Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

WisBits Archive

August 2010

Humility and Confidence

A friend recently expressed concern to me about needing to find a balance between humility and confidence. This person was finally experiencing some success in an important endeavor and receiving a lot of praise. This person wondered, As a leader, when should I be confident and when should I be humble?

I felt puzzled that my friend thought confidence and humility were opposites. It seemed like someone was asking me: Should I breathe or should I practice good hygiene? Both! All the time! Whenever you can! Both humility and confidence flow out of life in the kingdom of God here and now today. This is the relational life you and I were built to live.

Such a life is full of humility, which is not self-rejection or self-doubt (which are the opposites of confidence).  Humility is a clear, healthy, wholesome understanding that everything I have comes from God (Psalm 16:2). If I do something well, that’s because God has put people and learning and ideals in my life that have led me to do so. So I’m grateful to God to have worked hard and partnered with God.

Besides gratefulness, another helpful idea about humility is this: Never push, never pretend, never presume (from a Dallas Willard tape). I don’t push people or things (see July wisbit on pushing the river);  I don’t pretend to be more or know more than I really am;  I don’t presume to think I’m better or that you owe me something. As I said in Invitation to the Jesus Life, “To never push is to respect others’ personhood. To never pretend is to be just who we are, no more or no less; we don’t pretend to know more, saying, ‘I read that book.’ To never presume is to stop thinking I deserve more than I do; it’s to pray for the people around me instead of presuming to be the Holy Spirit in their lives by giving them unsought advice” (p. 190).

Such gratefulness means that when I’m complimented, I say thank you to the person who gave the compliment but also say to God, “Thank you. All good things come from you—and I’m so glad to be on board with you in this adventure of loving people.”

Confidence is about living in the kingdom of God here and now because our confidence is in God, not in ourselves. This kind of confidence has nothing to do with pride or arrogance (humility’s opposites). Left to my own, I can do perhaps a decent job - maybe - if I don’t get in the way. But when I rely on God in everything, I can be confident that all kinds of great things are flowing out of what I did that I don’t know about, nor do I need to. When I’m confident, I have a reasonable, sensible idea of what I can do or not do. But even when I know I can do a job well, I don’t put my confidence in my ability.

Dallas often puts it this way:  “Do your best, but don’t trust your best.” So we work hard but we don’t overwork or try too hard.  Because we believe that God does the true work and the world will still be OK if I’m not there to manage things, we’re free to take Sabbath rest. We don’t trust our hard work;  we trust God.

Grace and peace,
Jan Johnson




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