Imagine with me for a minute…I know, we are all mature adults here, but humor me, please? Imagine with me a first date. You are raiding your closet one, two, three times, in hopes of something magically appearing the next time you check…Like the shopping elf dropped a present into your wardrobe in the amount of time it took you to close and open your closet door. You settle with an outfit, spend some good time singing in the shower, fix your hair nice, makeup set or mustache neatly trimmed, double check hair, great. Everything looks great. Your stomach is curdling. It’s always the moments before that first encounter that get you. You rehearse, Hi, how are you tonight? Crap; you forgot cologne/perfume. Spritz. Rehearse again, Hi! It’s so great to finally meet you—I’ve heard so much about you!”
In any given first-impression situation, the pressure exists to present your best. Someone interesting, charming, funny, beautiful, stylish, intellectual…we are all looking to be labeled with something that makes us stand out and worth peoples’ time. There is nothing wrong with wanting to smell nice for a first (or second, or third…) date, and there is nothing wrong with practicing your first handshake for an interview. None of these things are bad; in fact, they are good. I want a prospective employee to have a great handshake, and I don’t want a prospective boyfriend to show up smelling like dirty socks. But where is the happy medium between good impressions and people pleasing? How do we get carried away with wanting to be liked?
I would say that I am an expert in people-pleasing. Let me rephrase that…I am an expert at wrapping my mind and life around trying to make other people happy. It really doesn’t sound all that bad when I put it that way. As Christians, aren’t we called to place others’ needs above our own? And seek out another’s well-being over pursuing our own dreams and desires? What on earth would Jesus do? How would he handle the tension of pouring out our lives for others and turning away from people pleasing?
Choosing not to people-please is hard. It is hard to choose an opinion, belief, or way of life that may cause others to look at you strangely, maybe even speak against you.
Hmm. Jesus. This may be the answer: look at Jesus. Look to Jesus. His life was full of world-view smashing dichotomies. Somehow, Jesus attracted large crowds with his messages full of challenge and new ways of thinking. Jesus’ teachings throughout the New Testament turned the law abiding Jews’ lives completely upside down. He redirected them to the root and meaning of the Law: to love God above all, and with all, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus gave himself away time after time after time—even in times where he was going to seek rest, we see him healing the blind and sick, giving himself fully to the people in his path in need of his touch and hope. However, never do we once see Jesus compromising his message to fit the likeness of the listener.
Jesus did not taint the true message of salvation to be audience friendly—he knew the gospel to be too important to fit any other mold. And, for centuries, we see men and women in the Bible and men and women through history, even some today, who have given their lives, refusing to taint this message to please others. They see it too precious to fit any other mold.
Have we lost this passion? Did we ever have it? I want to so passionately love and believe the message of grace through Jesus that I see it my call to preserve the authenticity of the story. In a moment of threat, however, will I adjust it to fit someone else’s liking, just to protect my own behind? I want to stand firm with Jesus, trusting his promises, and obeying his commands to speak the message of hope he alone can give. And I want to speak it boldly, not neglecting the truth, no matter the consequence.
Choosing not to people-please is hard. It is hard to choose an opinion, belief, or way of life that may cause others to look at you strangely, maybe even speak against you. We see churches across America compromising because of this fear of not meeting peoples’ wants. And, from the outside, their churches are expansive and growing—they seem successful (please note: I am not speaking out against all big or “mega” churches. I know of many who are living out the gospel powerfully and making a difference in the world in immense ways). But stories of compromise of theology, truth, even personal morals are all too frequent for the church. They are lacking the challenge that Christ presents in his messages time after time after time.
Let’s go back to the first date image. In that moment of meeting, each person has a choice: be yourself or be what you think the other person wants. That’s it. Be you or don’t. Either way there will be jitters involved, but you have the choice to be fully yourself and honest with the other person. Those forks in the road also appear when talking to people about Jesus. Everyone loves hearing of heaven, of God’s love and grace, of Jesus being born in a manger…but then there hits a point in the conversation where topics like hell come up. You mean, if I don’t accept Jesus, I am going to hell? But I am a good person…And in these controversial, difficult truths, we must embrace and share with compassion. We hold fast to Jesus’ words when he says that he is the only way; and now it is our turn to speak those words of truth and life to others. Will we?