I was 15 when I had to write the little blurb that would later appear next to my graduation photo in the school yearbook. Before listing my cherished memories, pet peeves, activities I was involved in, and closest pals, I shared this quote:
“There is no reward from God to those who seek it from men.”
This somewhat insignificant fact came to mind recently as I was reflecting on a truth about myself, one I felt God was challenging me to confront. I was thinking about how I’ve always struggled to make sure I have the approval of
people around me—and I don’t just mean my parents and teachers. Even strangers or mere acquaintances were not safe from my big approval-catching net.
Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with living in such a way that meets with the approval of most people around you—if you’re doing so out of a sincere impulse to live rightly. However, it’s not ideal (or healthy) to base every action and decision on one’s perception of how others will react. Not only does this set you up to potentially make a lot of bad decisions, but it’s also exhausting, not to mention futile.
The irony that I ended up approaching life almost completely opposite to the words of wisdom I’d imparted on others three decades earlier did not escape me. The revelation was momentarily disheartening but it also gave me clarity and the opportunity to change my approach. It allowed me to ask God to change my heart and to move from being a people-pleaser to a God-pleaser.
Why is this important? Because being a people-pleaser is not the position of humility and servitude it appears to be on the surface. Instead, it’s just another way of keeping one’s focus on oneself. We think of people who don’t care about others as being self-centred and conceited, but being a compulsive people-pleaser is simply the other side of the same coin.
We live in a world where people on both sides of a political divide put a lot of energy into what we now call virtue signaling or moral posturing. We see the same problem in Christian circles with doctrinal debates. The compulsive need to have others see us as good and virtuous and morally superior seems to be spreading like a virus.
Galatians 1:10 makes it abundantly clear where our focus should be: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Now, doesn’t that make life a whole lot simpler?