I wrote a book titled, When People are Big and God is Small. Though I haven’t read it for a while, I still think of the topic often and I am left wondering if I have grown over the years.
The topic is this: living for approval from others. It is a doozy. It is everywhere. We discover it behind our infatuation with self-worth. We feel it when we are substandard, and the bar for success always seems out of reach. It animates our joy, despondency, worry, and sense of purpose. Once you start looking for it you can’t miss it.
Am I growing? I know that my concern about my appearance is rarely an issue. If you think I am unattractive, I can live with that. But this is a tricky one because I am getting older, and when you age, you simply don’t look that great and it only gets worse. So maybe since there is no way to receive approval here, I have merely surrendered to age and have not been sanctified. I still really don’t like to dance at weddings—that is about appearance, too. Hmm. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a little less controlled by the opinions of others?
So back to Scripture it is. One of the encouraging features of God’s Word is that it speaks so profoundly to human struggles. It both describes them and sets out a course for growth. The only question is, how can we draw these truths from Scripture when there is no chapter entitled, “living for approval”?
Since this problem is everywhere, I assume that Scripture speaks to it everywhere. So I will start with my devotions from this morning and look at it through the lens of my [over]interest in the approval of certain people.
The passage included the rebellion of the Hebrews in the wilderness and Moses’ intercession before the Lord. “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Ex. 32:32). The backstory is that the people have blamed Moses for all their woes, they have questioned his motives for taking them out of Egypt, they have suggested that he is a power monger—they have certainly not approved of him. They deemed him a failure and wanted a new leader. How did he respond? Moses did not point fingers or recoil in depression. Instead, he responded by saying to the Lord that, if someone had to be punished, he would die if the people could then live.
Moses shows us that one way to offset our need for approval and fear of rejection is to love others more. In other words, when my spouse rejects me, I hope to love my spouse more rather than protect myself or reject her more than she rejects me. Suddenly, the possibilities for wise and helpful responses are endless.
This, of course is only one response from Scripture to our struggle. There are so many others, including how God lifts up and honors those who have experienced shame. The Living for Approval Conference in February 2016 was an opportunity to meditate on God’s surprising and hopeful words. The audio from this conference is now available for purchase.