By Being God-Pleasers, We Can Stop Being People-Pleasers
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
One of the greatest desires of humanity is to feel accepted by others. We go to great lengths to be in the “right” jobs, “rub elbows” with the “right people”, say the “right things” so no one is offended, and do whatever it takes to be accepted and recognized by others.
Paul challenges our culturally induced bondage by asking a challenging question: From whom are we trying to win our approval? Is it man, or God? Many people struggle with identity issues. Many women have emaciated their bodies, trying to lose that extra pound so that they won’t be perceived as “fat”, when they are – literally – on the brink of starvation and malnutrition. Men try to earn enough money, power, and respect to be accepted by other men and to attract a mate, especially when they are not perceived as “attractive” by the people they want to notice them.
The question on everyone’s mind is, “am I good enough?”
Culture tells us that we should be people-pleasers. By conforming to the expectations of other people around us (or the people we want to be around us), we will find contentment, community, relationship, and happiness in life. Pleasing people generally leads to one outcome – the surrender of your personal identity and purpose. When we allow others to dictate and determine the circumstances in which we will be accepted, and doing “whatever it takes” to conform to those expectations, we are, in effect, surrendering our autonomous control over to those whom we seek to please.
Paul challenges this by saying that we need to be God-pleasers, not people-pleasers. The order of importance with whom we should please should form the acrostic JOY:
When we follow this rule, we will have JOY in our lives!
Paul then suggests that if he was trying to please people, he would not be a servant of Christ. The word servant, in the Greek, is doulos. It means a person who voluntarily is the bond-servant of another because they love the other person so much. When we seek to please people, we are placing them above God. The doulos places his master’s interests above his/her own interests, as well as the interests of others. By placing Jesus in the place of authority over our lives, and placing His interests and desires over the interests and desires of everyone else, we are able to overcome the bondage that people-pleasing introduces into our life.
So, you might say, I am a people-pleaser. I have been doing it for so long, I don’t know how to do anything else! My life is miserable, and I want to be free of it! I read the Bible, pray, and plead with God to remove it, but I keep failing, almost every single time. What can I do?
Spend more time in prayer with God
This is a sin that is deeply ingrained in many people. Prayer is the opportunity to place God above other people as you seek relationship with Him and acknowledge that He is the one who is most important in your life. Soak this concern in prayer with tears. Mourn over your sin. Confess your need to have this broken in your life to God. And ask God to remember you. When God remembers a person, He acts divinely on behalf of that person. It was once said that when God remembers you, “Batten down the hatches, grab hold of something sturdy, because here comes God in a mighty way!”
Confess your sins to other Christians
Find Godly, Spirit-filled disciples of Christ, and confess your sin to them. Ask them to pray for you that you may be delivered out of this sin. God wants us to be free, not in bondage!
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
When we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, we are being accountable to one another and supportive of one another. God desires this in community, and this makes us real to one another. Let us put aside the fake smiles and facades that we present to each other and be real, without guile. Let us not be judgmental, but supportive and encouraging. It is time for the church to step up as we advertise ourselves to others in TRUTH.
Remember who you are in Christ
Many times, we forget who we are in Christ. Rather than be drawn to people in our time of loneliness, pain, suffering, abandonment, or any other situation that leaves us feeling disconnected from others, we need to embrace God, and remember who we are in Him:
- Jesus died on the cross for you while you were still a sinner
- God loves you because He sent Jesus to die for your sins
- God has given you the Holy Spirit to indwell you, empower you, comfort you, console you, admonish you, and glorify Jesus
- Read Ephesians 1-3. Remember who you are in Christ
- God has promised to never leave you nor forsake you
- God has promised to always forgive you and restore you when you repent
- God is omnipotent. He can fix anything, and even move Heaven and Earth to help you
- God redeemed you because He wants to have a relationship with you!
