Believe In Yourself?

He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)

Listen to almost anyone now days, and they will be telling people that the solution for successfully overcoming opposition or adversity is to "believe in yourself".  If someone is struggling with failure, or encountering a difficult challenge, they are told that the answer is "self-belief".


Consider what advice may be in the minds of such counsellors.  Possible meanings are: 

• Everyone else may fail you; you are the most dependable person in your life 

• Put your confidence in yourself not in anyone else around you 

• Don't be filled with self-doubt; convince yourself that you have the ability to accomplish whatever is before you 

• Fill your mind with positive thoughts about success in your venture; reject every negative thought of failure 

Perhaps the counsel contains an element of each of these ideas.  It seems, however, that the intent of the speakers boils down to one of two areas: 1) you need to depend upon yourself, not anyone else; or 2) you need to think positive, not negative thoughts.  Let's consider each of these.  These appear to be two necessary and complementary components of believing in oneself. 

If you have decided to believe in, or to depend upon, yourself rather than anyone or anything else, what are the bases for such faith?  Let's first attempt a definition of faith.  Faith, or belief, is the step you take to traverse the distance between what you know or have experienced, and what you want to do.  Typically that step is taken in dependence upon someone or something outside of yourself.  You have decided to depend upon someone or something because you are convinced by the evidence that that person or thing is worthy of your dependence or trust.1

So if you are going to take a step based upon faith in yourself, again we ask: "What reasonable bases can you amass for such a step?"  These might include: the understanding or ability you have demonstrated in the past, the knowledge or strength you have acquired or developed since your last attempt, and the perceived vulnerability of the obstacle or opponent you are facing.  On the other hand, what reasons are there to be uncertain as to whether you can or should take this step of faith?  Perhaps you must deal with: past failures, others' criticisms, persistent doubts, or nagging feelings of inadequacy.  

So then, you take the positive evidence indicating a successful venture, and weigh it against the negative evidence.  Generally, if the evidence leads one to think that success is possible, then it comes down to dealing with feelings that lead to doubt.  Here is where a person must employ the second component of believing in oneself noted above: positive thinking.  This is simply a mental exercise in which one rehearses in his mind the reasons for confidence, while telling himself over and over: "You can do it!" 

This is, as best as I can discern, what is meant by those who say: "Believe in yourself."  There remains at least one other possible meaning to this oft-used expression.  For many, faith is not as I have defined it — "humble and reasonable dependence upon another" — but rather "an unreasoned leap into the unknown and untested."  If this is one's understanding of faith, then it is clear why the writer of the proverb calls him a fool. 

Is there something better than believing in oneself?  The proverb above seems to say that there is a far better way to face obstacles and opposition.  In fact, the proverb says that it is foolish to believe in or rely on yourself.  Foolishness is simply having a short or limited perspective.  So then, rather than being a strength, self-belief is a weak, limited, short-sighted approach to life's challenges. 

The one who is believing in himself has limited himself to his own knowledge and abilities.  He has eschewed the strength of the community acting in unity.  Even when people come together to do evil, there is far greater strength in united undertakings than there is in acting alone.  The Lord said, when the people of earth united to build the Tower of Babel, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them."2

More importantly, when one believes in himself, he is rejecting faith in God.  It is impossible to trust in God and trust in oneself at the same time.  To attempt to trust God and yourself is like trying to stand on both sides of a fence at the same time; it cannot be done.  Elsewhere in the Proverbs we are exhorted: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."3

Jesus said: "Apart from me you can do nothing."4  This seems to be in direct contradiction to the statement: "You can do it, if you just believe in yourself."  Again, Jesus said: "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it."5  Just what exactly is the meaning of this somewhat enigmatic saying?  The one who is striving to go his own way or by his own strength will not arrive at the destination prescribed by the designer of life.  Whoever trusts in himself for his success or deliverance will, in the end, fail, but whoever trusts in the Lord for success or deliverance will, in the end, succeed. 

Wait a minute!  What about this statement from the Bible: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."6  Isn't this saying that, with the ability that Christ adds to our lives, we can do whatever we put our minds and hearts into?  Even a cursory look at the context of this declaration reveals that this was not intended to be a universal statement about human ability.  Clearly the apostle is not saying, for instance, that I, as a 59 year old man, with no training or conditioning, can climb Mt. Everest by the strength God gives me.  No, it is simply saying that I can be satisfied in the midst of whatever circumstances God asks me to face or endure.  

