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Avoiding the Approval Trap

September 16, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 6:26 (NRSV)

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Focus

Sometimes we yearn so much for human approval that we are not faithful to God and God’s truth. We say what people want to hear because we want them to like us. We can grow in truthfulness if we acknowledge the reality of God’s truth and seek it faithfully. We can find the strength to say even what is unpopular when we seek most of all to honor and glorify God.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we examined the “woes” in Luke 6:24-26. I suggested that these woes are associated with common desires for wealth, pleasure, happiness, and fame. I invited you to reflect prayerfully on which of these you relate to, and therefore which might draw you away from desiring God most of all.

I’ll share with you some of my own reflections in the hope that my example might encourage you as you consider this passage from Luke and its implications for your life.

There is no doubt in my mind that, at different times in my life, I have yearned most of all for wealth, or pleasure, or happiness, or fame. I can relate to all of these desires and know their power to draw me away from my longing for God. I’m not saying it’s always wrong to want financial success, to enjoy the good things of this world, to feel gladness over God’s blessings, or to strive for a good reputation. But when these take hold of our lives, then we are indeed people of woe.

Although I can still relate to the power of the first three desires, I find myself particularly vulnerable when it comes to number four. In verse 26 Jesus says, “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” I’ll admit that I can wish that all would speak well of me, or at least not speak poorly of me. I don’t need everyone to bear witness to my wonderfulness. But it really hurts when someone is critical or even downright mean.

You may wonder where I might experience this sort of negativity. I did get some of it when I was a parish pastor. But, these days, I experience occasional disapproval in response to my writings, including what I write for Life for Leaders. Now, I’m not talking about thoughtful disagreement, though I admit I wish everybody always agreed with me! Rather, I’m referring to personal attacks that occasionally come my way. They are a response to something I’ve written with which someone disagrees strongly. But they don’t focus on the disagreement. Rather, they attack my character. (Things like this tend to show up on social media, by the way. No surprise there.)

So what’s the danger here, other than my hurt feelings? Notice what Jesus said in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” Everyone spoke well of the false prophets. Why? Because they told everyone just what they wanted to hear. The false prophets avoided God’s judgment of sin. They didn’t call people to God’s justice. Rather, they made promises of divine blessing. They offered shallow affirmation. They even approved of sin. As a result, the false prophets got lots of approval. And God’s truth did not.

As I admit my temptation to seek the approval of everyone, I will share what helps me to be faithful to God’s truth in spite of this desire. Perhaps this will help you, too. First, I really do affirm the existence of and commit myself to seeking and sharing God’s truth. I’m not saying I always get it right, of course. But I do desire to be a person of the truth—or should I say, the Truth.

Second, I am encouraged to seek and speak the truth by the kind words of people. Yes, I can easily value these more than I should. I’ll admit it. But when somebody affirms what I’ve said and my effort to say it truly, then I am strengthened to keep on going, even in the face of criticism.

Third, and most important, I seek to live my life for God’s approval. In times of harsh criticism, I renew my commitment to honor and glorify God and to seek his pleasure most of all. Again, I’m not suggesting that I always am successful in doing this when it comes to what I write. But I believe that God sees my heart and is pleased by my intentions, even when my productions fall short of his truth.

A closing personal comment: In the last 20 years, I have written eight books, dozens of articles, and well over 4,000 blog posts and online devotions. I have no doubt that many of these are infected by error, no matter how hard I’ve tried to tell the truth. I’m grateful that God receives us by grace, not works, and that he looks upon our hearts, not just our words and actions. I do hope that, someday, I’ll actually be able to ask the Lord where I missed the mark—not to wallow in shame, but rather to grow more fully into the knowledge of God and God’s truth. I yearn for the day when I can see God “face to face,” rather than in a “mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). For now, however, I’m grateful for the foggy mirror.

Reflect

Do you ever feel the magnetic draw of human approval?

Do you ever feel tempted to back off from what is true because you want people to like you?

What helps you to be faithful to God’s truth, even when it is unpopular?

How can someone be committed to God’s truth and, at the same, be humble enough to admit that they might not rightly understand that truth?

Act

Reflect on your life and when you are tempted to do or say what is wrong because you want to be liked. Ask God for help in the future, to be committed most of all to speaking and living his truth.

Pray

Gracious God, I confess to you that there are times when my desire for human approval takes first place in my heart. I might even shortchange your truth in an effort to get people to like me . . . or to keep from hating me, at any rate. Lord, forgive me for the times I have been less than faithful to you and your truth.

Help me, Lord, to speak and live the truth. May I do this with humility, recognizing my own limitations. The truth belongs to you, not me. And I will not always get your truth right. Nevertheless, may I be strong in affirming what I believe to be true, putting my faithfulness to you over my desire for human approval. May I truly live for the praise of your glory! Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: It’s Not About You


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One thought on “Avoiding the Approval Trap

  1. Margie Tomlinson says:

    This is especially timely today. Not just for sharing God’s truth. There is so much contention in our Nation right now. I think you mentioned the nature of social media. What I thought about first however was 2 Tim. 4:1-5. When you have close friends and family who are unbelieving there is the ever present caution not to get ahead of what God is doing by opening mouth and inserting foot when things get awkward, or heated. (or worse respond in kind and lose any Witness) Somewhere else Paul says to wives specifically, share (live) the Gospel and if necessary or appropriate use words. My prayer is to know what issues require an uncompromising stand. Thank you and I do appreciate Life for Leaders.

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