Words

We use words every day; to talk, to listen, to write, to think. Without words we can’t communicate properly. And if we use them incorrectly we risk misunderstanding others, or being misunderstood by others. During a chat with a friend this week, I realised that words make a huge difference to the way we see ourselves too: saying “I am special”, and saying “I am special in the eyes of others”, are two very different things, and taking out those 5 extra words has a huge positive impact on your world.

Firstly, if you see yourself as only special in the eyes of others, you will be constantly searching for approval from others. You’ll feel insecure as you aren’t certain of your worth, and this means you won’t always believe people when they do affirm you. “What if they’re just saying I’m special to make me happy?” you might think. Or “what if tomorrow they don’t think I’m special any more?” Your whole world has the potential to crumble beneath your feet.

Compare this to believing that you actually are special. This doesn’t mean thinking you’re flawless, or particularly amazing at a specific skill; rather, it means accepting that you are you, with your unique talents, qualities, and flaws, and that that’s great. If you believe you’re special your perception of yourself is more positive and more constant, less reliant on, or affected by, the opinions of other people. Your more stable identity will help you be a source of strength for others rather than depending on others to keep yourself strong. You become like Bear Grylls helping someone else to abseil down that impossibly treacherous cliff face rather than being the one needing a “Bear Grylls” figure for your survival. (Not that I’m always the Bear Grylls figure! Sometimes I’m one, sometimes the other, and sometimes both at the same time; it’s something I’m still working on too.)

Secondly, seeing yourself as special is the more accurate way to see yourself out of the two. We all have things we are good at, or qualities that make us who we are, and no two people in the history of the world has had the exact same compound of talents and characteristics as you. And these things are within us, not dependent on other people’s opinions.

David Beckham was good at football, and that’s a fact; it doesn’t change based on what people think. He was special. The late Leonard Nimoy, who played Captain Spock in Star Trek, was a great actor. That doesn’t change based on what people think. It’s a fact. He was special. This same rule applies to us normal everyday people too, like my Mum. She is strong, resilient, and caring; three qualities she has that make her the person she is and therefore that make her special. Whether others agree that she has those qualities or not doesn’t change the fact that she does. She is special, not just special in the eyes of others.

And you don’t have to be the best at something to be special. Even if you think there’s nothing you are particularly good at (which probably isn’t true), you are still unique; there’s nobody else exactly like you, so by that reason alone you’re special. If limited edition coins that are inherently flawed are worth a fortune (see dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1196644/Rare-20p-coin-sells-7-100-eBay-thats-35-500-times-face-value.html) then how much more are we valuable as people who, although inherently flawed ourselves, are one-of-a-kind and alive!

Finally, seeing yourself as special is the more accurate of the two from a Christian perspective. I’ve talked before about how God gives us stable identity (see my “Identity” blog post). And I’ve mentioned in a few other posts about how Jesus died and rose again to set us free. One of the things He came to earth to set us free from was this sort of mindset; we don’t need to be slaves to it any more, we can be free and know we are loved and worth dying for. And if that wasn’t enough, God created the whole of time and space, yet values little you and little me so much that he took time and thought to shape us (Psalm 139:13-16), chose where in creation to let us be born, has protected and guided us so far in our lives, and he delights in us despite all the times we’ve messed up and let him down! (Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 149:4) Wow! Now that shows that we’re special. If God says it, I can trust it’s true and fixed as God never lies. We’re not just special in the eyes of others; we’re special. Full stop.

I really hope and pray that anyone who reads this, but especially the friend I wrote it for, genuinely engages with what I’ve said and weighs it up for themselves. Words are important; they have the power to change a life and set you free. You are loved. You are unique. You are special.

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Identity

Judges 6, describing Gideon being called to become leader of the Israelites, tells us a lot about us and God. Firstly, God can use even the weakest person and transform them into a powerful leader. Gideon didn’t think he had much ability, asking ‘how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh [one of Israel’s 12 tribes], and I am the least in my family’. What he did have, though, was availability; he was open to God using him, which was much more important. To me, this shows that anyone can stand up and make a massive difference in the situations God puts them in – if He can work through Gideon, He can work through us too! However inadequate you think you are, God sees your potential; ‘Go in the strength you have’, He says, and He’ll equip you with everything you need to succeed en route.

