The above audio file is from a sermon given by Fred Jacoby, MA at Cornerstone Community Church (Kunkletown, PA). It is based on the book, When People Are Big and God is Small.
One thing many of us can agree on is that we dislike election times. The amount of ads are insane. The contents even more so. The phone calls from political candidates and those annoying people who ask us fifty questions when they say it will only take a moment are exhausting. These pollsters make a living developing polls to get the input from citizens about where they stand on particular subjects. They are out gauging people for who they will vote for, what topics matter most, what age range or economic status they represent, and party affiliation. Those hoping to be elected pay careful attention to the results of the polls and direct their platform according to what matters most to people. Polls can be very helpful, but as we learned in the last presidential election, they can also be deceiving.
If we’re honest with ourselves, many of us take imaginary polls of those around us. What do you think of me? Are you happy or mad with me? Why? Do you laugh at my jokes? Call me names? Do you accept me or approve of what I said? Do you like my social media posts? These questions, and many more occupy the minds and hearts of people pleasers. We want to know what people think about us. When we believe others think poorly of us, we will often change our actions or responses so that they will come to like us, accept us, or elect us to an elevated place in their hearts. Why? Because we not only want to be liked, we need to be liked and praised. This is often the reason people brag about their actions and performance as well.
Another term for people pleasing is “the fear of man.” It is fear about not being accepted or liked as if our our worth depends on it (and people pleasers believe it does!). Fear leads us to do many things. A fear of drowning may lead us to take swimming lessons. A fear of flying will often lead us to avoid flying. Fear of people can lead to becoming a chameleon (changing actions and behaviors depending on who is near), withdrawal (social anxiety), fantasy (no rejection in our own private worlds), lying (telling people what they want to hear), enabling (not standing up against sin or abuse), and sometimes a loss of self (doing what others want we don’t even know what we want).
In his book, When People Are Big & God is Small,” Ed Welch explores the depths of people pleasing. He successfully makes a great effort to help the reader move from the fear of man to the fear of the Lord. Dr. Welch argues that people become our idols, worshiped because “we perceive them having the power to give us something. We think they can bless us” (p. 45). When people become our idols, their opinions and thoughts become big, while God’s opinions of us and Christ’s actions for us on the cross become small. The greatest struggle for people pleasers is not knowing whether this is true or not, but believing it to be true and living this truth out on a daily basis.
One statement Dr. Welch shares that has been most memorable to me is a short and simple statement with profound implications: We ought to need people less and love people more. People pleasing is about pleasing people so that we feel good about ourselves through their responses. In fact, we need their positive responses to feel good about ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, we ought to recognize that people pleasing is not really about pleasing people, it is about pleasing me. In fact, it is using people to get what we need. It’s just presented as a “nice” way to to use people. I will do what I can to make you happy…so that you make me happy. I am happy when I am liked.
Scripture leads us, however, to love people. Our need for people is not necessarily for ourselves (though we do need encouragement and exhortations from others), but we need people in order to love people. Loving people is about what is best for them. While there may be a natural consequence of feeling good after we do something for someone, the motive in pleasing people, at its core, is self-centered. We give love in order to receive love/worth. In love, however, we give because we’ve already received love/worth from God. The former is based in insecurity. The latter is anchored in security through Christ.
What about you? Are you a people pleaser? Have you felt insecure and looking to fill your sense of worth through the eyes of others? Are you ready to mature in your faith and become secure through the Truth of God’s Word, love, and actions for you on the cross? Start with listening to the message above and pick up a copy of Ed Welch’s book. This book helped me take a big step in my people pleasing tendencies. While I am still on a journey, God used this book to help me make a giant leap in maturity and security. You won’t regret it!
Fred Jacoby, MA is the Director of Foundations Christian Counseling Services, a 501(c)3 non-profit counseling ministry located in Northeast PA and NY.