I want people to like me. There, I said it. Is it really such a bad thing to want others to like you, to find you attractive, to want to be around you, or to admire you? Are these desires in and of themselves wrong? Isn't it normal to have a desire to make those around you happy? I believe the answers are no, it is not a bad thing, and yes, it is normal. I haven't met a person yet who has told me that they really don't want people to like them and they try to make their friends and family as unhappy as possible. (I have met people who do this without trying but I am assuming it is not on purpose.)
There are times when we have to do things to please others. When we have a job we have to do the work that is required to the best of our ability so that we can please our boss. In a marriage we should be striving to do the things that will please our spouse and bring them happiness. As parents, we try to please our children and show them that we love and care for them. In our friendships we go out of our way to be there for those we love and to let them know we value them. In the body of Christ it is part of our responsibility as followers to love and serve people. The Bible is full of examples of relationships where people were doing things to please others. People like Miriam, Daniel, David and Jonathan, Isaac, Esther, and Ruth. Jesus, himself, is the perfect example of someone who laid down his life for others. Even the care and detail that God put into creating this world for us to live in shows us that He wanted to bring us pleasure and to see us happy.
Making others happy isn't bad. Trying to please people is a good thing when it is done with the right motivation and perspective. The problem is that our human nature has a way of taking something good and turning it into something completely different. So, how do we know when our need to please people has gotten out of control and what do we do about it?
I think we can know we have a problem with people-pleasing if we look at what motivates our need to please. Our motivations are key because they show us what is really in our hearts. To be honest, it isn't always fun to look at our motivation because sometimes what we find isn't all that pretty.
One question that really brings the truth to light is, "If no one ever knew that I did this for this person, would I still do it?". This really shows where our true motivation lies. Are we doing it to bring attention onto ourselves and to look good or are we truly doing it out of love? It is so easy for pure motivations to spoil when we receive praise and admiration. Suddenly, something that started as a true act of service becomes tainted because the accolades and attention it brings to us becomes the motivation. The praise of people can become addictive and that is when we know that people- pleasing has become an idol in our lives. The more we receive it, the more we seek it. And the problem is, people are fickle... their expectations are always changing!
I Thessalonians 2:4 talks about the desire to please people and the trust that God has in us to do things and say things that are pleasing to Him, not to please people. And the scary thing is, we can't hide the truth from Him! He sees our hearts. He knows our motivations. There is nowhere to hide our idols with God! So, we have to examine ourselves and ask ourselves the tough questions. Are we truly doing this for the praise of God or man?
If we find that people pleasing has become an idol in our lives, what do we do about it? How do we change our motivations? I believe we can do that by changing our perspective. Who are we focused on- ourselves or God? (Because when we are trying to please people it is really about us and not them.)
2 Corinthians 5:9 gives us this command, "Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him." If our perspective changes from being about ourselves and how others perceive us to pleasing God in everything we do, we will find that our people-pleasing changes to God-pleasing. Our choices are no longer about how we will look to others, but how God will see us.
The real test of our motivation and perspective will come when we have to make choices that will not please people but will please God. It is easy to focus on pleasing God when He's asking you to do things that please Him and please people. But when He asks you to make a decision that will bring you criticism from people who don't understand then it gets really complicated. That is when you know whose approval you are truly seeking. I have watched my husband, a pastor, have to do this many times and it is hard. People don't know the whole truth and you have to do what is right, which isn't always popular or fun, but it is God-pleasing. As his wife, I have sat back and worried about what people think and who is mad and wanted to set them straight, but when I do that I take my husband's perspective off of pleasing God and on to people, and that is wrong. It is so hard to have the right perspective when God-pleasing choices aren't people-pleasing choices but God knows and, in the end, that is all that matters.
So, has people-pleasing become an idol in your life? Do you find yourself seeking the praise of people more than the pleasure of God? Examine your motivations and your heart and bring your perspective back to one that is focused on pleasing God, not man. It will make a world of difference in your state of mind and bring you a peace and joy that all the praise of man cannot even touch. When you feel the pleasure of God pouring into your life, the praise of man is just a little added bonus as a gift from Him and the criticism only draws you closer to the One who really knows you. You can't lose when you live a God-pleasing life!!