The Power of Belief

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"Down the streets of Portsmouth more than a hundred years ago," said Lt. General Ira C. Eaker in a speech given some time ago, "walked a sailor with one arm, one eye, and a persistent state of nerves and unable to tread a ship's deck without being seasick. Indeed he would probably have been in a home for incurables were his name not Admiral Lord Nelson. The man's spirit drove the flesh."

Born in 1758, Horatio Nelson, the son of a pastor, was a small, frail child who loved sailing. As a young teenager he joined the British navy and, while journeying to the East Indies, caught a fever that seriously damaged his health. But he never allowed this to hold him back. At age 18 he was appointed a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and by the year 1802 was made commander-in-chief of the British fleet.

Two years later, at the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets. This was the greatest naval victory in British history and left the British in control of the seas for the rest of the 1800's. Unfortunately, Nelson was mortally wounded during Trafalgar but lived long enough to know that his fleet had won the battle. His last words were, "Thank God I have done my duty."

Nelson was a man of fearless courage and devotion. He believed in his country, in his cause, and in himself. He proved this with his words and more so with his life. He once said, "I am of the opinion that the boldest measures are the safest." Nelson was a man greatly admired by others who said about him, "His frail body housed a great spirit."

John Stuart Mill would agree. He said, "One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who only have interest." Why is this so?

"One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who only have interest."

First, beliefs are remarkably powerful in that they are to our lives what a rudder is to a ship. That is, they control the direction and destiny of our lives. While we don't always live the life we profess, we always live the life we believe. Simply put, if I believe I am a failure, I will set myself up to fail. If I believe I am a successful person, I will succeed, and so on.

Dr. Joyce Brothers, well-known author and psychologist says, "An individual's self-concept [what he believes about himself] is the core of his personality. It affects every aspect of human behavior; the ability to learn, the capacity to grow and change, the choice of friends, mates and careers. It's no exaggeration to say that a strong positive self-image [self-belief] is the best possible preparation for success in life."

Self-belief is not an egotistic "I'm the greatest" attitude. This is self-deception and a cover for deep insecurity. Believing in yourself is knowing and accepting your weaknesses as well as your strengths and believing with God's help that you can overcome your weaknesses and develop and use your strengths.

One very successful woman, a well-known entertainer, didn't have much going for her. She would never have won a beauty contest and at age 38 was living on welfare. After reading Claude Briston's, The Magic of Believing, and beginning to believe in herself, Phyllis Diller's life took a dramatic turn. One gift she had was the ability to make people laugh. Once she believed this, she didn't allow what she didn't have to stop her using what she did have.

Jimmie Durante was another entertainer who wouldn't have made a fortune with his looks. But he capitalized on his weakness and turned it into one of his greatest strengths. He didn't focus on his physical attributes - what he didn't have - but on his strengths - what he did have - and put these to good use because he believed he could.

You and I can do the same.

For an even stronger and healthier sense of self-belief is knowing that no matter what you have ever done or have failed to do, God loves you totally and unconditionally, is wanting to forgive your every sin and wrongdoing, and that he has a God-given purpose for your life!

Second, Beliefs are also powerful because we can choose what we want to believe. This places us in charge of our own destiny. True, most of our beliefs about ourselves, life, God, and so on were learned from our parents or early caregivers. However, once we become of age, we can consciously choose to hold on to those beliefs that are valid and let go of the rest.

One danger is to hold on to beliefs we like and let go of those we don't like more through convenience rather than thoughtful choice. That is, we choose those beliefs that don't threaten our lifestyle and, consequently, instead of our controlling our beliefs we allow them to control us.

"I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining; I believe in love, even when I feel it not; I believe in God even when he is silent."

Another risk is that we may begin with healthy beliefs, but if we fail to live up to these, we experience cognitive dissonance (mental disharmony) and change our beliefs to match our lifestyle. And then, instead of living the life we believe, we end up unhappily believing the life we live - a dangerous path to follow.

Third, another powerful thing about beliefs is that they determine, not only the destiny of our present life, but also our relationship to God and our destiny for the life to come. God's Word, the Bible, says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."1 Also, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved [for the life to come]."2 And again, "To all who received him [Christ], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."3

Beliefs are incredibly powerful, but the good news is that they are our choice. Thus we need to choose them carefully and base them on reality, not on faulty perceptions from the past. And we especially need to base them on God's Word regarding the life to come.

At times it can be difficult to believe in God and that he has a specific purpose for our life. But we believe in him by choice as exemplified by a World War II prisoner of war. He wrote on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany: "I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining; I believe in love, even when I feel it not; I believe in God even when he is silent."

Remember, too, that beliefs are only wishes until we act on them!

1. John 3:16 (NIV).    2. Acts 16:31 (NIV).    3. John 1:12 (NIV).

Copyright 2001 by Dick Innes

2001-2002 ACTS International. Used by permission.