Choose Your Own Adventure
What is people-pleasing exactly? It's making choices based on either:
a) impressing other people.
b) avoiding disappointing other people.
Ready for my true confession? I'm a people pleaser too.
In fact, this is one area where God has been consistently working in my heart for many months. I can sense that He wants me to make my choices based less on what others will think of me and more on what He desires from me. If you're a people pleaser, you already know that this is easier said than done.
In my efforts to consider pleasing others less and pleasing God more, one verse has been a life raft.
Proverbs 29:25 says, "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe."
This simple passage contrasts two simple realities.
When we live our lives in fear of man (that's another way of describing chronic people pleasing), it's like walking into a trap.
Scenario #1: You have a HUGE assignment due tomorrow. Your best friend calls and begs you to go to the basketball game with her . . .
A people pleaser would go to the game and either blow off the assignment or have to stay up all night to complete it. The trap here is that we tend to do things with less excellence and stretch ourselves too thin because of our desire to impress others. The result can be exhaustion, burnout, or failure to meet our commitments—none of which tee us up for a life that is focused on the priorities God has for us.
Scenario #2: Your schedule is already full, and your pastor approaches you and asks you to volunteer once a week in the church nursery. You are not particularly passionate about children, and you are already involved in several ministries that do match your gifts...
The trap here is that when we approach ministry and service with pleasing people in mind, we can end up serving in ways God does not call us to and miss opportunities to serve in the ways and places God has in mind. A God-sized mission bears much more fruit than doing something good for the eyes of other people.
Do you feel guilty or selfish when you take time for yourself? That's likely a symptom of chronic people pleasing. You may be worried that others will think you're lazy or misjudge you if you slow down from time to time.
The problem is that God commands us to Sabbath (a.k.a. rest). He does this for our own good, because our batteries need a recharge from time to time. When we never recharge, our emotions and bodies start coasting on fumes.
People pleasers can also tend to put way too much stock into the opinions of others. Don't hear me saying that it's a wise choice to never care what others think of you. It's good to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. However, Jesus wasn't always popular, and He never won everyone over. He cared far too much about what His Father thought of Him to be pulled by the opinions of others.
People won't always like you. The crowd won't always cheer you on. But public opinion is a nasty trap when we try to cater to it. At the end of the day, it's most important what God thinks of us. (Hint: He's a huge fan!)
Scenario #3: When you do something nice for someone else, do you want credit?
Matthew 6:1–4 says, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
Doing something nice for a moment of glory is a trap. God says when we do so, we've received all of the reward we can expect because He wants us to serve others in order to please Him. That means that if no one ever notices, we still serve others, because our goal is to please God.
When we live to please people, we will find our hearts often snagged by emotions like fear, anxiety, worry, exhaustion, burnout, and confusion. However, God outlines an alternative that cuts a clear path for us—no hidden minefields.
Go back to the verse at the beginning of this post.
Option #1 is to fear man or live to please others. The Bible says this lays a trap.
Option #2 is to trust in the Lord, to live life with His opinion in mind, to seek to please Him above all others. Proverbs 29:25 tells us that this route keeps us safe from the kind of traps I just described in the scenarios above. That's why when it comes to people pleasing, we all must choose our own adventure . . .