Confidence… it’s a quality many of us would like to have in greater measure. We know that a lack of confidence can hold us back. It can prevent us from stepping out and taking a risk, pursuing the dreams God has placed on our hearts. If we’re not careful, the voice inside that tells us we have nothing worthwhile to offer can paralyse us completely.
Most of us can also probably think of others we would like to see grow in confidence – gifted people who have great potential, who could be used significantly by God if only they would believe in themselves.
But where does confidence come from? How can we develop it in ourselves and cultivate it in others?
These are questions I have been thinking about since a Five Minute Friday post a few weeks ago raised the topic in my mind. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have decided to do a short series over the next few weeks to look into this subject some more, drawing on some lessons we can learn from the story of Gideon.
To say that Gideon lacked confidence at the start of the story would be an understatement. When we first meet him, he is hiding, threshing wheat in the bottom of a winepress, which seems a little strange until you understand the context.
At the time, Gideon’s people, the Israelites, have been oppressed by the Midianites for seven long years. Time and time again the Midianites have destroyed the crops and stripped the land bare, leaving Israel to starve.
It is into this situation that the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and greets him with the unlikely words, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” (Judges 6:12 NLT)
Initially, Gideon has little confidence in either part of that greeting. He certainly doesn’t see himself as a mighty hero, and the angel’s declaration that God has chosen him to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites is met with scepticism: “How can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” (Judges 6:15 NLT)
As well as focusing on his perceived weakness, he also struggles to see past his circumstances: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?” (Judges 6:13 NLT)
There are three points I take from this first part of Gideon’s story that can help in our reflections on confidence.
Firstly, our confidence can be badly shaken by circumstances or by words spoken over us by others. It’s understandable after years of being oppressed by the seemingly powerful Midianites that Gideon would doubt his ability to lead the Israelites against them.
I’m not sure where his perception of his clan’s weakness or his own insignificance had come from or if these conclusions were accurate, but he certainly states them as facts. Maybe these were ideas he had heard repeatedly and he had accepted them as true without really examining their accuracy.
Maybe the first stage for us is thinking about where our lack of confidence springs from. Have circumstances worn us down? Have other people’s words or actions played a part? Are there ideas about ourselves and our abilities that we are accepting as true that may not be fully accurate? Taking some time to bring these concerns before God and seek his wisdom can help us gain a truer perspective.
Secondly, the Lord is with you! Gideon struggles to believe this at first, and we may sometimes feel the same in our difficult circumstances, but God is there. He doesn’t wait for Gideon to find his courage first. He is with him right there in the winepress as he is cowering in fear.
God is with us too in our struggles with confidence. As we will see as we get further into Gideon’s story, his growth in confidence wasn’t a quick or easy process, but God was with him and he didn’t give up on him.
Finally, God sees qualities in us that we fail to see in ourselves and he also sees what we have the potential to become. While Gideon doesn’t seem like a mighty hero at this point in the story, God knows that one day the description will be fitting.
Gideon may not believe it straight away, but I’m sure a seed was planted in his heart that day, because words like that are powerful.
I remember my English teacher at school speaking words like that over me. I was fifteen years old and I had just given a talk in class for a public speaking assessment. At the time public speaking was right at the top of my list of least favourite things to do and I knew I was bad at it. Nerves would overcome me every time, and all attempts to make eye contact would be forgotten. All I could do as I stood there shaking was to stare at my piece of paper and read the words on it as fast as humanly possible so that I could sit back down.
But after this assessment she called me over, and I will never forget her words: “One day you will speak and people will listen.”
I didn’t believe her at the time. In fact, this was the last public speaking assessment I had to do for school and I was pretty sure it was the last time I would ever speak in public, but there was something about the authority in her voice as she made that statement which meant I couldn’t quite ignore it. I have no idea whether or not she was a Christian, but it seemed strangely prophetic.
It took many years and much more growth in confidence in other areas (some of which I’ll mention in future posts in this series) but now I actually enjoy public speaking – in certain contexts!
My fifteen year old self would be shocked to see me now, just as the Gideon we meet at the start of his story would be shocked by all that he went on to do, but none of it is a surprise to God.
He sees our potential and he calls it out. Gradually we become all that we were meant to be, and we can also have the enormous privilege of encouraging others and calling out the potential we see in them.
What about you? What has helped you to grow in confidence or to cultivate confidence in others?