Pleasing God, not people

Written by Karen Ehman
Published on September 14, 2021

My friend and her husband were embarking on quite an adventure. They sensed God calling them to become a foster family, taking in children from difficult home situations and providing them with a safe place to grow and thrive.   

They’d filled out the necessary paperwork and been approved. When I met my friend for coffee one afternoon, I was expecting her to gush with excitement and maybe a little apprehension. 

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the tale she told me through her tears.   

Struggling with a lack of support

She had told her parents what her family was about to do. She knew they would likely ask a few questions because foster care was something no one in her extended family had ever done. But what she wasn’t anticipating was outright discouragement. 

Her concerned parents brought up everything that could go wrong, conveying a great lack of support toward the decision despite God’s clear calling. She was told to rethink the decision because her relatives were certain it was the wrong one.   

I was heartbroken for my friend. 

She and her husband were going to need support, not only tangibly, with meals brought in and help buying items for the children, but also emotionally. How devastating for them to discover they might not receive support from some of their extended family.   

Hugging her, I promised our family would be there to help. When we finished our time together, however, her spirits were still dashed. But surprisingly, when we met later that month, her countenance and confidence had shifted. 

God’s will alone

I curiously asked what had happened. While wrestling with her disappointment, she had diligently sought the Lord. After a few days of praying and reading God’s Word, she’d discovered a new perspective, a conclusion she could sum up in one simple sentence. 

She looked at me and assuredly declared, “I finally realized I don’t need their permission to do God’s will.”   

Wow. What a powerful pronouncement!   

Her priorities had been misplaced. She cared more about what her parents thought of her family’s decision than she did about what she’d discerned was God’s plan. When she stopped putting these people in the place of God, she was more willing to deal with any unpleasant outcome.   

The Apostle Paul asked a question in the book of Galatians but that’s still relevant for us today: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10 NIV).   

Hold up! Wait—what?! 

People in Bible times struggled with people-pleasing? Yes, they did.   

The Greek word for “please” is translated to English as areskó. At its core, it means “to agree to satisfy another in order to win their approval, affection, or attention; to meet their expectations; to willingly serve.” 

Knowing this comprehensive definition causes the verse to pop much more than it does when reading it in English.   

Confidence in God’s plan

I hate to admit it, but there are so many times I give myself up to someone else’s will rather than boldly and bravely choosing to do what would most please God. Now, of course, if what someone else desires is in line with God’s will, that’s altogether different. 

However, when we feel that twinge of tension, we must choose to prioritize pleasing God above pleasing people. We can determine to daringly speak truth while being careful to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.   

Let’s commit to seeking the Lord’s plan rather than pursuing the approval of others. It won’t always be easy, but God is continually faithful. 

He can teach us how to confidently live our lives despite the expectations and opinions of others.   

Father, teach me that I am not solely responsible for the feelings of others. But I am responsible before You for my actions. Grant me boldness when I need it, and tender, direct words when they are necessary. May I learn to manage the tension between pleasing you and relating to others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

This article is adapted from Karen’s latest book, When Making Others Happy is Making You Miserable: How to Break the Pattern of People Pleasing and Confidently Live Your Life (Zondervan, August 2021).

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Karen Ehman

Karen Ehman is Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and a New York Times bestselling author. Karen’s passion is to help women to live their priorities as they reflect the gospel to a watching world.

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