The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. – Proverbs 29:25 (ESV)
My brother and I were blessed to be raised in the country, in a little brick house with a huge yard, surrounded by woods and our grandpa’s cow pasture. We had a red wagon and, on hot summer days, would go out in the backyard and catch toads.
“Why?” you ask. Because we were boys. And boys do things like catch toads.
And put them in a wagon.
A red, metal wagon.
In the summer.
In the sun.
I have never actually placed a frog in a pot of cold water and gradually turned up the heat until said amphibian cooked through without jumping from the boiling cauldron. However, I can tell you a bunch of toads accidentally left in a red wagon in the hot, blazing sun produces the same outcome, only via a different cooking method.
And it was an accident. We didn’t intend to harm these toads, let alone sauté them. Like I said, we were boys. Our attention span was evidently shorter than the time it takes to fry toads in a red wagon.
I share this story not to ruin anyone’s appetite but to illustrate a point. When we live to please people instead of God, we end up like a toad in a little red wagon.
We find ourselves compromising what we know to be true to gain favor with others. We base our decisions on how others might feel. This is not to say we should ignore other’s feelings – far from it. Rather, we cannot let the opinions of others lead our lives. Only God should do that.
Proverbs calls the fear of man a snare – a wire loop trap designed to catch small animals by tightening around them when they step in it. If it tightens around the throat (or too tightly around the torso), it can kill its victim. In fact, snares are so dangerous that they are heavily regulated in much of the U.S., and banned outright throughout Europe.
Fearing man over God is a dangerous place to be. That fear keeps us from moving forward in life, from growing as the Lord would have us grow, doing boldly what He wants us to do boldly. Our decisions need to be based on God and His Word and seeking Him first and foremost, above all else.
In its extreme form, people pleasing leads to being a mindless “yes man”, a sycophant. There is a name for people like this: toadies.
Simply pleasing people in order to gain their approval or favor is a mistake. You just end up sweating in a little red wagon, slowly frying, unable – even unwilling – to jump out to the safety of the cool grass below.
Trust me, I know. I am a reformed toadie. It has taken a lot of years but I see that living to seek the approval of other people is a dead end. A trap.
For me, being a toadie took the form of wanting everybody around me to like me, to accept me, to love me. The thought of disappointing someone else was agonizing. It was all rooted in a poor sense of self, in considering myself to be beneath everyone I looked up to.
I could hear the sizzle. I could smell the burn. I just didn’t realize I was smelling myself in a hot wagon.
Then, one day, it finally dawned on me. Where did all this attempted people pleasing get me? Absolutely nowhere. Love cannot be earned. It is given freely. And not everyone is going to love you.
But God will. And does. God loves me – and you – despite our foibles or mistakes. He always has. He always will.
5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. 6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 7 The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. – Psalms 118:5-8 (ESV)
So… ask yourself this: are you more afraid of what someone else thinks or says about what you do, say or believe than you are of what God thinks? Why are you doing what you do? Who do you live to please? Is it worse to disappoint a person or the Lord? Who is the ultimate authority in your life? And why does it matter what other people think? Whose expectations are you trying to meet?
Generally speaking, you will never please another person who expects you to cow-tow to them. You cannot fulfill another human beings whims so completely that they – or you – will ever find any freedom. The toadie is a slave to people pleasing. And the person expecting such behavior from others is a slave to ego.
Be free in Christ. Seek God and His will first. Is it good to seek wise counsel from others? Of course. Is it good to seek their approval? No.
Do not fear the opinions of others. Do not live to seek the approval of others. Live a life that is pleasing to the Lord and don’t let the opinions of others be a noose. Snare that inner toadie. Live in Christ! Be salt and light.
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. – Galatians 1:10 (ESV)