Growing up, I heard a memorable story about a man, a boy, and a donkey. The man and his son were taking their donkey to a market to be sold. Along the course of their journey, they passed a few groups of people who wanted to put in their two cents about their travel.
Upon seeing the man and the boy walking alongside their donkey, someone from the first group exclaimed, “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?” So the man put the boy on the donkey and kept traveling.
Then they passed another group who criticized the boy for letting his father walk while he rode on the donkey. So, the man told his son to get off the donkey and rode instead.
Again, they pass by another group with strong opinions. This group called the man lazy for letting the young boy walk while he rode. So the man took the boy and put him on the donkey.
Finally, some men scolded the man and his son for “overloading” the donkey with the weight of both himself and his son. So, instead, they carried the donkey.
However, the donkey ended up getting loose from their grasp and fell into a nearby bridge and drowned.
By trying to please everyone, they failed to carry out their mission of bringing the donkey to the market.
What is people pleasing?
According to Websters, People pleasing is “having an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires.” Let’s expand this dictionary definition a bit further. People pleasing is the emotional need to please others at the expense of pleasing and honoring God. It’s much deeper than simply avoiding conflict or wanting others to be happy. It stems from a deep insecurity and insatiable hunger for approval.
How to tell if you’re a people pleaser
If you’re not sure if you are a people pleaser or not, read these statements and honestly ask yourself if they apply to you. If many of these statements apply to you, then you may potentially be a people pleaser.
- You struggle with saying “no.”
- You apologize often.
- You worry a lot about what people think about you.
- You don’t want to offend anyone.
- You really dislike conflict.
- You often change or adjust who you really are to fit in with different groups.
Beyond these questions, a great way to tell if you’re a people pleaser is by asking yourself, “Why?” Why are these statements true for me? Asking “why” can help you to address a problem at the source, instead of merely addressing its symptoms.
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What is the root of people pleasing?
This next section may be tough to accept but it’s true. We need to see people pleasing for what it really is.
The true root of people pleasing is idolatry, and more specifically, the worship of approval. Worship is what we ascribe worth to and allow to shape our lives. If our desire for approval is so important that it controls us, it becomes our god. If we disobey God and his calling on our lives so that people will approve of us, we’re in idolatry. God has commanded us never to have any other gods beside him. We are supposed to worship him alone.
We cannot worship God rightly when our eyes are on ourselves. How can we give God the glory he deserves if we’re so concerned about what other people think of us?
The reality is, we cannot please everyone. In fact, we shouldn’t try to please everyone. We should aim to please God.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.Galatians 1:10 ESV
Luke 6:26 reminds us that if everyone speaks well of us, we are in the company of false prophets.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.Luke 6:26 ESV
Please understand that I am not saying any of this to be harsh. I empathize with you as someone who struggles with people pleasing myself. However, if we want to be free, we need the whole truth.
Now, here’s a quick caveat. Pleasing people does not mean that you are a people pleaser. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with pleasing some people sometime. But if the motive for our actions is to please people so we won’t be rejected or thought badly of, we are in the wrong.
May we examine our hearts and motives. May we check our intentions and make sure they are pure. It is a dangerous thing to try to please people at the expense of pleasing God.
People pleasing is a sin
I mentioned earlier that people-pleasing is the worship of approval. But, it goes beyond that. It’s self-focused. We are worshipping their approval of us. In doing so, we not only exalt the desire for approval above God, we exalt ourselves above him.
We put ourselves on a pedestal and we act (or refrain from acting) for the sake of approval. It’s addictive and even though it feels good for a moment, it eventually turns into a yoke that captures us and refuses to let go.
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.John 12:42-43
Many of the Jewish leaders believed that Jesus was the Messiah but refused to confess it because they feared the Pharisees. They denied what they knew to be true about God so that they wouldn’t be rejected. Ultimately, this was because they loved the “glory,” or recognition, that came from the Pharisees more than they cared for the glory that came from being a follower of Christ.
In Acts 5:29, we see that Peter and the apostles decided to obey God by preaching his word in the temple even though the Jewish leaders forbade it. They knew the consequences but it was more important to obey God than men.
