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.


Getting the Full Picture of God

In the Bible study we went to on Sunday, the leader had three of us draw in a box what we thought about when he said Winston Churchill. One guy drew him in a hat smoking a cigar, one lady drew the coverage at his funeral, and I drew a Union Jack with a plane dropping bombs and a battleship. The leader drew his own box with Churchill standing with his wife and children, and then wrote a title for each of the four boxes: Statesman, Influential, Wartime Leader, and Family Man, respectively. He asked us which of the pictures was right and the obvious answer is all of them. He wasn’t just a statesman or a family man; he was both, as well as being influential and a wartime leader.

With God, it seems we have a tendency to see Him predominantly in just one or two ways. He’s our Judge or ever-merciful Savior or King. He’s our 911 Call or our Friend or our High Priest. The truth is that He’s all of these and more. He’s also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, our Provider, and the Creator of the universe.

And all of these can be summed up by saying He’s our Father.

If you’re married, you know that your spouse is more than just a collection of body parts or has more to offer than “furniture mover” or “cook.” There are different sides to them. There’s a business side, a family side, a lover side, a friend side, and more. Different faces, whether slightly different or completely different, come out depending on the situation. We accept that as a given with people, but we often seem to forget it with God.

God plays all of the roles I listed (and you might be able to come up with a few I forgot) at times, but in all of them, He is our loving Father, and it is this primary role that drives the others. If you’re seeking to know Him better, I would suggest getting to know Him as a Father, with an eye toward these other roles as parts of being a Father. Not only does it help in seeing Him as a Father primarily, but it also helps you to understand why He sometimes plays these other roles and why He does. He’s not a Judge so He can smite you; He has enough evidence already against you to justify sending you to Hell. He’s a Judge because He’s perfectly holy, but your sins if you’re a Christian have been paid for by Jesus, so now He’s a Judge of your actions so He can discipline you and keep you from running away from Him.

I don’t know what your relationship with your earthly father is like, but I do know there’s a heavenly Father who died so you can know Him…as He truly is.

Why You Need to Pray the Prayers You Don’t Want Answered

On Friday, I had a phone interview with an organization I wanted to work for. This morning, God told Leah and I that He didn’t want me taking this position. We’d been praying that if it was  His will, they would offer it; if it wasn’t, they wouldn’t. But then during my prayer time this morning, He just said no. When Leah returned from her prayer walk, I asked her to pray specifically about this and she heard the same. So I removed my name from consideration.

It wasn’t easy. Walking in faith rarely is.

Leah joked a little after that I should take a break from blogging because yesterday I’d written about having more faith and asking God to give us something hard to do, something we can’t do without Him. This morning, we received our answer.

I can’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God answered all my prayers so quickly?” If He’d answered all my prayers since we’ve been married, I’d be worth about $100 million more than I am (or, just a few dollars over $100 million in total), have our dream home built in a forested area of Colorado, with no worries in the world. Prayed for money, didn’t happen. Prayed for a job, the one it seems I’d get God tells me not to pursue. Prayed for a challenge, and that’s the one He answers.

Thank God He did.

I’ve said before that we can only build character when we don’t want to. But it’s this character growth that God is really interested in, not because He wants us to be holy on our own, but because we can’t grow this character beyond a certain point without Him. It’s why He’s so quick to answer prayers for growth: because He is so eager for us to know Him better.

Though I have to admit it’s terrifying, though my brain has been yelling at me all morning, overall, I have a sense of peace. Even though I didn’t really want Him to answer my prayer (as evidenced by my fretting a bit when He told me to give up the job opportunity), at least not as much as I wanted Him to answer my other prayers, He did answer my prayer. He is here with me, right now, right where I am and my prayers are getting through.

When I’m praying for things I want for myself, it’s easy to believe that God’s not hearing me. I reason that if I’m living the life He wants me to live, He should answer me, preferably with a strong, quick “Yes, here it is!” I don’t seem to consider that perhaps He has a better plan, a better life. A life with fewer earthly treasures or, at least, a life in which they matter less to me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a scarier situation, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve had as much to lose. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I do know that with the growth God has worked in me, I’ve already gained so much more than I risk losing. All because I prayed the prayers I didn’t really want answered.

The Four Levels of Faith

It seems there are four levels of faith:
1. Comfort faith
2. 11th-hour faith
3. Rack, Shack, and Benny faith
4. Even though faith

Comfort faith is the level I was at for a long time. I believed in God and claimed I trusted in Him to guide me…provided I wasn’t concerned about money, health, or anything else major at the time. Leah calls it “sunshine faith.” When it’s all going well enough, it’s easy to believe in God. It’s even easy to say you’re believing in God to bring you things that don’t have a definite deadline, like a house or the right person to marry. You feel good because you seem to have both a faith in God and a great deal of comfort in your life. A lot of people stay here because it’s such a nice place. Sure, trials may come, but with the resources they have, they’re able to get through most of them just fine on their own.

