I used to be a bona fide people-pleaser. It sickens me now, actually, how much I lived for approval and affirmation from others. The validation was a high, and eventually I found myself unable to live without it.
While I had nearly always been a people-pleaser, I had not always had approval or affirmation or validation. I was like a little kid bouncing up and down, shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” until finally someone did. Overnight, people were impressed with me, and that felt good. Really good.
Problem was, those things I did to get people’s attention were not really me. I didn’t really want to showcase my doctrinal prowess, run myself ragged serving the church, give resources that I didn’t actually have, or fully embrace ideologies I didn’t fully agree with. I felt like I needed to in order to keep people interested, because really, what was I to them without these things?
I felt enslaved, and I resented it.
Eventually, I couldn’t keep it up, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I lost my approval, affirmation, and validation from others.
Then, I felt like nothing.
One day, I was reading the book of Galatians and came across this verse: “I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” (Galatians 1:10, NLT).
It took me reading Galatians (and this verse) several times before I began to understand that my people-pleasing lifestyle was not pleasing to Christ. When I lived my life to please other people, I was enslaved to them and what they wanted, and I was not considering what Christ wanted.
I began asking what He wanted, thinking He was going to give me some big old to-do list. And because I’d been (mis)taught that the only way to serve Christ was to serve His Church, I assumed it would involve many of the same things I’d been doing before.
To my surprise, God told me, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a, NKJV). Another translation says “cease striving” and that really hit me in the gut, because I had been striving – going to unnatural lengths to earn approval, affirmation, and validation. As I gave up ministry after ministry to be still in God’s presence, people kept telling me I was going in the wrong direction, but I knew (although I didn’t fully understand) that God was pleased with the direction I was taking. I didn’t need to be doing more to please God.
God told me, “I came so that you could have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, paraphrased). I began to understand that I already had everything I needed to enjoy what God called me to. I had been living a half-life because my schedule was so jam-packed and I was convinced that the more of myself I gave, the more I would be given by God. (Oh, the legalism I had gotten myself into there). I didn’t need to give more to please God.
God told me, “Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1, NKJV). This was the hardest for me. When people would offer their insight on what I was doing (without understanding why), it was challenging for me to remember that I had freedom to step away the way I did. I wanted to explain until they got it (i.e., approved), but I found that I no longer needed to. I was exactly who and where God called me to be, and that became the most important thing. I didn’t need to be more to please God.
It was like the gospel 2.0, although I’d been following Christ for around for years at that point: Christ had already done what needed to be done, given what needed to be given, and been what needed to be in order to please God. I have God’s approval because of Christ. Beyond that, I say with confidence that God is pleased when I seek Him and His call in my life.
And God’s pleasure is all I care about.