It’s hard to kick the approval habit.
Everyone wants to be wanted. Everybody enjoys being enjoyed. Everyone appreciates those warm fuzzy feelings when someone speaks well of you.
But when you live your life seeking the opinion and approval of others, you become enslaved. In The Moon and Sixpence, Somerset Maugham wrote: “Man’s desire for the approval of his fellows is so strong, his dread of their censure so violent, that he himself has brought his enemy (conscience) within his gates; and it keeps watch over him, vigilant always in the interests of its master to crush any half-formed desire to break away from the herd.”
Life is simply too short to waste time waiting for other people’s approval on how you live it. Before long that sense of slavery will kick in, and you’ll constantly need verbal affirmation, smiles, nods and approbation until the need for external acceptance will literally become an addiction.
The underlying principle is spelt out clearly in the book of Proverbs (Prov. 29:25): “The fear of man brings a snare.”
The only way out of bondage is to begin seeking God’s approval instead of man’s approval.
According to John’s Gospel, the snare of approval-addiction inhibits discipleship:
“Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” (John 12:42–43)
It’s bad enough to inordinately long for the approval of others. It’s much worse when such longings transcend one’s longing for God. Get your priorities straight here!
Jesus spoke clearly about this:
“But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.” (Matt. 23:5–7)
Even those things that are religious in nature (such as prayer, fasting, and giving) can be done with a hypocritical motive to gain man’s approval.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” (Matt. 6:1–5)
So, according to these very straightforward passages, my approval-addiction is a kind of hypocrisy. And at heart, I’m a Pharisee and my so-called service to God is a bit of pious play-acting. What I do I do outwardly, hoping to be noticed. My first thought is not ‘How will God be glorified by what I am about to do?’ but rather “How will others perceive me when I do what I am about to do?”
It’s as well to be honest, isn’t it? Because the Bible calls us to “truth in the inward parts.”
You have to confront the question: “Whose approval am I really seeking?”
The alternative is suggested by phrases such as “approved to God” (2 Tim. 2:15), “well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18), “acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1), and “glorifying God” (Luke 17:15).
These phrases indicate a kind of selfishness or self-centredness at the heart of being an approval-junkie. I’m concerned (if not consumed) with the establishment and maintenance of my own reputation. My heart so craves being held in high esteem by others (and to hear their praises) that little room is left to entertain thoughts of what I might do to acquire God’s praise.
And so I become addicted to “the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:43).
Paul provides a vivid contrast:
“But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness…”(1Thess. 2:4–5)
Did you see it? He came to Thessalonica, “approved by God.” And he was “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” That was the proof of God’s approval! And so, because of that, “we speak, not as pleasing men but God who examines our hearts.” Once you have this point sorted you can stand tall before other people. A person who knows he is faithful and has therefore been approved by God can speak freely and boldly to others. He does not use flattering speech because he really doesn’t care much about pleasing man.
It is the person who seeks to please man who doesn’t care much about pleasing God and so resorts to flattery or pretext.
As a pastor, this is a pretty serious failing, and yet the danger of becoming an approval-junkie is extremely common in this field of service. Here’s a list that I picked up from the internet this morning. It was called “The Dangers of being a People-Pleaser” but I’m using it to critique my own role as a pastor and to examine the dangers of being an approval-junkie.
Call it a spiritual check-up.
- Rarely confronts sin in the life of another believer.
- Rarely challenges or even questions the opinions of others.
- Prematurely terminates conflicts (usually by yielding, withdrawing, changing the subject).
- Rarely reveals to others the truth about who he really is inside (especially his struggles with sin).
- Steers conversations away from those topics that might cause others to realize what he is really like inside.
- Shades the truth (lies) in order “not to offend others.”
- Finds clever ways to subtly introduce his accomplishments into conversations.
- Fishes for compliments.
- Listens attentively when others talk of things that displease him (so as not to say or do anything that might result in rejection).
- Frequently puts himself down in the hope that others will disagree with his purposely exaggerated negative self-assessment.
- Finds it difficult to say “no” to those who make requests of him, even when he knows that saying “yes” will not be the best choice.”
Only one thing will set us free, and that is truth. Yet that is the one thing we have a hard time dealing with. We don’t mind facing the truth about everyone else, but when it comes to facing the truth about ourselves, it is quite a different matter!
True freedom never comes until we fully realize that we don’t need to struggle to get from man what God freely gives us: love, acceptance, approval, security, worth and value.
It’s hard for me to face my insecurity and say, “I am insecure, I don’t like myself, and I need God’s help and healing in this area of my life.”
But it’s necessary.
If you refuse to face the truth, you remain in bondage.
The only way out of bondage is to begin seeking God’s approval instead of man’s approval. God wants our security to be in Him, not in things or other people. He is the only One we absolutely cannot do without.
Our worth, value, acceptance and approval come from Him. As long as we have those, we have the most valuable things in the world .In Him we are free to be ourselves and become all we can be in Him.
So when I look away from all other distractions to Jesus, “the Leader and the Source of [my] faith” (Heb. 12:2), I find myself lifted to new levels of freedom, to become the confident, mature person I was created to be.
“Christ continually shouts through the universe, “You have a love that is already yours. You have nothing to prove to anyone. You have nothing to prove to Me. You are significant and preapproved and utterly cherished. Not because you are ‘good,’ but because you are Mine.” ― Jennifer Dukes Lee