If a child fell into the deep end of a pool, a trained lifeguard would not hesitate to jump in and rescue him. That’s confidence. If I was the only adult nearby, I’d have to momentarily forget that I am terrified of being in water past my neck, throw an urgent prayer toward heaven … and then jump in. That’s courage.
The world tells us to believe in ourselves, to be fearless, and to believe we can do anything we put our minds to. That might work when you know you can actually do something, such as a lifeguard having confidence in her swimming skills, because you’ve successfully done it before. But what about those times you need to take action but are painfully aware of your limitations?
Confidence or Courage
The painter Matisse once said, “Creativity takes courage.” Writers, artists, composers, and designers are often admired for their talent but, as in any other field, success is more often a result of having the guts to put pen to paper and, without any certainty of the results, letting the ideas flow out—and then doing the hard work of revisions and plodding through sometimes inelegant processes. Genius and aptitude help, but they are useless without courage.
Confidence is an admirable trait to possess, but it’s not the same thing as courage. Confidence for our purposes here is the certainty that you can do something. This may make it easier to have courage—the willingness to do something frightening—but confidence cannot be manufactured when there is no basis for it. Courage, on the other hand, can be attained. As our faith in God grows, so does our courage (see Psalm 56:3-4 and 2 Timothy 1:7) because our confidence is placed in God instead of in ourselves. Having confidence in God makes sense when we know God and becomes easier as that relationship grows, because God’s power and strength have been proven again and again, both in the Bible and in lives all around us, hopefully including our own.
Confidence in God
One of the best-known examples of courage in the Bible is that of young David standing in the presence of the giant Goliath. Those of us who heard this story in Sunday School marveled at how this child boldly stood before the terrifying Philistine and knocked him over with a single well-aimed stone. However, many of us may not stop to notice a key element of the story: David deflected attention from himself onto God, emphasizing that it was the Lord who had the power and strength to defeat the enemy (1 Samuel 17:45-47). He didn’t imagine for a moment that he alone could topple Goliath. He displayed no confidence in his own abilities. But God had saved him before and David was confident he could and would do so again.
The difference between David and the other Israelites was not that he was more capable to fight than they were; in fact, he was the least qualified among them. What made him stand apart was his unwavering faith in God. What he lacked in self-confidence he more than made up for in courage.
If David seemed fearless, it wasn’t because he didn’t recognize the danger in front of him. He didn’t foolishly or arrogantly jeer at his opponent as Goliath did. Instead, David chose to put his trust in the living and loving God he knew intimately, and it turned out he was right to do so.
Courage Under Fire
The story of Gideon reads a little differently from David’s. In Judges 6, we see a man struggling with self-doubt and a complete lack of confidence. The task ahead of him seemed impossible. Yet he trusted that God could save Israel, and he was willing to obey once he was sure he was not misunderstanding the messages God sent him.
In the next chapter, we’re told that Gideon’s army was whittled down from 32,000 to ten thousand, then three hundred, and finally one hundred … against a Midianite force of 135,000 men! At that point, no amount of self-confidence would have helped. He had to depend utterly on God’s power and faithfulness, and he dared to do that.
The Ultimate Source of Strength
Read the stories of Moses (Exodus 3:1-4:18), Deborah (Judges 4:4-24), and Peter (Matthew 26:69-75 and Acts 4:1-14). Note any instances of confidence or courage—or their lack. It’s also worth doing keyword search for Bible verses with the terms confidence and courage and observing how differently those words are used. God never tells us to be self-confident, but he does instruct us again and again to have courage.
The Bible is full of models of valor. Some of these men and women displayed confidence while others didn’t. Some of these differences may simply come down to personalities, feelings, or personal history (life experiences, social conditioning, cultural expectations, and so on). But what these brave souls have in common is the wisdom to recognize the ultimate source of power: their Creator and Lord. We, too, can live courageously in the face of difficult circumstances when we confidently turn to God for strength.
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