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Because humility is often contrasted with arrogance, and arrogance is considered a form of confidence run amuck, many Christians get the mistaken idea that confidence is a bad thing. Well, no, confidence is not a bad thing at all. Confidence is vital. Trust is a form of confidence, and without trust, you’re not going anywhere in your walk with God.
So what determines whether confidence is good or bad? It’s all about identifying what it is you’re having confidence in. A tree can’t stand upright unless its roots have something to grip onto. It’s the same with confidence: confidence is always rooted in something. Once you identify what that something is, you can tell if your confidence is pleasing to God or not.
As a Christian, God wants you to be extremely confident in a great many things: His love for you, His goodness, His sovereignty, His Presence with you, and His flawless wisdom, to name a few. But there are other things that God wants you to have no confidence in whatsoever: such as your ability to handle demons on your own, or your ability to function without Him in life. When we root our confidence in the right things, we end up with all kinds of joy, courage, and faith. When we root our confidence in the wrong things, we end up as arrogant fools.
Arrogance is a type of misplaced confidence. Misplaced confidence is when we put our trust in lies. In the Church, for example, the old “name it and claim it” routine is a form of arrogance. We only feel justified naming and claiming when we are trusting in the lie that we can tell God what to do. Just because we really want something doesn’t mean that that’s what God wants. Just because we have decided that something is God’s will for our lives doesn’t mean that it actually is.
In the Church today, you’re constantly being taught to practice leading and commanding God instead of submitting to Him. The classic Christian prayer contains many instructions for how God ought to do things. We might be instructing God very politely, but we are still instructing Him, and this is not submission. How do we come to the absurd conclusion that it is appropriate for us to tell God what to do? We have to start by having no confidence in His wisdom, and a bunch of misplaced confidence in ours. Many Christians don’t realize how inappropriate their prayers are because they are constantly being told that God approves of how they are speaking to Him. Well, no, He doesn’t approve of it at all. God finds it utterly obnoxious when we have the gall to act like we are qualified to act as His advisers, and advising Him is exactly what we’re doing when we sit around telling Him who to heal, what to fix, who to share the Gospel with, and what to stop doing. Our prayers are one long stream of direction, criticism, and instruction, yet we don’t even see how irreverent we are being because we aren’t stopping to really think about why we feel the need to pray the way we do.
If our confidence was properly rooted in the right things, we would understand that God is infinitely wiser than we are, and the directive elements of our prayers would cease. Prayer was never supposed to be about telling God what to do, it is supposed to be about communing with Him. When you get together with a friend, if you spend the whole time telling that friend how to run his own life, your friend will find the meeting quite tiresome. But if you get together to share what’s on your hearts, get to know each other better, and enjoy each other’s company, the whole experience will be far more enjoyable. God wants us to commune with Him when we pray, not try to assist Him in doing His God thing. Certainly He wants us to talk about our concerns with Him, but not in a directive way. It is misplaced confidence that results in terrible prayer habits. We have no confidence in God’s wisdom and methods, and we have buckets of confidence in our own wisdom. The problem is that we don’t have wisdom on our own, so our confidence is rooted in a lie. We don’t know the first thing about how to draw another soul closer to the Lord—we just think we do, which is why we’re always cooking up evangelism strategies that we then tell God to bless. Why should He bless foolish plans that were made apart from His guidance? And let’s get real: deciding what we’re going to do and then asking God to back us up it is not seeking His guidance. We are supposed to be doing the serving, not the leading, yet look at how we’re constantly telling our Master what to do. Can you imagine how annoying it would be to have an employee who talked to you the way Christians talk to God? “Do this. Don’t do that. You messed that up. You need to stop doing that. Hurry up and help them.” After a while, you’d say, “This is my company, not yours! Stop telling me how to run it!”
Happily for us, God is extremely gracious and patient and He knows that many of us don’t even see how rudely we are treating Him. It all comes back to identifying who our confidence is rooted in—God or ourselves? Are we counting on Him to guide us in life or are we counting on ourselves to guide us while we assign Him the role of our super powerful Assistant?
