I have spent most of my life as a people pleaser. I hate admitting that and being controlled by it. I have read countless books, listened to podcasts, searched the Bible, and have spent hours in prayer trying to undo the desperation I felt trying to constantly feed the appetite of dependence on people’s approval that was never truly satisfied.
Recently while reading in Proverbs, I ran across a verse that says, “It is a dangerous trap to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord you are safe.” (29:25) Safe. The idea of feeling safe sounded so appealing and something I’ve longed for but never have felt.
So many of us grow up with a performance mentality. We think that if we behave just right, give people what we think they want from us, excel in areas we perceive as important to everyone, and don’t cause too many problems or express too many negative emotions, we can “buy” acceptance and dependable love.
Safety eludes us because we never really know if we are hitting the mark. Shame comes when we start to realize that although we are working so hard to do everything just right on the outside, we feel like failures on the inside, scared to death that we are falling short. We pretend to be happy although joy is elusive since we end up doing so many things out of sheer duty and desperation.
Matthew 11:30 has always intrigued me because Jesus says that His yoke, or guiding force, is easy and the burden it has on us is light. So why have I made it so hard and so heavy? Why have I tended to funnel everything I do through the check and balance system of what I think will look good or will please those around me?
I’ve been struggling with this tension my whole life. When I first heard about the gospel of Christ and accepted His gift of salvation, I thought that would end the tension. I learned how He died on the cross to pay the debt I truly had accumulated due to all of the ways I do actually fall short of the perfection God requires. I learned that because of this good news, I can not only have a relationship with Him, but that He sees me as being righteous even when I am so not, no matter how hard I try.
But, for years I just didn’t get it. I often felt discarded by people in my life when I couldn't be what they seemed to want, so even though God said He would never leave me or forsake me, I needed to do what I could to insure the same from people. I was too insecure to not risk the rejection that could come from just being me-take it or leave it, accept it or not.
It’s so easy, especially within “religious” circles to give into this performance pressure. The Apostle Paul talks about his own deception in Galatians when he thought he was doing everything just right as a very religious man. He had the appearance of being godly but admits in Galatians 10 that he was really trying to win the favor of people instead of honoring God. The opinion of others is what had really mattered. He had once been in bondage but was now free, was now safe.
I couldn’t seem to find the key that unlocked the elusive mystery of how to become free until recently. God promises that if we seek His wisdom, He will lead us to it and my “aha” moment came with reading Philippians 1:27.
"Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."
Of course, I’ve read this passage many times before but this time, I felt challenged to ask myself if I was living in a manner worthy of the gospel or “worthy” of the people whose opinion seemed to matter more; my husband, my children, the Christian community as a whole, as well as anyone else out there watching. I had become dependent on the acceptance I hoped to gain from them instead of realizing that I already had the safety of being accepted by God.
I didn’t realize how ingrained this misunderstanding was and the Lord has been gracious in unraveling it for me. Here is what I’ve learned:
IF OUR FOCUS IS ON BEING "WORTHY" OF PEOPLE:
1. Our life purpose becomes focused on doing what we think will please others in order to be accepted and esteemed. It can cause us to be self-seeking, self-absorbed and manipulative to get what we want, which is approval.
2. It keeps us from growing in our faith while diminishing the affect of God in our lives and increasing the power of people over us.
3. It can lead us into sin and emptiness by following after the expectations of the world instead of the wisdom of God. We can get ourselves into trouble if we try to appease everyone in order to be liked, invited, accepted, and easily controlled.
4. It affects our ability to share how God is working in our lives if we can’t risk the possible rejection it can bring. We often get caught up in not wanting others to feel uncomfortable about spiritual things when what we are protecting is really our own feeling of comfort.
5. We can become consumed with feelings of shame and failure as we consistently question the success level of our performance we think others expect from us and we expect from ourselves.
6. Constant focus on our own outward behavior in order to look acceptable can twist into becoming judgmental of others and their outward behavior. We can lack grace, understanding and forgiveness because we don’t have a good grasp on our own. Unfortunately the church is often criticized for this kind of behavior and is often guilty of it. If we aren’t careful, our own self-condemnation can cause us to condemn others in order to make us feel a little more righteous. If it makes us look more righteous than that’s even better.
7. We can fall into the trap of busyness and “servant martyrdom” when our view of being seen as worthy by others becomes all important. A growing resentment of trying to meet perceived expectations can lurk beneath the facade of being available and the one everyone can always count on.
8. We can become easily offended by people over and over again if their opinion of us matters too much. If we sense a lack of acceptance with our behavior, ideas, posts on social media, etc. we can get our feelings hurt to the extent that it harms how we view ourselves and interact with others.
