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?

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.

What True Confidence Is and Why You Need It

What if I told you that most Christians were wasting the second biggest benefit of being a Christian? The biggest is naturally that we go to Heaven for eternity rather than Hell, but that does us little good until we die, meaning that the biggest benefit to us on earth is largely wasted. This is the life-changing part of the Gospel, the part that non-Christians will look at that makes them want to know Christ, and the part that can give you a greater victory than any victory you’ve been seeking. So, what is it?

You have a new identity in Christ once you become saved that makes you more valuable than building any empire, having any job, acquiring any amount of wealth or power, or being the most attractive person ever could make you. Once you are saved, you cease becoming who you were and you become Jesus’ friend, a child of God, and His heir. You become part of the church, the Bride of Christ. There is no position higher outside of being God Himself.

Read that again. Slowly. Even the angels don’t have that promise. They don’t have grace and 1 Peter 1:12 says they long to look into God’s salvation in our lives.

What does that mean for us? It means that we no longer have to fight for positioning on earth. No more slavery to things which give us our value. Think about what this is for you for a moment. Do you give your all to your job, so that one comment from your boss can ruin your day? Do you feel an almost compulsive need to have dinner ready on time for your husband and the house clean? Do you constantly try to get more money, even when you have enough? Everyone (at least, everyone I’ve ever known) has something that can make them feel worthless if it’s taken away or attacked. And nearly everyone will try to keep that from happening, meaning they can be manipulated or, more often, manipulate themselves, into doing what is necessary to protect their self-worth. Stay in a bad relationship so they won’t be alone? Yep. Work 55 hours a week? If that’s what it takes.

People enslave themselves to whatever gives them value. 

Jesus died not just to save you, but also that you could get your value from being God’s son or daughter. He died to set you free from your self-imposed slavery.

That’s what having true confidence is: knowing Whose child you are once you become saved. It’s not because you’re special and did something amazing because you can’t possibly earn this position. Ever. And this position is so much higher than anything on earth that fighting for position on earth is like two blue whales arguing over which of them is a millimeter longer.

This is not just God fulfilling our earthly desires so that we have enough. This is God giving us so much more than enough that what we’re seeking now doesn’t matter.

He does this for three reasons:

1. Because He knows that nothing you get when you’re getting your self-worth outside of Him will ever be enough because it won’t be permanent. There will always be another promotion, another relationship (or the fear that the one you’re in will fade or end), another possession to own, another achievement to earn. Always someone else to compete with. Always something new to win. There is never a point at which it is enough, at which you’ll truly be satisfied with yourself on a deep, permanent level.

2. Because He knows that you will cling to Him all the more tightly if you’re getting your sense of self-worth from Him. God doesn’t want our need for value to change; He simply wants to be where we get our value. We need to know Him as He truly is if we are to get our value from Him, and there is no way to do that save by seeking Him and spending time with Him.

3. Because it is when we stop competing with others that we are able to love them as He loves them. You cannot love someone while looking out for your needs and wants above theirs. You cannot truly love another person enough if you’re depending on them to tell you your value. It is only when you get your value from God alone that you are free of letting others’ opinions enslave you. It is this freedom, this peace that your God, your Father, loves you passionately that will make non-Christians notice the change in your life and want it for themselves.

True confidence, in short, is the freedom that comes with knowing you are a child of God, His heir, His friend, and the Bride of Christ. Nobody can take that away from you, and neither any failure nor any success can change that value. Once you become a Christian, you have this new identity available to you. All you have to do is embrace it.

In a Nutshell

There have been well over 100 posts on this blog by now. When a blog has that many posts, one of two things often happens: 1. There is no real main message, just a variety of messages based on whatever is going through the writer’s head that day, or 2. The messages generally revolve around a theme, but are so specialized and/or spread out that there is no summary.

A little bit of both has happened here, but it’s more of the second one, so in an effort to hash out the main purpose of this blog, here are its main points:

1. Though salvation is the greatest gift God offers us, I believe the second-greatest (and the most important one on earth) is the opportunity for a new identity as His son or daughter. This is a higher position than any we can hope to attain on earth and it is a gift, free for the taking, that we can never hope to earn. It also gives us the right to have a relationship with Him. In the Old Testament, people had to go through priests to get to God; in the New Testament, that veil is torn apart and we can all have that relationship.

2. Because it’s such a high position and we can’t earn it, there is no need to strive for a better position on earth. There’s nothing wrong with having a great job, lots of money, a passionate marriage, or wonderful kids, but it is always wrong to get your value from these things or to let the attainment or retaining of them to lead you into sin.

3. God is eternal and doesn’t change His mind. This means that if you take your value from Him, your value is assured and eternal. If you take it from achievements on earth, it will always be temporary; even if you beat everyone else, you will eventually be beaten and are still bound by the rules of the competition. If you take it from other religions, you’re stuck having to earn Heaven or that religion’s equivalent. If you take it from any inherent value as a person and not from God, you base it on your worth as the result of random chance in a world that will go on so long after you that your contributions are meaningless, making your value effectively zero. Only by taking your value in God can you have a real self-worth that lasts.

4. Everyone is equal in value before Him and it’s His opinion that matters. If He created the Universe and all that is in it, then our opinions of each other count for nothing compared to His opinion of us. And He’s so high above us that we’re all the same before Him, just as an elephant looking down on ants. None of our accomplishments matter as far as our self-esteem goes; all that matters is how He sees us and whether we accept that view of ourselves.

