Sometimes writing is therapeutic. Preaching can be that way, too. Hopefully, since what you’re what trying to communicate in a pastor’s blog or in a sermon is in some form the Word of Jesus Christ, it’s always that way a little.
I’m hoping it’s that way this time.
I’m writing in the midst of this, not on the other side of it.
I had tried ridiculously hard to be good at this certain thing. To excel at it, actually. Doesn’t really matter what it is. Not to the story, anyway. No, what matters is the reason: The thing pulling the strings in my heart, what drove me, was winning the respect and admiration of others.
I often still am trying to win the respect and admiration of others.
And I’m doing it because I treasure that more than God’s approval of me in Jesus Christ.
A couple of months ago, probably, I began to ask God to take anything from me He deemed necessary in order to make me love Him more. I asked Him to break my idols. And now, like the hundreds and thousands and millions of Christians who have gone before me, I have found that God is faithful to discipline and chasten His children.
So, I had worked like crazy at this thing. I went over and above and beyond, trying to preemptively do even the slightest task that would earn me praise and respect and the moniker of “Best _____________.” Periodically, the Word of God would check me; I’d remember Paul in Ephesians telling the slaves in the church in Ephesus not to work as people-pleasers but for the Lord. But I couldn’t really change the pull in my heart. I couldn’t (and can’t) seem to alter what it is that actually motivates me.
But O, God can.
So, I found out recently that I had failed. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I had not been what I’d set out to be. I had worked so hard to be remarkable. To be spectacular. To wow others with my effort and my abilities. And God orchestrated an event where I learned, unequivocally, that I had not.
As a matter of fact, recently a couple of things I was working on, striving to appear excellent at and win the respect of others by, were (or are being) slowly taken from me, or at the very least I’m being shown that I did not achieve through them what I’d set out to.
And now the good part: In between waves of self-pity, what I’ve been able to see is that that is exactly what should happen.
If I am to be free to love Jesus Christ, I have to be free from my craving for human approval.
And listen, beyond the need to sort my own thoughts out, writing this for public consumption is intended to serve another purpose: I want to exhort you, if you’re like me and looking for the respect or approval or adoration of others to fulfill you, to ask God to change that in you, however He must. I don’t assume everyone has this same idol, or worships it in the way that I’ve described here. But I’m confident enough that some do to make the exhortation: Pray to the Father and to Jesus Christ and to His Holy Spirit that He would do whatever He needs to do to you, take whatever He needs to take from you, in order to make you love Him more than anything else. To make you find your identity in Him more than anywhere else.
The acceptance of God in Christ Jesus, the unshakeable love of our adopted Abba, is far more satisfying than any human being’s respect or admiration. And in the moment you’re frustrated or depressed or devastated because you’ve failed, or because you’re not as remarkable as you tried so hard to be, the most healing substance is not some other praise or approval you can cobble together from a different area of your life. If you’ve been born of God you already have the most soul-satisfying identity possible to turn to, by grace through faith: That Christ Jesus is in you, that you are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and that your name is in the Book of Life.
Don’t go rushing from realizing you’ve failed (or thinking that you’ve failed) to some other endeavor, trying to be perfect at it so that you can breathe a little easier and feel good about yourself again. And don’t trip into despair, either, replaying the way you blew it over and over in your mind. Don’t.
Instead, ask God to give you trust in the grace of Jesus Christ for you, and let that grace and His Spirit be the engine for your good works and a good life, not a craving for the admiration of others.
We’re not that remarkable. None of us. And that’s okay.
The only escape from the frantic pull to impress others is profound, soul-deep trust that who you are in Christ Jesus is the most important word that can ever be spoken about you. And it’s yours, by grace through faith. Forever.
If you have repented and believed on the Lord Jesus, the opinion of you that most matters is set.
Stop striving for approval, and start striving from it.
“Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”
From Romans 9
*Note: I found the book
Picture Perfect by Biblical counselor Amy Baker incredibly helpful on this topic, and recommend it to anyone who struggles with this sort of idolatry.