I received some wise words this week from a wise woman who walks very closely with the Lord. You might expect that these words would be very spiritual and deep. In fact, they were quite simple and direct:“God doesn’t care if people think you’re wonderful or not,” she said. “He’s not concerned with your PR.”
Woah. Maybe we could use to have people speak truth like that into our lives a little more often, gently but with that much honesty.
She went on to say that she continues to be surprised by that fact about God, a lesson she’s had to learn herself and still struggles to make sense of. Because the reality is that we are God’s representatives. Wouldn’t he want people to like us, think well of us, so that they’d think well of him, too? Yes, according to the way our minds work. But for whatever reason, that’s not how it is with God. He doesn’t need some fancy marketing campaign. He doesn’t even need likable representatives, when it comes down to it. How many of us are pretty rough around the edges, yet have been given opportunities to be used by God in spite of that? And how about our Savior? He wasn’t exceptionally charming or attractive. He certainly had a lot of people who didn’t like him. And as much as we tend to remember his “Holy Savior, Meek and Mild” attributes, he wasn’t seen as particularly “nice” or likable when he was driving people out of the temple with a whip or calling the religious leaders a brood of vipers.
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Isaiah 53:2b-3
So how is it that we can represent him well without being concerned about being liked? Well, for one, as he reminded me today, our job is to be a light to the world, and being a light is not the same as being liked. It is to bear his light by speaking his truth and by being an example by living out his ways (to the best of our ability, imperfectly, of course, and with desperate need of his help). That sounds harmless enough. But what does light actually do? Hopefully it brings some warmth. But mostly, it dispels darkness and enables people to see. It reveals what is hidden, brings clarity, shows things for what they really are.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Not everybody is going to like having their deeds shown for what they are. It’s much more comfortable to stay in our sin and cover it up, justify it. We all have dark places, and to have light shined on our darkness is uncomfortable for every one of us. But there are two responses to the light- either block it out and stay in darkness, or let it in, uncomfortable as it might be, and be transformed. In any case, this is our job, to shine for God. Not necessarily to call people out on their sin, and definitely not to judge them for it (for we have dwelt in that same darkness ourselves), but just to let people see God, truth, life and light in us, and let the Holy Spirit and the person before us do whatever they will with it. We are only called to be faithful.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12-13 [note that these verses are followed by a description of how Christ understands our weaknesses and will offer mercy, if we draw near to him.)
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:19-21 [note that just before these verses it talks about God’s immense love for the world and his desire not to condemn but to rescue.]
“…This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit…” Isaiah 66:2
The next reason we can disregard what people think of us is because we are called to be faithful to God, to serve him only. Of course we serve others, in his name and following Christ’s example, but we are to serve no other gods. It’s the first commandment. It might have referred to a golden calf in Moses’ day, and worshiping an object made out of metal might sound ridiculous to us, so we figure we can check at least one commandment we don’t have to worry about off our list. But a god is anything, material or non, that we give our worship, allegiance, focus to. As the World English dictionary says, a god is “any person or thing to which excessive attention is given.” Yikes. When you define it that way, it applies to a lot of things, doesn’t it? Facebook. Sports. TV. Money. Physical Appearance. Or in the case of today’s topic, and my own life, People’s Approval.
Thankfully, I’ve been learning that there is a pretty simple way to lay down the idol of Approval. It’s by recognizing that God is the only one I need to please. But it sounds too trite when you put it that way, because we live and interact with people every day, and we can see them, and whether or not we please them has a huge effect on our social lives and on our careers, and we feel that people’s opinions of us do actually matter. So it comes down to who we really believe is in control of our lives. Is it the people who appear to have control? The government, the interview committee, the boss, the big wigs, the wealthy, the in crowd? Or is God sovereign over even their “power”? Is he really capable of doing things that don’t look possible? Does he really work all things for the good of those who love him? Does he really know what he is doing? Does he really love me? Does it really matter whether or not I’m faithful to him, when compromising just a little would get me ahead? These are the questions we need to answer, because what we really believe about God makes a huge difference in what we do and ultimately who we are living for. If we can honestly answer those questions with faith in his goodness, his love, and his power, or at least want to be able to answer them that way and ask him to help us, the chains that bind us to the idol of approval are going to fall away and we will find ourselves wonderfully free to be who we really are. And that means that you can please God and be in the middle of his perfect will for you, whether or not you’re particularly charismatic or attractive at a given moment (or ever), whether or not you can impress people with your skills or say all the right things. That’s sure good news to my ears.
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will.” Proverbs 21:1
“I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” 1 Samuel 15:24
“Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?” Isaiah 2:22
“But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4