though, in fear of what others might do with our hearts, closing up to people. It’s unwise and could be viewed as manipulative or out of control to share deep secrets and emotions with everyone, but neither should your heart be locked away. People should be able to get to know the real you easily.

Here’s why: the heart will attach itself to what gives it value. If that value comes from God, the heart will go to Him. And if He has your heart and you have complete faith in Him, no one can break it. Who can overpower God? People can only break your heart if you’ve taken it back from God and given it to them.

4. Is emotionally stable, yet can be passionate. Here is how I would define emotional stability: not allowing actions to be dictated by emotions. There are some cases that force reactions on someone, like the death of a family member, but how that person actually acts when that happens shows whether they are emotionally stable. In an argument, is it more likely you’re matching the other person decibel for decibel or that you’re calmly explaining your side and trying to work toward a resolution? When rejected, do you try to avoid them at all costs or do you realize their rejection doesn’t devalue who you are as a person and try to preserve the friendship?

At the same time, a confident person has no problem expressing how he or she truly feels. There is no hiding feelings to keep others from knowing the real person underneath the mask, no denying the feelings and thereby invalidating them, just an open and honest admission. This applies to positive feelings as well as negative ones and to passions as well as hobbies.

5. Is not controlling or judgmental. Why do we try to control or judge people? We want control because that gives us feelings of power, security, and importance. It also feeds our notion, which is based in insecurity, that our needs and wants are more important than other people’s.

When we judge, we try to establish our moral superiority over someone else. After all, if we’re morally superior, then the fact that they have a better job or are with someone we want to be with becomes secondary. We can still claim we’re better. Even if our motive is not jealousy, we’re trying to prove our morality is better than theirs.

John 8 tells the story of the people who caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her before Jesus, hoping He would tell them to stone her. He got them all to turn away, then forgave the woman. There was no telling her she was wrong and had to repent before she would get anything from Him, no begging or service that He required. She was allowed to come as she was and was accepted, even in the midst of sin. That’s how God is with us. He doesn’t demand that we be anything before we come to Him; His goal is to change us, not to keep us at arm’s length until we’ve changed.

Confidence sees no reason to either control or judge someone. For the first, confidence realizes that God is in control anyway, regardless of circumstances or who does what to you. And for the latter, confidence realizes that everyone else is equally as much a masterpiece of God, and so it is He alone who should be judging. When Christians in the New Testament pointed out flaws in behavior, it was almost always directed at those in the church. Jesus never shoved someone away because they were a prostitute or tax collector (tax collectors were essentially government-sanctioned thieves at the time). He welcomed them all. If they rejected Him, He didn’t chase after them or try to guilt them into changing. He simply let them go. Confidence realizes that every person has an equal right to make up their own mind, even if the decision they come to is not what’s best for them.

6. Cares about what others think, but is not controlled by others’ opinions. There are two parts to this. First, is that I care about others and what they think and feel. If I’m wrapped up in what someone thinks of me or trying to get my way, I have little time and energy to devote to caring about them. By knowing who I really am and not having to prove myself, I free myself to actually learning about them and letting them matter to me in a way that is healthy for both of us. I’m free to celebrate their successes honestly, give advice without worrying if it’s rejected, and help them with no fear that they’ll one day be better at something than I am.

The other part is that I take into account what they think of me. Some would tell you that confidence means not caring at all what others think, but I think that goes one step too far. What I mean is if someone tells me I was a real jerk, I can consider my behavior, apologize if I was actually wrong, and mend my ways. Alternately, I can decide that what I said or did was necessary (when Jesus stormed the temple and chased out the moneylenders, I’m sure some people looked on that as rather rude) and respectfully disagree. Either way, I will not have seen my value change, either from having been wrong in my ideas or being rejected. Being confident means I don’t change something that I don’t view as a problem to satisfy someone else. I can listen to criticism – whether constructive or not – but I don’t let it control me.

7. Has an active interest in making others feel better about themselves. A lot of people, even Christians, don’t like themselves very much. They need this freedom, this confidence, as much as you do, and one of the most wonderful things about this confidence is that there’s enough value for everyone.

I think we don’t build each other up nearly as often as we should because we’re so caught up in what we need to do for ourselves or what our problems are. Yes, we should see to issues in our lives, but worrying about them and pitying ourselves wastes time and energy. If we truly believe God is in control, worrying becomes a ridiculous waste of our lives. By not being constantly self-centered, we have the time, energy, and compassion needed to help others as often as necessary.

