Approved by the Audience of One

“Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:9

 

It’s Friday. Time for a little pop quiz. Grab your Number 2 pencil and be sure to keep your eyes on your own quiz paper. You may begin.

Oh, and relax, this assignment won’t be graded. :)

Do you…

  • Worry about what people think of you?
  • Shade the truth in order “not to offend others”?
  • Rarely reveal to others the truth about who you really are inside?
  • Avoid conflicts rather than trying to resolve them?
  • Strive to be politically correct more than biblically correct?
  • Like to go “fishing” for compliments?
  • Long to be noticed more than you long to be godly?
  • Give in to peer pressure rather than standing up for what you know is right?
  • Avoid witnessing to others as you should because you fear being criticized or rejected?
  • Gossip about others to people whom you believe will be pleased with you for giving them such luscious tidbits of information?
  • When meeting new people, spend more time thinking about how to impress them than how to minister to them?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you just might be a people-pleaser. Hmmm…being a people-pleaser. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? In fact, it almost sounds like a nice thing to be. And as Christians, we should try to please other people, right?

Well, yes, within certain boundaries. After all, we could hardly fulfill the command to love our neighbor as ourselves if we didn’t seek to please others in some way. But a problem develops when we get our motives out of whack and pleasing others becomes just one more way to please ourselves. In this case, our desire to please other people has little to do with providing for their needs and everything to do with providing for our own selfish desires. It’s not just that we like to please other people, but that we need to please them. We crave, thrive on, and live for their approval.

Another common term for this condition is “codependency,” and as biblical counselor Lou Priolo explains in his book, Pleasing People, this inordinate desire to please others is a very serious issue:

In the most general terms, the concept of codependency seems to best fall under the biblical category of “idolatry”—looking to someone (or something) else to do for me those things that only God can do. In terms of a type of person who is characterized by this particular kind of behavior, “people-pleaser” is the more specific diagnosis. The motive of such an individual is identified in John 12:43: he “loved the approval of men rather than [or at least more than] the approval of God.”

(p. 19)

Yikes. People-pleasing doesn’t sound nearly so nice now, does it? The Bible refers to this sinful tendency as the fear of man and warns of the danger of its entrapment (Prov. 29:25). If you currently find yourself caught in the trap of fearing man rather than fearing God, you need to be set free. Here’s how:    

To eliminate the lust for man’s approval, you’ll have to replace it with a lust for God’s approval. The best way to dethrone this approval idol is to prayerfully develop a desire (cultivate an appetite) for the approval of the One who righteously judges not only your words, actions, and attitudes, but also the thoughts and intentions of your heart. This must be your highest goal–your number-one priority…  

Imagine what it will be like to long for God’s approval more than the approval of all men. Think of the day when you long to please God so much that you no longer worry about what others think of you. “There goes [insert your name],” they’ll say of you. “He’s the most objective, impartial, and God-fearing person I know. He doesn’t seem to care what others think of him.” And when you stand before the Lord, you’ll hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Moreover, that little “love of approval” handle that protrudes from your back by which others now control you will be broken. The strings that others now use to manipulate and intimidate you will be cut, and you will experience a new freedom to serve God without fearing man. Fix your hope on these goals until they become a reality.  

(p. 96)

Learn more about overcoming the fear of man:

Pleasing People: How not to be an “approval junkie” by Lou Priolo

When People Are Big and God Is Small by Ed Welch

(Quiz questions taken from Pleasing People, pp. 20-21, 28-29)

Photo: Wyeth

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Are You for Real?

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

Psalm 17:15

Don’t you love this video? It’s kind of freeing to watch, isn’t it? Wow. It’s amazing what they can do with Photoshop these days. There used to be a day when a photo was a record of fact, but it would seem that day is long behind us. When it comes to photos, the line between fact and fiction is very easily rubber-stamped out. I should know. I studied art in college and learned just enough of Photoshop to be dangerous. As it turns out, the only use I have for my shoddy Photoshop skills is in retouching my Facebook photos. At last, the truth comes out… It’s truly amazing what that little rubber stamp tool can do. Flyaway hair? Stamp, stamp, stamp—It’s gone! Shiny forehead? Stamp, stamp, stamp—Never existed! Funny crease in your neck? Ok, you get the idea. The point is that when you see one of my photos, it’s highly likely that you’re not just seeing me, you’re probably looking at a slightly enhanced version of me.

