I hate disappointing or inconveniencing people. I’m not good at saying no. I rarely contradict a person’s statement or openly argue with them, even if I disagree with what’s being said. I’d rather let it slide than make a scene. I want people to like me. I’m a people-pleaser.
But that’s not a bad thing, right? I mean, what’s the opposite of being a people-pleaser – a people offender? Who wants to be known as the guy who gets his kicks disappointing as many people as possible? Should I want people to dislike me?
I had to wrestle with these questions again in a little episode that came up in the course of pastoring. While doing some church calendar planning, I overlooked a detail and double-booked a meeting. My mistake meant someone else had to alter their plans. They graciously did so, I apologized, and we moved on. But afterwards I struggled internally. I felt bad that they had to change their schedule. I wanted to rewind life so I could undo my mistake. I started to feel less joyful, less happy. I wondered what they were thinking of me now. Do they still like me? Will they still speak to me? They’re probably planning to leave the church at this moment!
Okay, I didn’t get quite that far down the road of despair. But in the moments after the mistake, my internal landscape became much bleaker – until the Lord invaded my thoughts. Here’s what I realized. While I shouldn’t want to inconvenience people, God is the only one who can accomplish all his plans without mistakes or unintended consequences. I cannot. As a weak, finite person in a fallen, disordered world I am going to disappoint and inconvenience people. God knows this. And even my weak and poor decisions fit into God’s perfect plan for me and the people I might inconvenience. Therefore I shouldn’t worry that the Kingdom has derailed because I made a mistake.
Even more importantly, only God is should hold determinative power over my internal joy and peace. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word used for “glory” (as in “the glory of the Lord”) literally means “weighty.” A conceptual parallel might be our idea that a significant person can “throw their weight around” and make things happen. But when my peace and happiness is controlled by another person, they have become weightier in my life than God. I have dethroned the Sovereign of the universe. I have worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. People-pleasing is idolatry.
To return to our opening questions: Is it wrong to not like disappointing people? Yes and no. No, it’s not wrong to want to serve other people, to not inconvenience them, and to care about their opinions. At one level those desires can be expressions of love. But what’s behind those desires? When they flow from an idolatrous desire to be God-like and mistake-free, or from disordered affections that make people weightier than God, then they are deeply sinful.
Here’s the good news: Christ died for idolatrous people worshippers like you and me. He breaks the power of cancelled sin, including the sin of fear of man. In that moment as I sat at my desk and realized my sin, there was grace available to repent and direct my worship to my Creator and Redeemer. The same grace is available whenever we turn from putting people first to putting God first.
“You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8).
Photo by A. Fagen