When they are ready to hear about true confidence, we’ll be eager to share with them if we have it ourselves. Why? True confidence, rather than seeking to build up itself, has no problem building up others. Confident people do this not because they want others to build them up in return, but because if there is no feeling of competition, then there is no reason to not make others feel good about themselves. There is no reason to criticize someone (I do not include constructive criticism here, only the devaluing kind) because there is no way that person will ever be able to make us less valuable. In fact, sharing this confidence with them will build it further in you.

6 Steps to Changing Your Heart

What I’ve said the last three days sounds nice and easy, doesn’t it? Just change how you look at things and watch your confidence skyrocket. It’d be great if it worked that way. Here’s the bad news: your heart is going to fight you every step of the way on this because it is selfish to the point of self-destruction. It is incorrigibly deceitful and vain. Your heart demands that you worship yourself.

Sound a bit melodramatic? Consider why Adam and Eve fell. They were told they could be like God. They wanted that power and, once the thought was implanted in their mind, they started feeling inadequate. If they could be like God and weren’t, then something was wrong, something they had to fix so they could have what they should have. Their hearts were more concerned about their value than God’s glory.

Ever get angry with God over a traffic light or not finding a parking spot? Have you ever gotten mad at Him at all? If so, then you’ve done the same thing. In fact, if you’ve ever sinned (and you know you have), then you’ve chosen your will over His and so worshiped yourself. All of the things you’ve made gods in your life – money, a job, sex, a relationship, looks, an achievement – are really just means to make you happy. More self worship.

If knowing God and putting aside our pride require changes in our hearts, yet our hearts are so wicked and stubborn, how can we change our hearts? 

Of ourselves, we can’t. We need His help. There are six steps to changing our hearts:

1. Since we can’t do it ourselves, we need to pray for His help. Be open and honest in this prayer. Lay your struggles at His feet. There’s no shame for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1) and besides, He knows everything you’re going through anyway. I’ve never had any prayer answered faster than prayers for God to help me grow.

2. Praise and worship God. This can be through songs that glorify Him or just telling Him how much you love Him and how great He is. It’s not that He needs this; it’s that you need to do this. You were created to give Him glory. When you do, you remember how small you are compared to Him, which magnifies the greatness of His love. To have a true image of God, you must start with an attitude of praise and worship.

3. Focus on all the times He has been there for you. For me, I didn’t know why my life seemed so random. I couldn’t go to the college of my choice, so I went to a different one, where I was put on a floor with a guy who later got me a job in Virginia. When I moved out there, one of my roommates went to a certain church, where another one of the guys threw a Christmas party where I met a girl who…ummm…inspired me to start going to church, where I met friends that help me fall in love with God again. Also, the money I saved enabled me to write for a while and God provided just enough to get me through. You see, God was looking out for me the entire time, even when I was running from Him and angry at Him.

You may be able to look back at your life and have a similar realization or you might be in the midst of something. Either way, God has you, even if you don’t understand why life’s so hard right now, even if you don’t feel He’s anywhere near, and even if you’ve been running. He has you.

4. Develop a fear of God. Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. We need to have more fear of God, not that He’ll smite us (even though He has the right to), but in a sense of reverent awe. We don’t compare to Him, not even all of us combined. This rock we live on is a tiny speck compared to the solar system, which is a tiny speck compared to the galaxy, which is a tiny speck compared to the Universe, which is infinitely tiny compared to God, Who created it all with His words. Knowing that God is love without knowing that He is omnipotent leads us to be condescending and flippant. “Yeah, I sinned, but He’ll just forgive me,” or, “Hey, God, do You not care about this light?! I’M LATE FOR WORK and it’s all Your fault!” He is love, but He is also so holy that He sent His own Son to die rather than impugn His righteousness. If He’d forgiven our sins without sacrifice, He could not be holy anymore because He would have gone back on His word. His love without considering His unbending holiness means nothing. He deserves an eternity of praise just for being God, even more so for being a loving, compassionate, and merciful Father.

5. Pray and fellowship with God often. Imagine that two people wanted to get to know you over the next year. One read everything you’d written and everything written about you. The other had meals with you, talked with you daily, and was a good, close friend. Which one do you think knows you, the real you, better at the end of that time? The friend, right?

I don’t discount at all the works of people who make Bible commentaries or who study Scripture and the root words of verses. Those things are instructive and very valuable. But there is no better way to know God than to spend time with Him.

