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.

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I Was Right

A few years ago, shortly after enjoying the best God time of my life, I wrote a poem about forgiveness. I was struggling with literally dozens of grudges then, and writing this was the first step in the process of letting those go.

“I was right!” I shouted,
Alas to no avail.
The night dark and unclouded
The moon, still smiling, pale.
“Answer me if You’re there!
Or have You gone away?
They were wrong! It’s not fair!
Do You hear me when I pray?”
Softly rustled the leaves
And as I turned I spied,
As though between two thieves,
A flanked tree with branches wide.
“I was right then as well,
More than you’ll ever be,
But love saves more from hell
Than right or law or creed.
They were wrong, it is true,
But does that matter now?
Life became unfair for you
When blood dripped from my brow.”
“I was wrong,” I gently wept,
The pale moon smiling still.
Then heard as in the clouds crept,
“That doesn’t matter, either.”

Determining How Forgiving You Are

One of the best ways to tell whether you’ve forgiven someone is to think about that person and what he or she has done to you. Not just a vague recollection, but actually replaying the scene in your mind as nearly as you can remember. If there’s a bit of angst or bitterness, then there’s a grudge. It may not be a large one, but it’s still there.

Often, this feeling is accompanied by a wish that this person gets their comeuppance. You either want something bad to happen to them, often in the name of “justice”, or you want them to at least pay you back. 

The truth is you can’t say you’ve forgiven someone if you secretly want to throw a badger at them. Proverbs 24:17-18 says we are not to rejoice when our enemy stumbles, lest God see our mirth and turn His wrath from them. 

When we want something bad to happen to someone else, we do several things:

1. We put ourselves in God’s place on the Throne of Judgment.

2. We say that Jesus’ sacrifice is insufficient, as they still deserve our punishment.

3. We fail to love them as we love ourselves. (How many of us don’t want mercy?)

4. We forget that we are every bit as doomed without Jesus’ intervention as they would be.

5. We forget what they’re doing to themselves in causing a rift in their relationship with God. That is a significant punishment already, but He might add to it as He sees fit. It is not our business what He chooses to do with someone else’s sin; it is sufficient to know He is willing to forgive it and He has forgiven us.

 

The Nature of Sin, Part 4

In the final part of this series, I want to examine one last aspect of sin: its effects on us. When we think of the results of our sin, what usually comes to mind? The need for Jesus’ sacrifice? Yes, we need it, but there are more effects than just eternal damnation. The results from the people we’ve hurt or the powers that be? I confess that I often consider these first when I realize I was wrong. While I have never been much of a rule-breaker and even less of a law-breaker, I’ve wronged many people over the years and I’ve even apologized more as damage control than because I really felt convicted about what I’d done.

Sin has another effect, though: separation from God. The punishment that we earned with our first sin was Hell, which is not only the everlasting fire, but separation from God as well, which I believe is an even greater torture. Jesus didn’t cry out in pain, not when He was beaten, had the crown of thorns pushed down on His head, when He was flogged, or even when they nailed Him to the cross. He cried out when He felt God turn away from Him (Matthew 27:46). God the Father could not look on His Son because Jesus had the weight of all our sins on Him at that moment and God is so holy that even Jesus was separated from His presence by that sin.

When we sin now, something similar, albeit less drastic, happens. We turn away from God and experience a degree of separation.

Imagine that we’re in a room and talking. You can see my face and my gestures and look into my eyes and I can do likewise. Then you turn your back to me. I’m still in the room with you, and we can still talk, but something has changed. The lines of communication are not what they were before you turned away.

When we sin, we do something similar with God. We turn away from Him (note that it is we who are turning, not Him) and so rob ourselves of the fullness of His presence. We don’t get His wisdom, His peace, His sense of love, or to enjoy perfect faith in Him to look out for our best interests. We’re still saved, but we’re not taking full advantage of what God is offering us.

When someone wrongs you, they’re doing the same thing. They’re separating themselves from the fullness of God they were meant to enjoy. That penalty is far higher than anything that could happen to them on earth. The only reason we don’t see it as a big deal is because we’re already not as close to God as He wants us to be. That separation, though, is very real and of immense importance. They’re taking more away from themselves than you or the law could ever take from them. So when they harm you, you may be justified in being angry (Ephesians 4:26 says to be angry, but not sin), but remember that what they’re doing to themselves is far worse than what they’re doing to you. If anything, they need understanding and compassion more than bitterness or lashing back. There is no punishment worse than separation from our Creator, our Father, and our God.

The Nature of Sin, Part 3

The true reason we must forgive others is that our salvation is based on faith. Jesus died for you and all you have to do to take advantage of that is believe that His sacrifice was enough to pay for your sins. There’s a catch, though: He died for everyone else, too.

In other words, if His sacrifice is for everyone, then you have to choose whether to believe it’s powerful enough to forgive everyone or to forgive no one. There’s no middle ground third option here. Because the root of every sin is choosing yourself over God, the actual mode in which you choose to sin, be it cussing someone out or killing someone, is irrelevant as far as the judgment from God you earn for yourself. One sin, one choice of you instead of Him, is a choice of death everlasting instead of life. And we have all made that choice, most of us many, many times.

This makes your faith in God to forgive others and yourself the same. If you choose not to forgive others, you put yourself in the Judgment Throne of God (which is not exactly your rightful place) and essentially say that Jesus’ blood is insufficient to pay for their sins. If you believe that, then you concurrently believe it’s not enough for your sins, either. Differentiating between your sins and theirs doesn’t work because it’s not your judgment of the importance of the sins that counts; it’s God’s right to judge.

God wants us to have faith in Him and in His Son. We don’t have that faith if we have grudges. And if we don’t have that faith, how can we expect to be forgiven? Let go of your grudges and resentment against others and yourself. Once you truly believe that all sins are equal in God’s eyes and that you have the chance to be forgiven for many times more than what you’re forgiving, forgiving others will come naturally, especially as your faith in these things grows.