But God rarely uses people whose faith is at just this level. Following God requires a deepening of your faith with Him. 

It’s also hard to let go of the things you have when your faith, not only in God but that He is better than what you are letting go, is weak. I think people either get contented at this level and so don’t seek God, or they know that seeking God comes at a cost and they’re simply not willing to pay it. Either way, this is the lowest level of faith, lulling those with it to sleep.

And there’s one last danger: when a serious trial comes, many people at this level will crumble. Their faith hasn’t been worked and so they have nothing to stand on. It would be like a 120 lb. guy walking into a gym after benching 40 lbs. at home and trying to bench 400 lbs. He’d be seriously injured, if not killed.

The second level of faith is 11th-hour faith. It’s a bit stronger because you’re willing to step out and follow God outside of your comfort zone, yet there’s still a safety net. Leah and I currently have this faith. We moved down to Houston, but when we think about our checking account, we think, “Ok, we can sell her car and that should bring in about 3-4 months’ worth of expenses. We also have our credit lines, which could float us for an additional 4-5 months. We’ll be ok, we’ll make it.”

Our faith is growing each day, but we’re not quite ready to fully trust God. We want Him to catch us, even though we’re not ready to let go.

There’s some good in being here. For one, it hurts, meaning that our faith is growing. I had a job search last year and God blessed me with a contract job. I was stressed, though, because we were down to about a month’s worth of expenses. This time, I’m taking it much better, but I’m not where I need to be. Not close. I keep thinking about what will happen with the search and, even when I daydream about what God could do, it’s still not letting it all go to Him to let Him decide what needs to be done. I’m still telling Him that I need a job, which is to say, that I need the first step, but then I can take it from there. And if He doesn’t come through for a while, it’s ok because I still have my safety net.

Then there’s Rack, Shack, and Benny faith. Those of you who know Veggie Tales probably get this reference to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar set up an image of gold 90 feet tall and demanded that all people worship it. These three refused, so the king gave them another chance. They refused again, saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16b-18)

This is powerful faith, what I call “even if” faith. They were determined to believe in God and serve Him, even if He didn’t come through for them. Even if they were to be burned alive for their faith, they would not budge. I’m not there yet. I could believe in God and serve Him through more now than before, but being faced with the prospect of being burned alive…I’m not sure I could be that strong. They were willing to let go, to have no safety net under them, and, though they were hoping God would deliver them, their faith didn’t depend on His answering their prayers the way they wanted.

This is where it gets scary, though, because you don’t know whether He’ll answer your prayers in your way or let you get thrown in the furnace. And if you do get tossed in, you don’t know that He’ll protect you. This is the point at which you still pray for your plan, but have accepted His.

Lastly, there is “even though” faith. This is a subtle, but important, difference from even if faith. With even if faith, you’re still wanting your will to happen. You’re hoping God gives you a way out and you’re still looking for it. You’re willing, you can be committed, but the faith is different because the focus is different. Jesus, as the man, didn’t want to go the cross, but He was willing to go, knowing full well that there was no way out, that He would, without question, suffer one of the worst deaths in recorded history, despite having done nothing to deserve it. He went, knowing that for a brief time, He would carry the weight of all our sin on Him, becoming the sacrifice to appease His Father’s perfect and adamant justice.

I don’t know if it’s possible; to be honest, I don’t even know if I want to have this kind of faith. It terrifies me to be willing to march boldly into a certain and horrible death, worshiping God the whole way. And it doesn’t even have to be death. If I knew for certain that God would not come through for Leah and I and that we’d be on the streets, that we’d never have kids, and that we’d live short lives marred with diseases and abuses, it would be hard for me to serve still. If I were to lose Leah, I would come back eventually, but I don’t think I could worship God when it happened or honestly love Him. I tell myself “one step at a time,” but I don’t know how far I want my steps to take me. I pray simultaneously for the boldness that I need to wield this kind of faith and that I’ll never need to have it.

If anyone had this faith, it was Habakkuk. In chapter 3:17-19, he writes, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food, though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Or as Job said in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

I am in the second level right now and part of my problem is I want to go back to the first as much as I want to press on to the third. I need to know more clearly the God I serve, and I need to let go of my own will in my life.

The Prayer Challenge

When we moved to Houston, Leah and I prayed for God to strengthen our faith and to teach us how to wait on Him. Some days we question why we ever did that. In a classic case of “Be careful what you wish for…”, God has been answering our prayer. When we moved, I thought getting a job would be easy, but two months into the search, I’m still looking. Still waiting.