6. See the similarities between a relationship with God and a relationship with other people. If you’re married, was your wedding the day after you met your spouse? Probably not. It takes time to grow a relationship. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows, especially after the initial week or two of excitement. Sometimes, you may not want to worship God or pray. Do it anyway. Keep working on that relationship. Just as two married people have to keep working on making their marriage strong, so you have to always work on your relationship with God. If you’re not growing closer to Him, you’re drifting away. There is no neutral.

And, as a bonus, 7. Just accept the gifts and relax already. 🙂 

Why True Confidence Can’t Be Earned

Each of the last two days, I’ve mentioned that your identity in Christ is a gift and that you can’t earn it. It’s all well and good to say that, but it’s time to examine that idea in detail.

Let’s start with this: you’re nothing. I’m nothing. We’re all a whole bunch of dirt that He breathed life into and then decided for some reason to love.

Not only are you insignificant in value compared to the Creator of the entire (and unfathomably large) Universe, but you have sinned against Him as well.

Imagine a cockroach giving you attitude. Just by virtue of being a cockroach, he’s lucky if you let him live; when he starts yelling at you, it’s laughably pathetic. If it actually tried to do something you didn’t like, you might well smash him. And not many people would say you’re wrong. He was a roach, you’re a human; the difference in value is massive.

And the difference between you and God is infinitely greater.

We often forget that. We forget how easily we’re getting off because we forget how powerful and holy He is. We forget our place and, in doing so, fail to glorify Him properly in His. Even if He were spiteful or arbitrary or just distant, He would be worthy of praise because He is God. How much more so because He loves us enough to die for us?

Something else happens when we forget our proper place: we try to earn it. We try to be good enough, usually for other people or our own standards, sometimes to live up to His, but always trying to earn our place. Always trying and failing to be worthy, getting frustrated that we somehow fell short again or that our mild success didn’t last and wasn’t enough.

And it’s always one step forward, two steps back, isn’t it? Why? Because you’re not enough. You were never meant to be enough. Because He is more than enough.

It is His grace that allows you to be saved, His love that keeps you, His sacrifice that paid for your sins, and His covenant that gave you a new identity. You did nothing! You couldn’t do anything because He did it all.

I don’t mean this to tear you down and leave you a self-deprecating, sobbing mass. I mean this to be the second-best news you can ever hear: your inability to earn it means that you can stop trying. It’s a gift, willingly offered by Someone who loves you more than your spouse, children, family, or friends ever could.

If you found the perfect Christmas present for someone and were excited for the next three months (or three hours, for those last-minute shoppers; you know who you are! 🙂 ), just waiting eagerly for Christmas so you could see the look on their face, would you want them to react with surprise and joy and enjoy the present immediately or would you want them to whip out a wallet and try to pay you for the present? That latter one’s a slap in the face, isn’t it? Yet it’s exactly what we try to do when we attempt to earn our salvation, our identity, or anything else from God. We can’t. It’s all a bunch of gifts, given to us by a doting Father. All He wants is for us to love and obey Him, love others, and enjoy what He’s given us.

One of my readers left feedback last week attesting to this very problem. She said she was trying to be good enough and kept feeling she was failing, saying, “I never seem to arrive at my original destination.” I know the feeling. Life is full of twists and turns, but every one of them has been known by God since before time began. If you keep trying and failing, I see three possibilities:

1. You’re doing something God doesn’t want you to do. He may be calling you into something else or wanting you to just stop and seek Him. He may want you to do this, but not quite yet. He may even be calling you to use a different approach to doing it. This is a wonderful time to pray and wait on God to teach you what He wants you to do.

2. You’re doing something for yourself instead of for Him. The heart is crafty. It will tell you you’re serving God and in the same breath tell you that you deserve something for your service. God will never bless your efforts to glorify yourself. You may succeed and be glorified, but it won’t be because He blessed you. And if it’s not His blessing, it’s not what’s best for you, no matter how good it seems.

3. God is working, either in you or in others, in ways you don’t see. When I started promoting my book on confidence, sales were dismal. I was a bit down about it (showing that I hadn’t yet mastered confidence myself), but my wife reminded me that God could have had me write it to reach just one person. And if that’s the only person who reads and is touched by the book, then it is worth it. We cannot measure success in God’s work by human standards. You can only measure by your obedience to, faith in, and love for Him. Serve Him with your whole heart and let Him take care of the results.

In the end, we can’t do anything for God. Our righteous works are as filthy rags. And He doesn’t want us to try to earn them. He wants our obedience and love, but He gives us these presents just because He loves us. No earning necessary. No earning possible.