Secondly, our identity isn’t based on the stuff we do, it’s based on who we are. For example, the angel refers to Gideon as a ‘mighty warrior’ before he’s done anything even remotely mighty or warrior-like, showing that our identity is fixed and God-given, not depending on good works to be created or sustained. Ultimately it is constant because it’s in Christ, based on what He’s done for us and the eternal truths He reveals to us through His word, and because He never changes, our identity is stable and secure too.

Finally, Gideon’s victory in Judges 7 makes it evident that he actually is a mighty warrior. Obviously this is because God’s with him and he’s trusting in His strength – if this wasn’t the case, Gideon and his 300 men would have been absolutely slaughtered! However, it’s also a reminder that God’s promises always remain true, even when your circumstances suggest otherwise. What He says about us is the absolute truth: no matter what, we are loved unconditionally by the God who created the universe – amazing! – and we are incredibly valuable to Him. This is true whether you’re a Christian or not, by the way; He loves us ALL equally, something Jesus showed by sacrificing Himself on the cross, paying the same price for everyone. Furthermore, God sees who we are becoming; people can only make judgments on you based on your past and your present, but God, the One who sees the bigger picture, knows your future too, making what He says about us sooo much more accurate than comments people make to limit us or hold us back.

The Bible is full of men and women God used who were essentially imperfect vessels; what they had in common, though, was obedience and a willingness to serve Him. This is what we need to have as Christians, and if we trust totally in Him we’ll be secure and confident in our God-given identity, determined to do His will and being well on the way to becoming powerful, effective and influential ambassadors for Christ.

Confidence

For those of you who’ve only known me a couple of years, it may surprise you to learn that I was sometimes quite shy as a kid. There’s nothing wrong with that when you’re a child: my parents always made me feel very loved, and I had a happy childhood with many fond memories that I’ll always reflect on with a huge smile on my face. There comes a time when you have to grow up, though. For me I think this process really accelerated when I started college, and even in the brief time I’ve been at uni so far I believe it’s continuing. I’m growing up, developing into a young man, hopefully the man God wants me to be.

Much of this is God transforming me and working inside me, removing the rubbish from inside me and replacing it with more of Him. Things I used to struggle with often come relatively easily to me now: starting a conversation with a stranger, for example, or speaking up in a seminar, and I know this greater level of boldness wouldn’t have happened without God.

The fact that the Holy Spirit, if you’ve let Him into your heart, can give you the words to say in challenging situations should naturally give you more courage too, and make you less fearful of saying something stupid. Also, remembering that your true identity is found in God rather than things the world offers has helped me become more sure of, and more comfortable with, the person that I am. Knowing that He’s created each one of us, breathing life into us and continually crafting and shaping us, is a great reminder of how special and valuable we are, as is the fact that he will always love us more deeply than we can comprehend.

There’s one thing I’ve not mentioned, though, and it’s dead important. A piece of advice that a good mate from church gave me a few years ago really resonated with me at the time and still does today. He said something along the lines of:

‘The most confident people are the ones who seem confident, even when they don’t feel it.’

Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? Making the effort to be outgoing and stimulate conversations even when you’re feeling a bit shy is what makes you confident, not some innate belief that you’re amazing (that’s called arrogance by the way!). Pushing past any initial feelings of uncomfortableness when you’re in a challenging situation or environment makes things a lot easier, and even if you don’t exactly feel fearless the chances are any awkwardness will soon disappear, or at least be masked by your apparent ease. The more you break past these limitations, the more naturally confidence comes to you too, and you genuinely do become more confident over time. And it really works! Both of us have had low self-esteem in the past, and while we don’t necessarily feel confident in every situation we’re in, we’re both much more outgoing people now, more secure in our own identities. Our increased boldness and self-assuredness are testimonies in themselves of how God’s working in our lives as I mentioned before, but ultimately the limitations that contain us are ones we impose on ourselves, so it’s up to you, with God’s help, to break through them.

One thing people often associate with confidence is arrogance, as I alluded to above, and this is defintiely something to watch out for. For me, though, realising that I can do immensely more with God than I can with my own strength prevents arrogance creeping in. Every now and then He’ll give me a little reminder of how true this is, but then He goes and works through my weakness and we’re successful together. It means God gets the credit when good stuff happens, but that’s great because he deserves it!

1 Chronicles 28:20 provides a great conclusion to my post, a verse a good friend from uni reminded me of a couple of weeks ago. David tells his son, Solomon (who, presumably, is feeling quite nervous about being chosen to build God’s temple!) to:

‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.’

Now how could that not inspire you with confidence? Amazing.