Assurance not Reassurance
When I look back I know that I have received reassurance many times in my life and in most cases it has helped to combat my doubts and fears, focusing me back on God and His words. Often I have sought out reassurance because I have felt that I needed it, but at other times it has been given to me without me looking for it. Regardless of how and why, I would say that in each case I have found the reassurance… well… reassuring. Reassurance does help to lessen the fear I am feeling and combat the doubts I might have, but, like many emotionally based desires and responses, though it satisfies the immediate need, it does not last.
When we focus on Him we no longer focus on our feelings, fears or doubts, but on God Himself, and that is the assurance of God.
Reassurance has no substance because it does not come out of a relationship with God, but rather it is extraneous to it. It is appealing because it doesn’t require anything of you, but gives you what you think you need when you feel fearful or have doubts, showing you they are not real and how to push past them. But this is not God’s way, nor does it point you to God – rather, it focusses you on your feelings. God’s way is through faith and belief in Him and who He is. He does not address your fears and doubts, no matter how real they seem to you. He simply says ‘I am here, come to Me and believe in Me’. Believing in God and everything He says is faith in action, and because of that it has substance. When we focus on Him we no longer focus on our feelings, fears or doubts, but on God Himself, and that is the assurance of God.
There is a great example in Matthew 8:23-26, where the disciples feared for their lives as waves swept over their boat during a storm. They woke Jesus and said to Him “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”. He replied “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Jesus did not ask them what they were afraid of, but He did ask them why they were afraid when He was with them. The disciples woke Jesus seeking reassurance that they would be ok, but instead Jesus gave them the assurance that He was with them and because of that they had nothing to fear.
Earlier this year I felt convicted about my own perceived ‘need’ for reassurance and felt it was something that I no longer wanted to deal with in my own way. As I prayed to God one morning I said to Him that I did not need Him to keep reassuring me. Simply put, I felt like my perceived need for reassurance got in the way of my relationship with God and was limiting my relationship with Him. I would look to God, to God’s people, or often my wife for reassurance when I was fearful or doubted myself and the calling God has placed on my life. It was always a bitter sweet experience receiving the reassurance I was looking for, as though it did temporarily give me the ‘quick fix’ I thought I needed, I knew it was not what my heart desired. This often left me feeling bad that I had sought it out and that it had been given to me. On that morning as I prayed to God and asked Him to no longer reassure me, I felt God took me at my word. Because God always means every word and commitment He makes, He treats us the same way. I am always thankful that in my relationship with Him, God does take me at my word, even when I am not fully aware of the implications of what I am asking of Him or committing to Him.
God always means every word and commitment He makes, He treats us the same way.
Over the following weeks I came to realise just how much I looked for reassurance and that it had indeed become a crutch for me to lean on. I found it quite insecuring at times, simply because I was used to battling my fears and doubts this way. I was surprised that despite my commitment to God I still craved some reassurance when I felt insecure, even though it was my desire and initiation to stop this cycle.
One morning during this time, I was in my office and came across a book my sister had given me a year earlier, which I had started to read, but never finished. The book is “Newton on the Christian Life” written by Tony Reinke. John Newton is the man who wrote the very well-known hymn “Amazing Grace” in the late 1700’s, and this book is a collection of writings from John Newton on Christian principles, along with Tony Reinke expanding on these principles. Without going into detail here, I will say that John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” from his own personal experience of God and His grace, which in itself is a touching story worth reading, but not something I will focus on in this article. Looking at the index page one particular chapter caught my attention, the chapter titled “Battling Insecurity”. I felt God was directing me to this chapter so I sat and read it right then and there. It touched my heart in a number of ways, but most of all I was struck by the way that John Newton wrote clearly about the assurance of God and the assurance of Christ. In what he wrote about battling insecurity he mentioned very little about reassurance, but simply focused on the assurance of God. It caught my attention and I will admit that until then I had never particularly thought about the difference between assurance and reassurance. I was surprised when I googled the definition of both words as the very definition of these two words struck my heart.
Reassurance – the action of removing someone’s doubts or fears
Assurance – having certainty about something
It is clear that reassurance and the desire for it is derived from a place of unbelief whereas assurance is the certainty that is derived from belief. Assurance does not combat or even address your doubts and fears, but is simply being secure in what is true because of who is saying it. This is why you can be certain about it, because you know God and He says that He is always with you and that is everything you need. Assurance is the certainty of who God is, who you are to Him and the words He has spoken.
Assurance in God is not something achieved through intense thinking or self-examination, it is simply choosing to live in the knowledge, that is already in my heart, of who God is and what He has placed inside of me.
Even as I write this I can feel myself asking the question “So, who am I to God and what exactly has He said to me or about me?” Which brings me to an important point, that this is not about me, it is about God. I will never find assurance in God by looking at myself or combating things in myself. Assurance in God is not something achieved through intense thinking or self-examination, it is simply choosing to live in the knowledge, that is already in my heart, of who God is and what He has placed inside of me. I don’t become assured in God by looking at and studying all the things in me that are not of God. I find assurance through my intimate love relationship with God, through my personal relationship with Jesus as my saviour and my brother and through the Holy Spirit who dwells inside of me. Assurance is not even feeling or sensing the presence of God, but the knowledge that God is always with me and the essence of God Himself, His Holy Spirit, is within me. The point being, it has nothing to do with me and who I am, it is all about God and who He is. It is therefore vital that I believe in God and His words and that I live in all that He has given to me and placed inside of me. I do not need to change the way that I feel, I just need to trust God despite how things might appear or feel to me. I like the way that John Newton describes it: “We begin to learn to trust simply to the word and power of God, beyond and against appearances: and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance.”
Since that day when I asked God to stop giving me reassurance and committed to stop seeking it, I know that I have not fundamentally changed as a person, and nor do I need to change. I still have fears and doubts and I find myself instinctively wanting to combat these in the same and familiar way that I have before, with reassurance. What has changed is that I know better, not because my feelings have gone away, but because I know that God is not concerned with my fears and doubts, and does not want me focused on them. God wants me focused on Him and who He is and not on me and my doubts about myself. This alone stops me looking for reassurance when I feel insecure and focuses me on God, making straight paths for my feet. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:4)
– Paul Kiefte