Let's get back to the proverb we're considering.  The opposite of foolishness is wisdom.  Wisdom is having a longer, broader view.  By taking advantage of the knowledge and abilities of others, there is both safety and wisdom.7  And, of course, there is no one who has a longer or broader perspective than God.  So then, how does one, as the proverb says, "Walk in wisdom"?  It necessitates that one acknowledge his inability, his weakness, and his lack of knowledge.  It requires that one humble himself, admitting that he is nobody, he knows nothing, he has nothing, and he can do nothing. 

But this sounds like a sure formula for failure.  How can one admit weakness and attain victory?  I know that it sounds contradictory, and even preposterous to some, but it is the truth.  Look at the example of Jesus.  He repeatedly made declarations such as these: "I can do nothing on my own initiative;" "I do not speak on my own initiative."8  And what did the Lord tell Paul when he was feeling week? “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  To which the apostle responds: "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me...for when I am weak, then I am strong."9

When Jesus told his disciples, "Apart from me you can do nothing," it didn't sound anything like believe in yourself.  James counsels people who are venturing into a new business, not to believe in themselves, but rather to say, that if the Lord wills, I will be able to carry out my plans.  The wise man or woman recognizes his or her weaknesses, failures, flaws, and inconsistencies.  Gideon learned that a mighty man of valor was one who recognized his inability and trusted in God's ability.  Jonah learned that trusting in himself led to failure, but trusting in God led to success. 

Why would anyone want to trust in a weak and fault-ridden human when he could rely on a powerful and perfect God?  As the author of the proverb accurately declares, such a person is truly a fool.  Which one of us has not proven his untrustworthiness by failing to keep a New Year's resolution for even a couple of weeks?  The evidence for trusting ourselves is unsubstantial; the evidence for trusting God is overwhelming.  Depend upon God, not yourself. 

So then, how does a person proceed while trusting in God?  Does he just stand in one place and wait for God to do everything?  No, God has given us clear instructions regarding how to live.  We need to move forward with a conviction that we are doing exactly what God wants us to do at any given time.  Does God want me to love my spouse?  To provide for my family?  To study for my test?  To drive according to the law?  Most of what God wants us to do throughout each day has been recorded in the scriptures.10  To walk by faith in God is to go through each day, convinced that we are doing what God wants us to do and depending on him for the ability to accomplish what is his will for us. 

What do we do, then, when our daily routines are interrupted by the challenges and adversities of life; when we are faced with extraordinary decisions?  This is when we can apply the knowledge and wisdom we have been learning from daily exposure to God's words.  We cry out to God for wisdom, and he brings to mind the truths we have been learning, and shows us how to apply them.  We may seek counsel from others whom we respect, and even choose to heed their words, but our dependence must always be upon the Lord and what we believe he wants us to do.  Walking thus, in wisdom, we will surely succeed by the gracious enabling of God. 

Believe in yourself?  This is not wise counsel; it is foolish advice.  Trust in the Lord; he will never fail you.  He loves you more than you love yourself, he knows better than you what is best for you, and he has the power to give you success in your life.  Why would you trust anyone else — especially yourself? 

It is better to take refuge in the Lord 

Than to trust in man.11


Do not trust in princes, 

In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.12


Because of your trust in your own achievements and treasures, 

Even you yourself will be captured.13

1 Trust, faith, and belief are used interchangeably by this author; each of them are understood to be best explained by the concept of "humble and reasonable dependence upon another".

2 Genesis 11:6

3 Proverbs 3:5-6

4 John 15:5

5 Luke 9:24

6 Philippians 4:13

7 Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6

8 John 5:19,30; 6:38; 7:16; 8:28-29; 12:49; 14:10

9 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

10 This requires, of course, that one become familiar with what God teaches us about how to live. There is no substitute for taking time each day to sit at the feet of Jesus, and be taught by him from the Bible.

11 Psalm 118:8

12 Psalm 146:3

13 Jeremiah 48:7

© 2009 -