It’s frustrating sometimes because I want the security of a job, of having a steady supply of money with which to support us and start building a future. I want to start saving for a house, to provide a good life for our children, and to begin their inheritance.

The problem is, in short, that in praying for a job, I’m really praying for God to take our future out of His hands and put it in mine, because I trust myself more.

Praying for faith and patience is exactly what we needed to do. We need more of God and less of ourselves. He knows what is best for us, what will draw us closer to Him, and what will drive us from Him.

I think we have a tendency to view life as a restaurant in which God is our waiter. We get to order whatever we want off the menu, then pay for it by going to church, singing a few worship songs, paying tithes, and generally living good lives. If we want a dessert, we may have to pay a little extra in the form of serving the poor.

I want to start treating it more like a child at his parents’ dinner table. As Ezekiel 2:8 ends, “open your mouth and eat what I give you.”

Do I have the kind of faith that will accept what God gives me, even if it’s something I don’t like? Do I want God enough to accept things I don’t want if He gives them to me? No, not yet, but I want to, and I’ve prayed to.

In Evan Almighty, God is talking to Evan’s wife and says, “When people pray for patience, do you think God gives them patience or does He give them opportunities to become patient?” Growth often hurts. Just as in working out, growth in faith requires testing your faith beyond its current limits. There will be setbacks, but there will also be more faith in the end.

I want to challenge you to pray for something that will cause you to grow. If you need patience, be prepared for things that will try your patience. If you need faith, be ready to step out in faith. If you need boldness, know that some situations will want to beat you into a corner. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

For those willing to accept this challenge, I invite you to post on here what you’re praying for so the rest of us can pray for you. God’s not going to pile on so much that He breaks you, but He’ll pile on so much that you can’t take it without His help.

Worth Waiting For

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m looking for a job. I’ve been stressing about money lately because we’re not exactly the Rockefellers. One thought I’ve had before, though, and that Leah reminded me of is that I’ve been wanting God to provide us with money so we have to rely on Him less.

God’s not going to give us anything that takes us away from Him. Our relationship with Him is more important than whether we can afford to go on vacation, than whether we barely get by, than whether we have a roof over or heads, or even than that we live. There is nothing more fundamental to our good end than our relationship with Him. Knowing this better than we ever could, He will not give us what will cost us in our relationship with Him.

We can still get these things elsewhere, of course, but the cost in that relationship is so much higher than what we’re seeking is worth.

It’s really a matter of focus and faith. Are we focused on God or on what we want or think we need? When our focus is on ourselves, we lose sight not only of our Father, but of the reason we were created in the first place: to honor and glorify Him. 

As for our faith, we try to over-complicate things. “I believe, Lord, but just let me try this first.” “I’ll let you take care of it…after I’ve exhausted all other options.” “Please do this…if you’re listening and care enough to help.” Faith is meant to be a simple thing. Jesus even says that we’re to accept the Kingdom of God as a child does. 

How do children accept things on faith? They trust the person who said it and, trusting it, they don’t worry about it. Dad said he’d take me to a baseball game this weekend, so we’re going to a baseball game. Mom said she’d bake me cookies, so I’m getting cookies. No questions on how or whether it will happen. No trying to earn it after the promise. No looking to go to a baseball game or getting cookies on my own. I don’t have to worry; they said they’d do it and they will.

We have to put aside our pride that tells us we have to do everything for ourselves. It is true that God wants us to work, but His work is doing His will, not in earning every blessing He sees fit to give us. He has promised to provide for us what we need; why then are we still seeking it our way instead of His? God said He will provide; there is no surer promise in the Universe, no need to worry, and no need to seek my sustenance elsewhere. All I need to is follow Him and believe.

Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

We’re watching Star Wars all the way through (save for Episode 1, *shudders*), and one of the most famous lines of the series was the title of this post, spoken by Yoda. There’s a certain wisdom in it, in that if you try and fail, you haven’t done what you set out to do. You must attempt it again because you have not done it.

And yet, we can become too absorbed in what we want to do, to the point that our failures define us as failures. One thing Yoda never did was call Luke a failure or worthless. He explained to him why he failed, but there was never an emphasis on his value, just on his improvement.

In your search for confidence, don’t look for things to prove your worth to yourself. You not only have no need to do this, but doing it misses the point of self-worth entirely. Note the word “self” in self-confidence or self-esteem. It’s not “good-at-my-job-confidence” or “others-find-me-attractive-esteem.” It’s self-esteem because it’s supposed to be how you feel about yourself, not how others tell you to feel about yourself.

Even getting your sense of self-worth from God isn’t enough if you choose not to believe what He says about you. You must accept your innate worth, not your worth based on works, for no works could ever make you a fraction more valuable than you (and everyone else you have or will ever meet) already are.