So what does well placed confidence look like? It looks like, well, confidence. The Christian who is trusting in the right things will be far less fearful, doubtful, and anxious than the Christian who is trusting in the wrong things. Ever wonder how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found the courage to choose roasting in the fiery furnace over publicly bowing down to some golden idol? Certainly the Holy Spirit was supernaturally calming their earthsuits so that they could think clearly, but there was more to it than that. They had their confidence rooted in the right things.
King Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Dan. 3:14-18)
What’s so fascinating about this speech is how clearly the men communicate the limits of their confidence. They have total confidence in God’s ability to supernaturally protect them, but they have no confidence that He actually will. This is a superb example of well-placed confidence, for the reality is that we cannot ever predict with total certainty what God will do in a particular situation. We have no knowledge of the future, and to pretend that we do is utterly absurd. Yet this is what the Church encourages you to pretend all the time. If these three men had been raised in the modern day Church, their reply to Nebuchadnezzar would have been much different. It would have been something like this:
“In Jesus’ Name, we rebuke you, servant of Satan! We’ll never bow down before your stupid statue and if you throw us in that fiery furnace, our God will protect us! You can’t harm us! We are anointed with the Holy Ghost power! We are protected by the Blood! We bind those flames in the Name of Jesus! We rebuke that heat! Our God has given us authority over all things and we know beyond all doubt that He won’t let you hurt us! Shadrach, do you believe?”
“Meshach, do you believe?”
“Go ahead, you evil king! You just try and take us down! We’ve got the power of God on our side, and He has already defeated you!”
Do you hear the difference? This second response is full of arrogance as the men decide for God how He will handle the situation, and then they publicly flaunt their ability to control His power by rebuking and binding the things that they don’t like. Today the Church would applaud this second answer as a demonstration of great faith, but God would call it irreverent and annoying. The real Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were far more pleasing to God by publicly acknowledging their inability to predict or control Him. The real men were basing their courage on truths, not delusions. One of the most critical truths we ever learn down here is that pleasing God is all that matters. Having confidence in that truth changes the way we make decisions. In the real biblical account, we see a much deeper devotion to God being displayed than in the version we made up. In our modification of the real account, devotion to God was clearly dependent on God aligning with human preferences. This kind of shallow commitment is being constantly promoted in the Church today. We’re taught not to obey God simply because He is King, but because He’ll reward our obedience with a bunch of earthly perks and goodies.
When’s the last time you were told that before you drop money into the offering plate, you ought to recognize that your money is God’s property and be sure you’re waiting on Him to tell you what to do with it? Aren’t we taught instead to just follow the leading of people about which ministries are worthy of support and then share with those ministries as a means of getting God to bless us? In the Church we’re taught to give earthly things in order to get earthly things. The great significance of merely having God pleased with us is constantly downplayed. Instead of being taught to focus on the goal of blessing God’s heart, we’re taught to serve as a means of manipulating Him into giving us what we want. Always it comes back to us. Our comfort, our pleasure, and our desires are constantly exalted as more important goals than that of pleasing our King.
The real truth leaves no room for self-exaltation, bossing God about, or deciding how we will serve Him. The real truth grinds our pride into the dirt, yet at the same time it fills our souls with freedom and joy. Confidence that is rooted in truth drives fear from our lives, for what is there to fear once we really truly grasp that God is always taking the best possible care of us? What is there to fear once we really become confident in His great faithfulness to us? Certainly our earthsuits will remain invested in protecting themselves, and when they see a threatening situation on the horizon, they’ll go into their usual meltdowns. But in the midst of the panic, our souls can be experiencing that peace that defies all logical understanding. How do three men face the concept of being roasted alive when they don’t even know whether God will save them or not? Because they are focused on the things that really matter. Pleasing God is what matters. The trials we endure on this earth and the manner in which we leave it are trivial details by comparison. God has given us a priority system to live by: He comes first. When we trust in the correctness of that system and root our confidence in it, life becomes simpler. The impossible becomes possible. The fearful becomes less threatening. We can start to imagine ourselves getting through the most miserable of assignments because in the midst of it, we have confidence that we are putting a smile on God’s face by living according to His priorities and standing on the truths that He has defined for us. God wants us to have an abundance of well-placed confidence in this life, and He will get us there one step at a time as we seek His wisdom and desire for Him to have His way in our lives.
What is humility?
Relating to God: Pursuing the Right Dynamic
Faith Development: Basic Mechanics