While people pleasing seems innocent at first, it never is. As Christians, our first allegiance is to God. If we are people pleasers motivated by approval, we won’t be effective in living for God. We have to deny ourselves and our desire to be accepted by people and choose to put God first.
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People Pleasing is Ultimately Inauthentic
People pleasing is incredibly inauthentic because it prevents us from being our true selves. We change and transform ourselves to fit other people’s expectations of us.
In an attempt to please everyone, we get pulled in many different directions instead of living the life God intended for us.
People pleasing robs us of our joy and steals our peace. We were created to be free but people pleasing bounds us in invisible chains. Why live in bondage when Christ has set us free?
Let’s be our authentic selves. Some people will love it, some will be indifferent, and others will hate it. God has a plan for you that only you can fulfill. No one else can.
I remember listening to a sermon by Pastor Steven Furtick a few years ago. He said, “God can’t bless your selfie.” In other words, God can’t bless the person you pretend to be. If you want to do anything in God’s kingdom, you must first lay down everything that you are not and pick up everything God says you are. It doesn’t matter so much if people don’t like who you are. Does God like who you are?
We don’t need the whole world to approve of us. Recognizing that was so freeing. We simply need one voice of approval – God’s. And guess what? We have it.
People pleasing limits us from walking out our purpose
When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, he was afraid that the people wouldn’t listen to him since he was only a child. Jeremiah had every right to be afraid because the Israelites didn’t have a great track record of dealing well with prophets. However, God encouraged Jeremiah and told him not to be afraid.
As a child of God, you will definitely experience fear. God may tell you to do or say things that can cause people to reject you. He may encourage you to stop watching certain shows or hanging out at certain places that will make everyone else think you’re weird. Truthfully, you won’t be accepted by most people. Everyone will have their own opinions about how you should live. However, we cannot let fear of people’s opinions prevent us from walking out our God-given purpose.
How can we hear God clearly when we’re listening to what everyone else is saying? It pulls us apart into many different directions and suddenly, we don’t know who we are anymore. Instead of remaining focused on God, our eyes become fixed on approval. We crave it and we can’t get enough.
If we’re only telling people what they want to hear, we aren’t truly loving them. It is unkind to tell people lies that make them feel better than to tell them the truth for the sake of approval.
How to break free from people pleasing
Breaking free from people pleasing is one of the most freeing things you’ll ever do. You suddenly become more clear in your identity and your life’s mission. God leads you and you begin looking to him for worth and approval instead of looking to others.
If you struggle with people pleasing, I am with you. I’ve come a long way but it’s still not easy for me. I still struggle with the need for approval. Sometimes, I still care too much about other people’s opinions. But, I’ve learned a lot and I believe some of these things can help you too.
Discover what God says about your identity and worth in him
All of us seek approval. We all want to be accepted. However, before looking to anyone else for approval, we must be confident that God approves of us. We don’t have to earn approval from people by getting them to like us. Believe the truth about your identity and worth in Christ. Believe that he already approves of you.
He sent his Son, Jesus, to die for you. He already approves of you. You don’t need to seek approval from anyone else.
I know it might take some time to actually begin believing this. However, the more you meditate on God’s truth, the more you’ll believe it and the more it will begin to shape how you live.
Consider reading through this list of Bible verses about your identity in Christ. Save them and meditate on them regularly.
Pray about your struggle with people pleasing
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.Mark 11:24 ESV
Simply, pray about it and ask God to help you. Ask God to help you discover why people pleasing is such a challenge for you. Ask him to help you heal. Don’t try to fix it on your own. He’s here to help you.
Choose to submit to God instead of man
Your love for God must be greater than your love for approval. For me, people pleasing manifests as staying silent when God has called me to speak out. However, my love for God is so much greater than my desire for approval. I have to do what God is telling me to do even if other people may not like it.
Think about your thoughts, actions, and speech regularly. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Are you doing it to glorify God or are you doing it because you crave approval? Is there anything God is calling you to do that you haven’t done because you fear people’s opinions?
Recognize the struggle and submit it to God. The moment you find yourself struggling with people pleasing, pray and ask God to help you.
If you struggle with people pleasing, there is freedom for you in Christ. Don’t be ashamed and don’t feel condemned. Jesus invites you to come, lay your burdens down, and receive help from him. This is a journey that takes time and God is able to help you.