As I’ve thought about this topic, I’ve realized that touched up photos aren’t the only means that we have for presenting a slightly enhanced version of ourselves to those we meet. Some of us are better at it than others, but I think that we all struggle from time to time with the temptation to show a photoshopped picture of ourselves to the world. What am I talking about? Let me answer that with a question, “Are you for real?” It’s funny that such a question even needs asking; after all, we’re all real, right? Well, yes, we all exist, but, no, we are not all real. As women, we’re pretty good at putting up a good front, and as Christian women, unfortunately, we’re often even better at putting up a better front. Phony baloney—that’s how my family used to describe it. You might use other words to describe this kind of behavior—being insincere, disingenuous, fake, artificial, superficial, plastic, hypocritical, or unnatural. Yuck. These are not pleasant words.

Here are some that have a much better ring to them: real, transparent, genuine, sincere, natural, honest, straightforward, or undisguised. Mind if I ask you a tough question? Which set of words do you think people are more likely to use to describe you? I’ve been asking myself that question lately. I’ve also been asking myself why that first yucky list of words could so often be used to describe our interaction with one another. Why do we feel more comfortable showing others the artificial, touched up version of ourselves instead of letting people see who we really are? Why are we tempted to hold people at arm’s length? Why the phony baloney? Although we could probably come up with a multitude of reasons, I think that there are often three main heart issues which motivate us to hide who we really are from others—fear, guilt, or pride. Let’s take a look. 

Fear—Who am I?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? I know I have, at least a gazillion times throughout my life. Knowing our identity is a key issue in being able to relate genuinely with others. If you don’t know the answer to the question “Who am I?” you can easily become consumed with fearful thoughts about your identity. And as you know, it’s hard to reach out to others when you’re all wrapped up in yourself. The good news is that if you’re a Christian, you need never struggle with an identity crisis again. Everything you need to know about who you are is found in God’s Word. And let me tell you, it’s an inspiring read. For those of us who are “in Christ Jesus,” here’s just a little bit of who the Bible says that we are:

Rescued, Redeemed, Forgiven, Reconciled, Holy, Blameless, Beyond Reproach, Made Complete, Raised Up, Made Alive, Chosen, Adopted, Heirs with Christ, Sealed in Christ, Seated with Christ, Saved, Created for Good Works, Brought Near to God, Given Access to the Father, Members of God’s Household, and So Much More…

As believers in Jesus Christ, this is our identity; this is who we are! I encourage you to see it for yourself in the Word. The first two chapters of Ephesians and Colossians are a good place to start. The confidence that we need to live and love boldly comes from knowing exactly who we are because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae conveys this confidence well in his song “Identity”:

I’m not the shoes I wear, I’m not the clothes I buy
I’m not the house I live in, I’m not the car I drive
I’m not the job I work, You can’t define my worth
By nothing on God’s green earth, my identity is found in Christ.

Fear—What do they think of me?

Although God’s opinion of us is the only one that truly counts, if you’re like me, then you probably spend far more time worrying about what others think of you than what God does. The world calls our concern for what others think of us by many names—low self esteem, insecurity, an inferiority complex, codependency, etc. The Bible has a much simpler name for it—the fear of man. When we allow our lives to be governed by the fear of man, we’ll quickly find ourselves nearly paralyzed with worry about what we should or should not say or do. We want others to like us, so we carefully plan out our words and actions in the hopes that we can make ourselves more attractive to them. Instead of being transparent with those around us, we function more like mirrors, trying to reflect the behavior of those that we see as admirable. The speech of a person governed by the fear of man may be marked by flattery, exaggeration, flat-out deceit, boasting, excessive talking, or the overuse of humor. Rather than allowing others to see who we really are, we focus on showing them who we think they want to see instead.

Proverbs 29:25 speaks of both the danger of this kind of lifestyle and the antidote: “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” We avoid the trap of fearing man by trusting in and fearing the Lord instead. If we allow the fear of man to rule us, we’ll be just as phony as the Pharisees and rulers of Jesus’ day who “loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (Jn. 12:43). Jesus, on the other hand lived not with a goal of pleasing others but of always pleasing His Father (Jn. 8:29). If we allow that kind of single-minded focus to dictate our behavior, we’ll be far more likely to show others the real deal and throw the phony baloney out the window. ;)

How does that sound to you?

Read Part Two

An excellent resource for overcoming the fear of man in your life is When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!