IF OUR FOCUS IS ON BEING WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST:
1. Our focus will be on pleasing God, not out of duty, but out of gratefulness and a loving relationship with Him. When we understand that we don’t have to perform for Him to accept us and can rest in the righteousness He claims we have once we accept Christ, our motivation shifts from not having to prove ourselves worthy but on seeking ways we can honor what He has done for us.
2. Our faith in Him grows as we gain wisdom and direction from Him. As we start to funnel everything that we do through the sieve of what honors what Christ did for us on the cross, it grounds us and gives us more focus. Not only did Jesus die to give us salvation, but He served as an example of how we are also called to live our lives.
He loved us and was willing to die for us, but His paramount goal was to be obedient to the Father. We are also called to die to ourselves and graciously and emphatically obey God’s Word. Not because we have to, but because we want to and we see the benefits of being in a right relationship with Him.
Jesus also serves as an example of how to lay down our life for others. I think if we can truly love others like Jesus did; forgiving, being patient and understanding, yet firm in explaining the whys and whats of God’s expectations, we would organically find the acceptance from others we are looking for to a point. Most people simply want to be loved and we can offer them not only our love but His as well.
3. As we seek to live a life worthy of the gospel, we will naturally find less and less satisfaction in what the world seems to offer and the sin that it often calls us to participate in. The “fear of missing out” can be powerful and we can get trapped into giving into doing things that don’t bring us life.
John Piper says, "I know of no other way to triumph over sin long-term than to gain a distaste for it because of a superior satisfaction in God.” Focusing on the gospel of Christ can’t help but to bring that satisfaction.
4. Understanding the gospel of Christ in it’s fullest form and reminding ourselves of it daily will naturally cause us to want to share it with others to the extent that we won’t be thrown off by the idea of rejection. But, we have to grasp what Christ accomplished and have to meditate on it in its fullness.
5. Constantly working and pleasing others actually puts a lot of focus on ourselves. We are constantly second guessing everything we do. It can cause anxiety, depression, and all kinds of addictions as we get caught up into doing whatever we can do to cope with the pressure. We become competitive by comparing ourselves with others and accept shame that comes from feeling like we are not measuring up.
In Galatians 5, Paul reminds us that we have been freed from our sin through the gospel. When we walked in sin, we experienced consequences in verse 19 that lead to death. He encourages us to walk in the freedom we have been given by walking according to the Spirit of God, placed in us as a result of the gospel.
If we walk by the Spirit, or live in a manner worthy of the gospel, we will experiences the consequences which are a whole lot more appealing. We will experience love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.
No longer do we have to accept anxiety, depression, shame, condemnation, addictions, fear, or bondage to the opinions of others. If we actively exhibit these fruits, (1) we will naturally treat people the way God wants us to, (2) we will care about our affect on others because we love them, not because we depend on them to accept us, (3) we will be patient and gentle because God is working through us, not because we have an agenda to accomplish, and (4) we will have self control over the damage sin causes on us and those we effect.
6. Last but not least, we can rest in being ourselves and have the freedom to be who God created us to be. Not everyone will accept us or even want to have a relationship with us and that’s ok. Everyone has different personality types they are drawn to, enjoy different activities, music etc. and have differing views on things based on their own evaluations, perceptions and experiences.
If we are focused on living the way God calls us to live, we have to be able to be comfortable with the idea that not everyone will find us acceptable. We have to care how people view us somewhat or we can become just plain strange, (we all know some!) but we can’t base our self worth on it.
If we live our life for God’s sake and the sake of the gospel, all the checks and balances that we need to be concerned with will be there, because we will also want to be pleasing and loving towards others as well as a good representative of God.
This has been a long post but I fear that many of you have struggled with the same issue I have. There is freedom and there is hope for change. Tim Keller says that “in order to experience lasting change, you need to change what you worship.” Christ is so worthy of that worship and His gospel is the only thing worth living our life for. It’s what gives us healing, purpose, freedom, strength and safety.
Rend Collective’s song “Boldly I Approach Your Throne” is a great reminder of what He has done for us. Let the words wash over you. Blessings…
By grace alone somehow I stand
Where even angels fear to tread
Invited by redeeming love
Before the throne of God above
He pulls me close with nail-scarred hands
Into His everlasting arms
When condemnation grips my heart
And Satan tempts me to despair
I hear the voice that scatters fear
The Great I Am the Lord is here
Oh praise the One who fights for me
And shields my soul eternally
Boldly I approach Your throne
Blameless now I'm running home
By Your blood I come
Welcomed as Your own
Into the arms of majesty
Behold the bright and risen Son
More beauty than this world has known
I'm face to face with Love Himself
His perfect spotless righteousness
A thousand years, a thousand tongues
Are not enough to sing His praise
Boldly I approach Your throne
Blameless now I'm running home
By Your blood I come
Welcomed as Your own
Into the arms of majesty
This is the art of celebration
Knowing we're free from condemnation
Oh praise the One, praise the One
Who made an end to all my sin.