5. Your confidence in yourself can never be higher than your confidence in God. To take your value from what God says of you and give up taking your value from the things of the world, you have to have faith in Him. To have faith, you must know Him on a personal level. Otherwise, you’re replacing that from which you get your sense of self-worth with something flimsy or with nothing at all; when your value is tested, you’ll have nothing to lean on and will believe that taking your value from God is a bad idea, then go racing back to the things that used to give you your sense of self-worth.

6. No amount of achievement will ever be enough to satisfy you. There will always be another promotion to chase, always a better TV or phone to buy, always the next goal in savings, always the next hurdle in child-raising, always the next situation to navigate in a marriage…always the next something. If your value is based on anything but what God says of you, you will spend your entire life trying to earn and re-earn your value.

7. You enslave yourself to that which gives you a sense of self-worth. If it’s your job, you’ll work all the overtime you must in order to be the best employee you can be. If it’s being a friend, you’ll open yourself up to being taken advantage of. If it’s a romantic relationship, you won’t stand up for yourself if you’re being ill-treated and can’t possibly love the other person as God wants you to love them. If you get your value from God, you’ll feel a need to seek Him and so strengthen that value. God doesn’t want to take away your need for self-worth; He just wants to be your source for it.

Adam and Eve were created free. They enslaved themselves to sin and the world. Jesus died to set us free.

For God, Gold, and Glory

My wife has been lovingly telling me ever since we started dating that money doesn’t mean that much to her. After getting enough to support a couple kids, she doesn’t need much else. She’d even be content if she had to work at McDonald’s or Wal-mart to help us make ends meet if I was working at a job I loved. 

Yet somehow, I struggle to get it through my thick skull that she’s serious, that my value to her isn’t based on our bank account or the home we live in. I believe God has called me to write, yet my efforts to further my writing, either via writing / editing my books or promoting them, have stalled for the better part of a year. Even when I was working on them, there was an element of me that wanted money and honor; sometimes, I wanted these less than I wanted God’s glory, but usually, it was more. The fact that I was concerned about money and honor at all, though, shows how unprepared I was for God to bless my efforts.

God will not bless your efforts for you, only your efforts for Him.

Instead of God, gold, and glory, I need to separate it out to God or gold and glory. “No man can serve two masters,” as Matthew 6:24 tells us. We can’t truly be concerned with God’s work if we’re doing it to provide for ourselves or increase our own value in any way. 

There’s a story that hunters used to trap monkeys by putting an apple in a glass jar and then tying a rope to the jar. A monkey could just get its hand in, but when it tried to pull out the apple, it would get stuck. It could have easily let go of the apple, but refused to, even when it was being led away. It was essentially choosing a short-term prize over freedom. And that’s very similar to what we do when we chase after money or the next relationship or anything else in which we put our value. We give up our freedom for something that doesn’t last because…

We voluntarily enslave ourselves to anyone from whom we derive a sense of self-worth.

I have the same choice you do: whether to choose myself or God. The mind says God, but the heart is infinitely stubborn. I have to silence it, with God’s help, and press on to serve Him, forsaking my obsession with money, with glory, with anything else that is not furthering His will and glorifying to Him. If He gives me money, fine, but I cannot be seeking it and Him at the same time. I need to let go of the apple. 

Do you?

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.

Change is Hard

As I mentioned yesterday, Leah and I are starting a book on how to overcome our resistance to change. One insight we’ve had is that our willingness to change doesn’t seem to depend on the possible reward for change, but rather our perceived likeliness in getting that reward vs. the perceived sacrifice involved.

For example, it’s possible that if you were to learn web developing, you could become the next Mark Zuckerberg, a multi-billionaire in just a few short years. Fame and loads of money are powerful motivators for most of us, so why don’t we all do it? Because we have a low perceived likelihood of that happening.

To be fair, that is an extreme case. We aren’t all going to start the next Google, Twitter, or Facebook. That said, there are more jobs in web developing than there are people to fill them, making the odds of getting a job fairly high. Many of these jobs pay good money, too. You don’t even need a degree for most of them, either. So even if you don’t hit your goal of being the next web billionaire, you can still significantly improve your life.

It’s something we often miss with our goals. Many of us have a tendency to look at the best that could happen, then tell ourselves we could never do that, and so don’t even try. We miss out on all the benefits that a change is more likely to bring.

Ah, but many of us don’t want to be web developers. We don’t have the interest or we think we can’t learn it. That’s the other half. We tell ourselves that no amount of effort will get us to the change we need and so no effort at all should be expended. We give up before we even start or at the first sign of any difficulty.

I believe that procrastination is not the cause of our resistance to change, but a method we use to resist it. Even our misconceptions of the rewards and sacrifices involved in change, though closer to the cause, do not seem to be the root causes of our recalcitrance. The root cause is always in our heart, not our head. We’ll get to that more next time.

Around the Bonfire, Part 1

Imagine that you were in a desert at night, freezing and hungry. You see a campfire far off and head toward it. You get closer and see it is a large bonfire in the middle of a caravan full of people merrily eating and drinking. You creep to the edge of the camp, wanting to come in, but think, “I don’t know these people. Even if they’re friendly, and I can’t be sure they are, I have nothing to offer them for their hospitality.”

As you turn slowly to go away, savoring every last second of the warmth, a heavy hand claps you on the shoulder and you turn to see a big, ruddy man with a beard down to his chest. “Welcome, stranger!” he says happily. “Come, join us by the fire. Eat, drink, and rest for a while.” Then he leaves you to join or leave as you see fit.  Continue reading