Authored by Tina Kapp
There’s a fine line between cockiness and confidence. Someone who’s cocky makes you want to avoid them like the plague, lest you be subjected to their tales of greatness and feats of accomplishments; they put others down and generally have to “best” anyone talking by coming up with equal or greater stories of their own.
Confidence is something quite different. I think the people whose company I most enjoy are those who are happy with who they are; they know their own weaknesses and strengths and are appreciative of others’ talents and contributions. I find confidence also comes through experiencing rough times, as you can sympathize better with others. You realize that the good things about you really are only the Lord.
I was reading about Joseph the other day, and the stories of his life are some of my favorite Bible stories. Not only because his seeming tragedy has a happy ending, but also because, to me, it’s a story about how God can use someone in a big way even if they make rather stupid mistakes.
Joseph was picked out as special, starting at a young age, and obviously his brothers didn’t appreciate it, especially when he started rubbing it in their faces. (By the way, if you feel you’re the smartest, best looking, or most talented of your friends or family, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself.1)
After they had enough of Mr. Know-it-all and sold him into slavery,2 he went from being at the top of his game (daddy’s favorite) to the lowest rung of society (a slave in the house of Potiphar). Before he was appointed to the head of Potiphar’s household, all the confidence he felt in himself and his guaranteed place of honor most likely faded as he had to obey orders and perform the most menial jobs. And that wasn’t all; even after his glorified position as a slave, his reputation was marred by Potiphar’s wife, which resulted in his landing in prison—then really becoming the scum of society.3
Imagine your whole life being told how special you are, how great you’ll be one day, and how many wonderful things are in store for you, and feeling pretty chuffed with yourself while life is cushy. Then one day everything gets taken away—not just physical things but things that are much more important than we sometimes know how to appreciate, such as respect, love, friends, family, and a place where you feel at home. You become a stranger and you have to prove yourself in everything you do. This didn’t happen just once to Joseph; it happened twice!
This is where I think Joseph finally learned the difference between confidence and cockiness. It wasn’t about him anymore. He couldn’t brag about himself, his coat, his father, much less his position at Potiphar’s house (nor even the warden position he acquired after being in prison for some time). All he could truly trust in was his faith that God hadn’t abandoned him and that He would help him get through the difficult times. The writer of Genesis gives such direct credit to the Lord for Joseph’s successes, and I like to think that’s because it’s how Joseph related the story.
But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing.
The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.4
After interpreting the dreams of the butler and baker who were thrown into prison, Joseph accurately told them that the baker would die in three days and that the butler would return and work for Pharaoh after the same timeframe.5 Joseph did the sensible thing and asked the butler to remember him. “Yet,” Genesis 40:23 says, “The chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”6 He didn’t just forget him, he forgot him for two years!
Still, this didn’t shake his faith in God. I think that at this point he was so aware of God’s care and direction that God saw he was ready to take on the ultimate praise-worthy role of being Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Imagine what a disaster it would have been if Joseph had still been that cocky, unwise, trying-to-impress-everybody guy he used to be. It just wouldn’t have worked.
Later, Joseph deals with great wisdom and confidence when he interprets Pharaoh’s dream.
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.”
And Joseph goes and answers Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” 7
Joseph is not insecure; he doesn’t go on about how he’s terrible and because of it he can’t do anything. He has that calm surety—that confidence—that you get when you truly learn it’s not all about you.
Joseph definitely got to experience the highs and lows of life serving the Lord, which is something I think helps keep one in touch with reality. The best high-and-low experience I had was when I was living in Uganda and we went to work with the former child soldiers in Gulu, the same kids you see in the movie, Machine Gun Preacher.8 We brought tons of donated food and showed the movie Jesus9 with a running Acholi translator. We had to use a generator to show the movie on a projector as there was no electricity. We stayed in one of the “nicer” huts, which was literally a big mud circle of a concrete wall and a floor with an aluminum roof. The toilet was a separate little outhouse, complete with (what I counted one day) 18 spiders of all shapes and sizes. In the evening they brought us one jerry can of boiling hot water and one of cold water, and we had to mix it in a third bucket and take our showers behind the hut, under the stars in the junkyard. We ate a lot of interesting food, including trying a paste made of blended termites that they love to eat on bread. Not my favorite.
After a few days there, my friend and I had to rush back to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Some good friends of ours—who were the directors of the main telecom company—were leaving Uganda and we were invited to their big good-bye function at the Sheraton with the who’s who of Uganda. We had to quickly wash off all the dust from the trip, change into evening gowns, and go mingle with ridiculously wealthy people. We went from blended termite paste to enjoying a multi-course dinner and watching the two biggest celebrity singers in the country perform. It was mind-boggling but awesome; picturing ourselves all covered in dust just hours before meant we couldn’t really let the VIP treatment go to our heads.
A lot of men and women of God had to go through pretty low times before God could trust them in places of honor. Like King David living in caves, running for his life,10 or Daniel being abducted before becoming the personal counselor to several kings,11 a position which would make anyone tempted to feel pretty pleased with themselves.
Paul said in Philippians, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”12 That’s what made him truly realize, in the very next verse, “I can do all things through Christ.”13 He knew it wasn’t his own amazingness.
There is a quote that I really like. It goes “God only uses broken men and women; no others will do.” How often do you want to open your heart or share your troubles with somebody who makes it a point to show you how wonderful they think they are? Even if they dole out helpful hints and tips on improving your situation, it can be a little hard to swallow, and you’ll wonder if they truly understand your problems since they come across as so above everything.
An easy way to check yourself to make sure that you’re portraying the Lord’s confidence rather than your own cockiness is to keep tabs on how many of your sentences start with the words “I” or “my.” If they pop up often, it’s an indication that you may be a little self-centered. Taking time to ask yourself, some trustworthy friends, and God whether you could stand to be a little less cocky, and then making the necessary changes, is a good step towards becoming the person that God wants you to be.
Cockiness often stems from insecurity and the need to prove yourself to others. The best part is that once you let go of that insecurity and place your security in the Lord, you’ll learn to be happy for others’ accomplishments and be a listening ear to others. And because of this, you’ll find people genuinely start to enjoy your company more, which in turn gives you the confidence to go out and take on the world or even save the day, like Joseph did.
1 Genesis 37:3–10
2 Genesis 37:18–28
3 Genesis 39
4 Genesis 39:21–23 NKJV
5 Genesis 40
6 New King James Version
7 Genesis 41:15–16 NKJV
8 Machine Gun Preacher (2011)
9 Jesus (1999)
10 1 Samuel 22:1
11 See the book of Daniel
12 Philippians 4:11–12
13 Philippians 4:13
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright © 2012 by The Family International