As a child, I learned to colour inside the lines. I do not mean just in art class, but that nature and nurture moulded me into a rule-follower. Perhaps it was partly a result of my convent school upbringing, where the training is to keep everyone happy. However, as I grew older I realised that the label of “people pleaser” fit me a little too perfectly. I became accustomed to trying to win the approval of others and ensuring I was in everyone’s good books.
Living with an agenda to please people can be exhausting because it does not align with God’s design for us. Jesus came to give us life and life to the full (John 10:10).
When we carry the burden of trying to keep everyone happy, that fullness starts to dissipate. We end up carrying a cross that is not ours to carry. We become embittered because, instead of glorifying God, we seek the world’s acceptance—a fickle and transient way to find significance.
Like many other issues, the problem of people pleasing becomes more heightened in the online world. Social media only serves to feed the beast of approval addiction as we expertly curate posts that win us thumbs-ups and heart emojis.
Even the secular world recognises that living to please others is suffocating. But culture typically prescribes only one solution to this problem: instead of living for others, live on your own terms. But as those who belong to Christ, God calls us to walk in step with the Spirit, not to live by our own rules.
How do we overcome this burden of approval addiction and people-pleasing so that we live to please an audience of one?
Enjoy our Identity in Christ
One reason we work so hard to win others’ acceptance is that we are uncertain of our identity in Christ. But a less obvious reason could be that we simply have not committed to knowing God. As we start to grasp the infinite goodness and radical grace of God, we long to live to please him above all else. And once we begin to know God through the Word, we begin to know who we are in him.
Even the secular world recognises that living to please others is suffocating.
When we understand that this wonderful God created us in his image, that we are fearfully made, that we are God’s handiwork, and that we are created for good works, we live out that identity with confidence instead of grasping at straws for validation.
Our significance is secure in Christ and secured by Christ. Rather than view ourselves through the eyes of those around us, we see ourselves as people whom God chose and set apart for his glory.
Understand the Repercussions of People-Pleasing
Even within Christian culture, we have cast people-pleasing as a “cute” or acceptable personality trait rather than calling it out as a sin. Personally, I know this to be true as I have joked about it in women’s get-togethers and fellowship groups.
But in trying to please everyone, there is little question that it will hamper our attempts to share the gospel. God calls Christians to be in the world but not of the world. In trying to get the world’s validation, we compromise our purpose, we censor ourselves from sharing the truth in love, and we are unable to be salt and light in the world.
The Word reminds us that we speak as those “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 Thess. 2:4).
The apostle Paul had sobering things to say on people-pleasing, the most iconic of them being: “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” (Gal. 1:10).
Paul positions people pleasing as being in opposition to serving God. If we commit ourselves to serving God, then we ought to be serious about understanding that approval addiction has significant consequences.
Receive God’s Redemptive Power
We live in an age with a premium placed self-awareness gained through personality tests. We are eager to label ourselves with letters, colours, or numbers based on whatever personality test is popular in current culture. But for a Christian, a personality test that reveals you are a people pleaser is not an entrapment or an excuse. Our labels do not confine us.
In Christ, God has made us new creations. We “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10).
We do not have to be “stuck” pleasing people. God is in the business of redeeming and restoring us into the fulness of what he has planned for us.
Embrace Our Calling of Conformity to Christ
While we often think of Jesus being the gentle Lamb of God, we tend to brush past the fact that the Bible calls him a rock of offence to those who reject him (1 Pet. 2:7–8). While he did not come to this earth to cause offence, he often rattled the status quo in order to obey and please the Father.
We cannot grow into the likeness of Christ and expect everyone to like us.
Jesus overturned tables of money changers at the temple. He healed people and allowed his disciples to pluck wheat on the Sabbath. Once he retreated to a quiet place to pray and even left town when people had gathered to see his miracles (Mark 2). Jesus did not try to paint the truth in a way that was pretty or flattering but spoke it plainly and fully because of his love for those who were listening.
We cannot grow into the likeness of Christ and expect everyone to like us. In fact, Jesus himself says: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22).
Without a doubt, we are to live in harmony with one another, to listen more than we speak, to be peacemakers, to bless those who curse us, and to love our enemies. But instead of trying to please others by fitting in, may we understand our identity as being set apart and our calling to be salt and light in the world.