“The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” [Jhn 8:29 NIV]
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” [Mat 6:1-6 NIV]
Back in the seventies there was a song called Playing to An Audience of One. The songwriter was referring to himself, that he would be the only one listening to his performance some day. What if Jesus were the only one in your audience? How would that impact your motives and actions?
Did you know that the Greek word for hypocrite is hypokritēs and means “actor, stage performer, or pretender?” Many people more often, when defining this term, think along the the lines of the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Which is not the root of the problem. The root is whom you are seeking to please. We have three choices: we please ourselves, people, or God.
In our cited scripture above, Jesus said He always did what pleased His Father. When Jesus came across injustice, he stood up for those people looked down on by religious leaders of the day: “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Mat 9:11-13 NIV]. When He encountered falsehood, He spoke truth: ‘”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”‘ [Mat 5:43-45 NIV] When He faced crucifixion on a Roman cross, He surrendered His human will to His Father’s will: ‘Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”‘ [Mat 26:39 NIV] He is our model, our way maker, setting an example for us to follow with the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you are a people-pleaser this post may be a bit uncomfortable for you. But take heart. I have that tendency as well, and not only that, but also to please whatever suits me in a given moment. So I promise to be as gentle on you as I can. I’ll start with my little story.
When I was a baby Christian, I worked in a nursing home as a nursing assistant on the third shift. It was the custom of my coworkers to do our two-hour rounds as quickly as possible so that they could sit at the table and chat. Now there is nothing wrong with socializing, but what was happening was the patients were not being cared for appropriately because of shortcuts that were taken, leading to bed sores and the spreading of infection. The Lord placed before me two options: to go along with the crowd, or to please Him. Since these lovely elderly folks were being neglected, I could not stand by and say or do nothing. I decided to take a stand.
What followed were what seemed like years of backbiting and mistreatment (in reality only about six months). I decided to model love for our patients, which did not go over well. It was interpreted as “knowing better than us” or whatever evil thoughts they had of my motives. I simply told them I wanted to treat the patients like my own mom. I went out of my way to be kind to my coworkers so that they would not feel abused in any way, even if it was not returned. One woman in particular made a point of making life difficult for me. I remember coming home from work one morning wanting to give up and quit, and praying, pounding my fists on my bed in frustration (because I longed to fit in, I wanted acceptance, I wanted easy). And in the midst of all this, the Lord whispered to my heart, “Greater is He that is within you than SHE that is within the world.” How’s that for some confidence-building, well-timed humor? So I continued at that job for another few months until the Lord called me out of the situation.
Had the Lord not made me stand, I would have, quite simply, pleased everyone around me, and since that was the easy route, it would have pleased my own self as well. I can’t begin to express how hard it was for me to go through this experience, as I was going through a personal crisis as well, but I knew I wasn’t alone. A good friend in Christ told me when I was at work to envision Jesus at my side. It made a HUGE difference. Looking back, I am so so thankful to the Lord for experiencing this with Him. I still struggle from time to time, but it has given me so much compassion for others who struggle with pleasing people, too.
I did not make the connection at that time, but what I unconsciously did was make Jesus my Audience of One. Fast forward some twenty-odd years (I am also a slow learner) and I consciously prayed that prayer: Dear Father, may you be my only audience to please, a prayer I believe was Holy Spirit breathed. How would our lives look if we had this mindset? I would like to challenge and encourage you to think of an area of your life where you could shift your focus from pleasing yourself or other people to pleasing the only One who, in the end, really matters. Desiring to please God helps us bear the fruit of the Spirit and impact others for their present and eternal good. Think about the times you chose to do the easy thing or not speak truth to a neighbor. Did it bear eternal fruit? It makes no lasting impact for good if I live to please myself, my spouse, my parent, my friends, my coworkers, my boss, my teacher–anyone--more than our Lord. I am not saying pleasing people out of a motive of godly love and kindness is wrong. Only when it contradicts God’s Word, standards, and leading.
I really think it is helpful to have this mindset, because many Christians have model lives to people outside their homes, but show very unloving concern for their own family or live a different lifestyle out of the church. If this is you, you are playing to the crowd, not honoring your Heavenly Father. Like a chameleon, we can change our color (behavior) to suit the environment we find ourselves in. Jesus said when we want to appear righteous to others, when that is our sole motive, our reward is their approval, which benefits no one. If our self-worth is based on mere human feedback, we need to shift our focus to the only One who can give us dignity and honor. Don’t we long to hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” [Matt 25:21] Instead of constantly defending ourselves, we then become confident that the Lord will defend us. So, take heart, He wants you to grow! Ask Him to help you and guide you in everyday situations. He sees our heart’s desire to change and will honor that prayer.
Brothers and sisters, it is very hard to go against the flow of society. Whether it be in areas of sexual morality, or entertainment, or life goals, or attitudes–we have to remember what is “acceptable” to the world is so often not acceptable to our God. Our fallen nature wants to go with the crowd instead of fighting the current. Ask the Lord for His Holy Spirit, for boldness with gentleness. Ask Him to conform you to the image of His Son. He hears us, even when we fail. He will pick us up and gently say, “Try that again.” And like Jesus stated in our opening scripture, our Heavenly Father will reward us for our right motives. So, how can you make His heart glad? Make Him your sole audience. There is so much JOY in pleasing the Lord. Amen.
Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord. [Eph 6:5-8 CSB]