February 24, 2013

On Confidence

Passage: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17 – 4:1, Luke 13:31-35

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold* of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?


Mark Twain wrote; "You may have noticed that the less I know about a subject the more confidence I have, and the more new light I throw on it." Twain was on to something in this observation.  The more we know about a subject ought to lead to that realization of how little we really know thus we are not as prone to confident pronouncements.  Something said with great confidence is not necessarily an indicator of its accuracy.

Notwithstanding the actuality of misplaced confidence, we know and value the importance of confidence for living.  We want to instill confidence in our children, we want to display confidence to our employer that we can do the work, we want to be confident to finish an endeavour or tackle a problem.  On the one hand, feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy undermine whatever we put our hand to do; on the other hand, confidence builds life.  Author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy said, “Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.”   Boxer George Foreman said, “Everybody wants to be somebody. The thing you have to do is give them confidence they can. You have to give a kid a dream.”

1.  The Bible addresses the subject of confidence.  In Proverbs we read (14:26): “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and one’s children will have a refuge.”  Theologian William Holladay’s analysis of the Psalms has identified various forms or types of Psalms.  One of these types is known as Psalms of confidence.  There are twelve such Psalms of confidence, nine are confidence of an individual and three are confidence of the community.  Psalm 27—where the text for this sermon if found—is one of the Psalms of confidence of the individual.  (The much loved 23rd Psalm is considered to be of this type).

It is telling that Israel’s hymn/prayer book makes this subject important.  The design of the Psalms is for use in public worship; thus in Israel’s, and later the Church’s, faith life this matter of confidence is woven into the fabric of its worship practises.

The Apostle Paul writes (Ephesians 3:12) that the believer “has access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” The Apostle John wrote (1 John 5:14), “and this is the confidence we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  What I invite you to take note of here is the linking of confidence with faith—faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus also touches on the subject of confidence.  In his sermon on the mount, for example, he invites disciples to be confident in him: “‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)  While he may not have taken up a direct discussion of confidence I believe we can infer as much elsewhere in what he taught; in his promise, “I am with you always” and in his call to “believe in God, believe also in me”.

2. Listen again to how the 27th Psalm—a song of confidence—begins.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold* of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”  One thing that jumps off the page is that this expression of confidence is a confession of faith in God; the source of confidence is found in looking away from ourselves.

A little over a year ago a news story from India described government initiatives undertaken to combat gender discrimination.  The cultural preference for sons is resulting in an ever widening gap in the ratio of girls to boys under the age of six; in some areas of India for every 1000 boys there are 881 girls.  Some of the initiatives are aimed at promoting self-worth and dignity in India’s dwindling female population and among them was a new start naming ceremony.  Young girls were abandoning names with negative connotations and choosing new names to promote a positive outlook.  Two of the abandoned names were “Nakusa” and Nakushi” which are variations of the Hindi word meaning “unwanted”.

When I read that story my heart aches for these children.  I can understand that such renaming could have a positive impact on a young person’s life.  What I wonder is how far such things can carry us as necessary as they may be.  Indeed in Christ we are given a new name in that we are named as Christ’s own.  But more is involved than mere naming.  I read another story of a church in an area of an American city riddled with gang violence.  One of this church’s initiatives is a clinic that removes tattoos; what the minister found was the when gang members came to faith the removal of gang tattoos was instrumental in helping them find a new way in life.  I appreciate how profoundly such actions can help.

I think of all the strategies we have for promoting confidence in life; things like self-talk; motivational sayings, celebrating small successes, training and practise.  I note that these can help with confidence but I wonder how far they can carry us.  Every week I write a sermon; you might think that I would be confident enough by now that this would be rather routine.  Many weeks my wife knows to anticipate the day of the week when I will again express exasperation at sermon writing progress.  She will say something in an effort to be helpful; it ranges from “suck it up and get at it” to “why don’t you take a break and come back to it, you will be fine”.  I am not so confident.

Do you find this as well; you are not so confident in your ability to get things done as others around you are that you can?  You may have executed a particular duty with skill that others around you assume you will simply do it again—you made it look so easy.  And the person they perceive and the one you perceive from the inside are clearly two different people.  The clouds of self-doubt and insecurity have this uncanny timing in casting their shadows at what seems the most inopportune moments.

I believe that we often look for confidence in things that are inadequate to the task.  The greatness of the opening stanza from Psalm 27 is the One to who we are pointed as the source of confidence.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold* of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”  As believers we often overlook the great solace that is our faith experience.  The gospel shows us that confidence is found in another; in looking away from ourselves to him.

3.  In the older testament story of when David met Goliath the Philistines were taunting the Israelites because of the sheer size of their champion.  It is easy to be brave with a giant is on your side.  When David prays, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” he is not uttering the bravado of a person who thinks he has the biggest champion at his back.  The rest of the Psalm indicates that he faces a lot that is fearful.  I think this is David telling us about the experience of his faith and how he experiences the peace of this refuge in the One who is his light and salvation if the face that which is fearful.

Clearly this is written from the perspective of Israel’s King who has to deal with an army camped against him.  Such leadership is often lonely, isolating, everyone looks to his leadership for what to do.  It isn’t just those in leadership who feel isolated.  Troubles have a way of isolating in that I am the only one who can face what I must.  Where do we look for confidence?  David points us to faith; the Lord is the stronghold of my life.  It is in him that “though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident,” said David.  Davis is confident in God; that David—in who his is—will never be lost to God.

