If you have been raised in the church or read many devotionals, you might be quick to answer the above question, “Yes.” We’re supposed to please God, not people. Right? This question would have seemed like a no-brainer to me a week ago, until I came face to face with what that assumption means for people like me.
It started innocently enough. I read an article online about how it would be helpful for parents (especially homeschoolers) to understand their children’s personalities using the Myers-Briggs personality test. Before testing my kids, I decided to take it again. I had taken the test in college, and remembered the outcome, but I had never read anything to tell me what those four letters mean. My results were the same, but I was shocked when I read the analysis of my personality. It was spot on. My husband laughed as I read aloud the strengths and quirks that make up me. We had great fun analyzing each other – I’m an ENFJ, by the way, so my personality type enjoys figuring out what makes people tick. I thought it was a fun, introspective exercise, and was ready to leave it at that.
The next day, however, I came across a blog post about being who are are created to be in Christ, and not feeling down on ourselves for having different gifts and passions than others. The following day, my morning online devotional was on the same topic: Being who God created you to be. So during my Bible study time, I asked God to connect the dots he seemed to have placed on the page of my recent week. My Bible study contained one of my favorite verses, Ephesians 2:10:
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
As I meditated on that verse, I began to think about the results of my personality test and, to be honest, got a little mad at God. My rant went something like this: God, you made ENFJs to enjoy serving people. My personality type is designed to find fulfillment and satisfaction in helping others. But the message I’ve been told is that I should not desire to please people, only You. If I do the “good things You planned” for me to do – serving others – but am not allowed to find joy and satisfaction in pleasing others, I’m doomed for a life of misery and unfulfillment. Why would You design me to derive feelings of joy and satisfaction in serving others if that is wrong?
The answer to that burning question was wrapped inside another question. “Who told you it was wrong to feel joy and satisfaction in serving others?” Well, let’s revisit that very first question. Is people pleasing wrong? If you’ve based your life on the premise that we should strive to please God, not people, then it’s quite possible to twist that into a belief that it’s wrong to enjoy pleasing others. I know because I’ve spent the last 8 years of my life believing that subtle lie.
I’ve written before about my battle with insecurity during my teens and twenties. Overcoming it required me to allow God to rewire my thought processes about who I am and why I do the things I do. I prayed Romans 12:2 daily: “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Part of that transformation was a raised awareness of my desire to please others and my dependency on their praise for self-esteem. I began to pull back from visible ministries and devoted myself to serving my family and working in “behind the scenes” ministries, like teaching children’s Sunday School. I grew a lot spiritually during this time, as I learned to find my satisfaction in Christ and break free from the bonds of living for the praise of others. Unfortunately, a new stronghold took root in its place.
I’m convinced that most Christians who are limping through life and battling discouragement, do not have obvious strongholds like greed or lust, but are held in bondage by twisted half-truths. In my case, the truth is that my joy and satisfaction come from God and my identity in Christ. The twisted version went on to tell me that it’s wrong for me to experience joy when I am praised by those I serve; I should only find joy in God. So even though God’s plan for me is to delight in him, do the good works he uniquely designed me to do (serving others in a variety of ways), and take joy in participating in his redemptive work through me while reflecting the praise back to him, the cycle was being cut short. As soon as I received praise, it made me uncomfortable because I feared feeling any sort of pride or desire for praise, so I would immediately feel guilty for any good feelings I had as a result of helping others. Here’s the really twisted part: If I received lots of praise, I eventually quit. (It’s why I’m so inconsistent with this blog.) If someone thanked me for sharing a helpful insight in Sunday School or Bible Study, I would be determined the next week to not say a word, so as to not draw attention to myself. Yes, I know, it’s stupid and backwards.
Most people give up projects/ministries because they fear they won’t be good. I quit things because I’m afraid I’ll be great. I’m so afraid of desiring glory that I run from anything that might give it to me. Even if God is the one who put me there to fulfill his purpose.
As I talked through all this with my husband, he casually made the comment that God designed us to see our work as good. Remember the creation story? At the end of each day, God looked at what he created and said it was good. Why would I think that he doesn’t want me to feel the same way about my work? Yes, my service to others should flow out of my love for God, which prompts me to do the good works he created me to do. But instead of feeling guilty when those works bring joy to others, I need to respond by saying, “Glory to God. It is good.”
The worst part of this realization is acknowledging to God that in my zeal to please him alone, I have cast aside every attempt he’s made to invite me to share in his pleasure. Yes, God speaks to us through scripture, but he also speaks to us through each other. I fell down on my face and wept before the Lord when the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “I have prompted people time and time again to give you MY praise, but you cast their words aside because you could not accept them.”
Oh God, open our eyes to see who we are created to be in You. Speak your truth to our minds so we will not be held captive by deceptive half-truths. Heal our minds and make us whole in You.