In the restaurant business, there’s a saying: The waiter/waitress is a server, not a servant. The concept of servanthood is incredibly distasteful in our culture. America is (supposedly) a nation where no one is inherently better than anyone else. To us, being someone’s servant means you think of yourself as...
That’s the number of milk jugs I had lugged from the stage to the garbage dump. Even though I was almost out the door to my child’s basketball game, and I only had twenty minutes to get there, when my co-teacher asked me if I could help her carry the remnants of a handmade igloo to the dump, I said, “Yes.”
A People Pleaser’s Confession
I am most definitely, most unequivocally, most assuredly a people pleaser. Not only do I want people to like me, I want them to seek me out as a necessity to a job. The problem? When I don’t get done what needs to get done because of people’s frequent requests. More unfortunate is when my desire to please others reroutes my day from the ultimate goal of pleasing God and bringing him glory.
I’m sure I’m not alone.
Pleasing those we love is rewarding, and this may not be wrong in and of itself. But pleasing God is a higher calling and much more fulfilling. We are headed for trouble when our desire to please people and gain their approval becomes as important as pleasing God and sensing his approval.
A People Pleaser’s Fears
I believe we try to please others because of two fears:
The Fear of Rejection
As sinful people, we are constantly battling with the need for approval and the wrong thinking that more good deeds equal more love. But at the cross, Jesus demonstrated the price he paid because he loved us. We did not need to do anything for this love.
A vital truth to combat this fear is: Not everyone will love me, but the One who matters will never stop loving me. God’s love for us does not ebb and flow; it does not waver; it does not increase or decrease; it is consistent. Praise God for this fixed truth!
We also don’t need to lose our assurance as children of God every time we sin or forget these truths. His love for us is made complete in Christ, so there’s no need to fear rejection.
Once we are secure in our relationship with God, and understand the implications of that relationship, we will seek to know how we can please him. Jesus explained to his disciples that loving God was demonstrated by obeying God (John 14:21).
When we desire to obey God, the desire to please others fades, and pleasing God becomes more important (2 Corinthians 5:9).
The Fear of Failure
When people-pleasing replaces God-pleasing, fear of failure is at the root. People are driven by the need for approval and desire to become successful, not only to avoid being rejected, but for self-approval. Once again, we are focusing on something other than Christ, which is idolatry; we are engaging in people-centered worship and self-centered worship. Many people-pleasers believe this kind of behavior is commendable because it involves serving others, but it isn’t—it’s motivated by approval and the assurance that we are a success. The problem with this is we are often looking to a dark world to define our success instead of looking toward the light of Christ and walking as children of the light: “Walk as children of light…and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8, 10).
In God’s Word, we find the truth that can combat this fear: We define success by what brings glory to God. Instead of looking to what we accomplish, how much money we make, who we impressed with our accolades, we need to evaluate the fruit we are bearing for the Lord and the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. We need to prioritize faithfulness.
A People Pleaser’s Freedom
We were designed to crave love from the One who is love. Not everyone will love me. Those who do love me will never love me the way I crave to be loved because I was created to be complete in Christ alone.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (NKJV). But if we are going to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (and people-pleasers do this), then it must be to God alone. We are to please him first, and he is the only one we are to worship.
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
Jesus is the way as we look to pleasing people and God: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). The Son of God grew in wisdom and pleased God first—then he grew in favor with man. The pleasing of man was secondary, but it came after he sought to please God.
We will not always please people. Our days are spent to please God, bring him joy, and reflect the One who created us for his ultimate glory! When we turn our thoughts and actions from pleasing others to pleasing Christ, only then will we find contentment, peace, and freedom.