It is common to human life experience that you take you wherever you go.  The person in public and the person in private is in fact the same one.  You may indeed dress differently for public consumption than for the comfort of your home.  But “you”, the same “you”, is the one in all those places.  What we find is that our attempts at trying to maintain public persona that is at odds with the private life eventually crashes down around us as most lies do.  The fact that there is only one you can also be a positive attribute.

Take for example when you learn a new skill.  Many people of my vintage learned to use technology like a computer out of necessity for work.  I have found that such skill is not limited to work life but permeates to all.  I believe this can also true of something like confidence.  We took a course of study and our confidence in writing grew; that confidence leads us to venture writing in other areas of life.

Here is the point; the source of confidence is the Lord; our light, our salvation, our stronghold.  He is the source without limit because his love knows no limits when it comes to his regard for his people.  As you find rest in him this confidence arising from the gift of faith permeates the rest of your living for you are the same you where ever you go.  Are you feeling uncertain and inadequate to life?  Begin the day praying Psalm 27 and see what the Lord will do in your life.

4. In this psalm of confidence David declared: “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”  What you hear from David is this singular commitment of life; or more accurately, the overarching purpose for his life.  He has other duties besides being at the place of public worship but his love for God is that commitment that is first and shapes all the rest.

A great boon to confidence for life and living is to have this fixed in our hearts and lives.  Love for God first; all other loves are lifted and ordered accordingly.

5.  Another thing we see in this Psalm is that even though he is confident in the Lord as the stronghold of his life he is not free from the assaults of anxiety, uncertainty, and inadequacy. David has sober assessment; his confidence does not render him fearless.  The stanzas we call verse 7 to 10 are just such an expression of “help my lack of confidence, O Lord.”  “Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!”, cries David.

As we know from the life of Jesus’ disciples, our faith is weak.  The word of comfort is that God knows our vacillating confidence and does not abandon us.  I think we pray “don’t abandon me” because we feel that is what I would do with me if I were God; but not our Lord.

6.  “Wait for the Lord”, David reminds his wavering heart, “be strong, let your heart take courage.”  Remember that waiting for the Lord in never waiting around, loitering.  It is to take up the things we know to do and the Lord will handle those things beyond our control and aid us in the things to be done.  Fear often paralyzes us from the things we can do.  Take courage and do these.


Author/speaker Jennifer Rothschild was diagnosed at 15 with a rare, degenerative eye disease that would eventually steal her sight. In her DVD study Fingerprints of God, Jennifer shared the following story that illustrates her experience of the Lord as her light and salvation.

It was a very crowded bus, and all the passengers looked sympathetically as Susan made her way down the aisle. She fumbled with her cane, and as she nestled herself into her seat, the onlookers just watched with questions and concern. You see, it had been a year since Susan lost her sight.

When she first became blind, she fell into a deep pit of depression. Her world had crumbled, her sadness overtook her. Not only was her heart crushed, but so was the heart of her husband, Mark. He so loved his wife and wanted to help her, and so he did. Inch by inch, he helped to pull her out of that pit of depression, helped give her skills and confidence, and to regain her sense of self. And that husband did all that he could to help her in her new state of darkness.

After many months of Susan's blindness, she began to feel more confident because of Mark's help, and she felt like she could perhaps return to her job again. And Mark promised that he would help her. So every day, Mark would drive his wife to work, walk her into the office, make sure she was settled, and then leave and go to his base that was across town, because Mark was a military officer. Then, he would come back and get her from work. This went on for several weeks.  Though Mark so wanted to help his wife, it was becoming logistically impossible for him to make it to his base on time.

He dreaded having to announce to Susan that he wasn't going to be able to drive her to work. But in the end, he had to. "I can't ride the bus to work," she replied. "I'm blind. How am I going to know how many stairs there are? How am I going to know what path to take? I feel like you are abandoning me."

Mark's heart was crushed. He promised her he would do whatever it took to help her until she felt confident and independent on the bus. He helped her with the routes. He helped her learn the stairs and learn the paths. And so, finally, after several weeks of doing such, Susan was confident. He went to his base; she went to her work. Monday morning, she got on the bus. She went to work, she came home; it was flawless. Then Friday morning arrived. Susan made her way onto the bus, and as she went to pay her fare, the bus driver said, "Ma'am you sure are lucky." Susan said, "Are you talking to me?" The bus driver said, "Yeah. It must feel good to be cared for as you are." Susan replied, "I don't know what you mean, sir."

The bus driver said: "Well, you know, every morning when I drop you off at your stop, as soon as those doors open, I can see that man standing over there at the corner. And he watches you. As soon as you step off the bus, his eyes are on you. I think he's some kind of military officer because of his uniform. And his eyes follow you as you walk across that parking lot, and as you walk up those stairs. Until you open that door and go inside, that man doesn't take his eyes off you.  And once that door closes, he stands straight and tall, like a sentinel, and he salutes you, and then he blows you a kiss." Susan burst into tears. She had no idea that her husband had been watching her.

Friends, the lover of our very being never takes his eyes off of us.  The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold* of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?