- God never changes. He loves you more than your parents every could, and loves you unconditionally, as an act of His will, and does so sacrificially (both through the death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as His continued support today and throughout eternity)
- It is God who will always be there for you
- Feelings are not facts (even though that is what culture teaches). They are just feelings. With your renewed mind, force your will to take them captive and place them under the authority of the Holy Spirit.*
A Qualifying Question
Let’s as a question: Are we people-pleasers, or God-pleasers?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, it should be You and You alone that I seek to please. Help me when I feel obligated to please people. Give me the strength and desire to set You above all, and to place every obligation I make, and every decision under Your guidance and care. Help me to weather the criticism of others as I seek to honor You in all things. And if honoring You in this manner causes difficulties in my relationships, help me to endure the emotional pain that ensues. Give me Your peace in my heart that transcends understanding, and overcome the bondage that I am in. This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Notes: This blog has been edited for spelling errors, formatting, and clarity
*Taking every thought captive to Christ in the mind is a difficult thing to do if you are not proficient in this skill.
First, remember that God has freed you from the bondage of sin. If there is unrepentant, unaddressed sin (apart from people-pleasing) in your life, confess it to God, turn away from it and turn towards God and His holy word (which is the final authority for these things – 2 Timothy 3:16).
Next, realize that God has healthy boundaries (for a good book on the subject, read “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend). He cannot abide sin, because He is holy. Sin damages our relationship with Him, as it places a wedge between us and God. Set appropriate boundaries for others. “No” is actually a good word!
Take a year off saying “Yes” to people. Say “No” to anything and everyone that tries to involve you in anything that will take away from your devotion to God (call it a “fast” for your Christian friends, or a “sabbatical” for your secular friends). Be reasonable – you probably still need to work to eat and have a roof over your head…
Spend ALL of this extra time in the word of God and in prayer. Draw close to your Savior, and go deep with Him. Let Him nudge you and change you and strengthen you.
Remember the J.O.Y. principle, and follow it.
Entrenched sin will take some time to overcome. Don’t expect that God will (always) just flick the switch, and voilà, that aspect of your character is fixed (He does do that sometimes…). Expect that as part of your training in righteousness, that he will place people in your life who will intentionally try to manipulate you by playing on what they perceive to be your desire to like them. Anyone who does this is doing so at the behest of Satan, who uses deceit to get his way. Good, righteous, Spirit-filled disciples of Christ will not manipulate you in this way, even when your answer is”no”, and may appear to cause them loss or difficulty in some way (disciples of Christ know that God will provide for their needs through another source).
Once you set healthy boundaries for people, don’t use this as an excuse to not do anything for Jesus. You need a reset to get your life back in balance. Once it comes back in balance (be patient – a week or two is not enough time for this to occur), you are in the position to say “Yes” only when it is appropriate (don’t overbook or overwork yourself, but don’t move to the other end of the spectrum and rest forever – Christ has good works that He has planned in advance for you to do. Go do them and claim your reward from Him later!).
Now, reconsider that life, as viewed through your eyes, is like TV commercials designed to influence you to do things that you normally wouldn’t do. We must be aware of these influences so that we can say “NO!” to them. Satan can place thoughts in your mind. It is up to us to recognize that those thoughts are not always Godly, even if they appear to be (for instance, if you overextend yourself in ministry, the toll that decision and resulting effects take will cause ALL of your ministry to decrease in effectiveness, even though you are doing “good things” for the cause of Christ). We generally don’t think about our thoughts. We just let them go, and think they are all from us. They aren’t!
We need to set up barriers in our minds against them. The best barriers are the words of scripture. When we have a bad thought (stealing something, for example), we should immediately tear down that stronghold thought by countering it with “You shall not steal” if there is a desire behind the thought. Many of these thoughts are safely discarded as rubbish. It is the ones that invoke desire in us to harbor the thoughts and act on them that need to be dealt with more immediately and with greater fervor:
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (emphasis added)
This is just the start. Rely upon and seek out the wisdom of God in His word and through reliance upon His Spirit to convict, exhort, and empower you as you work through the recovery from this dark pit.
Some people are in jobs where if they say “no” to anything, they’ll be fired. Others may be single parents trying to keep it together, with no time for themselves, barely living and certainly not thriving. There are people who are severely challenged physically or with severe health-impacting diseases. To every person in these circumstances, I would counsel you to understand that God sees your plight and has a special place in His heart for you. Seek Him, and trust Him. Take your eyes off of your situation, and place them upon Almighty God, who is able to do even more abundantly than we could ever imagine. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and look full in His wonderful face. And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace. And when the pressures of this life fade in the peace of God that transcends understanding, you will be in a better position to see clearly what God desires for you to do in your circumstances.