For years, I thought it was the other way around. I always thought that seeing God as big meant I needed to see myself as small. Or, to put it another way, the bigger my vision of God grows, the more my vision of myself will shrink.
While it’s true that an oversized view of yourself can be a sign that you have an undersized view of God, it’s also true that an undersized view of God can make yourself smaller.
This truth hit me when I was preparing to lead a Gospel Project session about the twelve leaders from Israel who went into Canaan to spy out the land. Ten of the spies focused on the obstacles – the fortified cities, the formidable armies, and the towering giants. Then came their pitiful self-assessment: “To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them” (Numbers 13:33)
Grasshoppers. That is the label the spies used to describe themselves.
Here they were – the chosen people of God, the children He rescued from slavery and set on the path to the Promised Land. The people who witnessed the mighty hand of God smiting the most powerful empire in the world. Grasshoppers.
The warning sign of Israel’s faithlessness was not that they thought too highly of themselves, but that they didn’t think highly enough. Their lack of faith in God led to a distorted vision of themselves and their obstacles. They saw the problems as bigger than they really were, and thus they saw themselves as smaller than they really were.
When your God is small, your obstacles seem big. But when your view of God is small and your view of your obstacles is big, your view of yourself shrinks.
That’s the insight that rocked me. I’d always thought that “trusting in myself” was the sign that I was failing to trust in God. As if faith in God and faith in myself is a zero-sum game.
But that’s not the story of the Israelites. When their faith faltered, they saw themselves as smaller and more insignificant than they really were. Instead of sensing humility and awe in what God had promised to do through them, they felt humiliated before the giants in the land.
We are mere grasshoppers! they thought. We can’t take on the giants. We’ll be squashed!
Here, the Israelites weren’t thinking too highly of themselves because they thought too lowly of God. They were thinking too lowly of themselves because they thought too lowly of God.
And so, I ask myself:
- How many times have I failed to act in faith because I thought too little of myself, or because I minimized the gifts and talents and passions that God Himself has put in me?
- How many times have I viewed myself as a grasshopper rather than as a child of the King?
- How many times have I exaggerated challenges and diminished God’s call?
- How many times have I faltered in faith, not by overestimating myself but by underestimating what God can do through me?
Failure to see the grandeur of God squashes our hope in what He can accomplish through us. A distorted vision of God leads to a diminished view of ourselves. In the end, we no longer think we are capable of doing what God has called us to do.
Reading the narrative in Numbers, I want to step into the scene, shake the Israelites by the shoulders and say, “God sees you as His children! He has called and equipped you. Take the mountain! You are not lowly insects cowering under the feet of your enemies – you’re the children of the King whose footstool is the entire cosmos!”
Here, Israel got it wrong. But in a later scene, the future king David gets it right. He marches right up to the giant and takes him down. This wasn’t an act of arrogance, but of confidence in the God who had called him, the God he knew to be stronger than the enemy.
Underestimating yourself is not humility, but faithlessness. The stronger your faith in God is, the stronger your faith will be in what God can and will do through you.