Where Do You Find Approval?
By: Aaron Bull, 1.cbn.com
Every Sunday my son and I play soccer. Little did I know that while having fun I’d learn something on the field.
I’m an athlete, and I don’t like to just watch sports; I need to be involved. I’m always moving.
Almost every Sunday my son and I participate in a pick-up soccer game with folks of all ages and all skill levels. The players consist of young people from the ages of 6 to men in their 50s — so the demographics are spread out. Within that group there are guys and gals in their last few years of high school who play on select and varsity teams, sometimes at the same time.
To say they’re good is an understatement.
Then there’s me. I’m in my thirties and have been playing soccer for most of my life. However, since my playing hasn’t been that consistent over the last few years or so, my ball handling skills aren’t always that great. I have my moments. But I also have those OTHER moments that we don’t always want to run home and share with our family.
Every time I play it’s an absolute blast. It’s a time for me to see friends and release some stress built up during the week, allowing me to start the new week refreshed. It’s a time of decompression for me.
After the game, I always call my wife to let her know that we’re done and we’re heading home. The other part of the conversation is what I did, or what our son did on the field. No matter how hard I try, I can never wait until I get home to give her highlights of the good and bad things that happened.
To say I love soccer is also an understatement.
To my surprise, I’ve learned something from this otherwise innocuous, but exhausting game. There will always be somebody better than me. There will always be someone waiting only a step away from me who knows strategy better and who can control the ball better.
Now some of you may be wondering where I’m going with all of this. Hold on, there’s more.
Let me ask you, what can a person do to improve their skills? The quick answer is, practice, practice, and practice some more. However, let me pose another question to you. What if I’m as good as I will ever get, and my skills will probably start to diminish as I get older? Also, if I plan to get better, am I doing it for me, my family, or the guy or girl I’ve always tried to beat but simply can’t? Is it one-upmanship that motivates me?
I have to be honest. In my life, it’s usually trying to prove to someone else that I am better than him or her when they have shown me up in the past. Oh how I/we love to feed our egos. Come on. Admit it. We all do. Usually, the only thing that separates us when it comes to our egos is to what degree we feed them.
Now, let’s go back to that question again. Where am I going with this? I’m pretty certain — in fact completely sure, 100% unquestionably, undeniably sure, that approval of man or ourselves is not where we are supposed to be seeking approval. The only One we are supposed to seek approval from is our Heavenly Father, God — Daddy.
That’s a difficult one. Are you guilty — as I am — of wanting at least one person to notice when you do something that people don’t normally see? It could be anything from cleaning the floors at home, or finally figuring out something that’s been plaguing your department at work.
Guess what? Even when nobody else notices, someone always notices. It’s our heavenly Father. I’m reminded of a verse in Galatians 1:10 NIV:
“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.”
I’m also reminded of the verse found in Proverbs 14:12 NIV:
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.
I think that’s pretty fair warning of where our approval seeking should be focused. Not from man. Not from our spouse, boss, coach, etc. The only one we should seek approval from, true loving confirming approval from, is God. It’s that simple! Seek his approval with your full heart and see what happens.
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:16)
Perhaps Jesus’s words about prayer and fasting are more relevant than ever. Not that the human heart has changed. Quite the opposite — the heart has been, and always will be, apart from God, “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).
No, the condition of man’s heart hasn’t changed; there are just new ways, with every new app and social medium, for man’s desire for praise to express itself in public. No longer is the reach of our actions simply relegated to the street corner. Instead, in today’s world, the simplest of YouTube videos can make you famous.
Seeking Approval in All the Wrong Places
Seeking approval, and the personal satisfaction that results, is not what Jesus condemns; it is seeking it in the wrong source. John Piper writes,
Even if we do not have a strong sense of merit, we may crave the same result, namely the praise of men. Jesus warns us not to give charity or pray or fast in order to be seen by others. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5). “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:16). Jesus calls them “hypocrites” because in their praying and fasting they want to appear as if they treasure God, but in fact they treasure the praise of men. (What Jesus Demands from the World, 127)
The same misplaced desire for approval is why Jeremiah rebuked Israel: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:12–13).
Craving human praise is a cistern that cannot hold water. That is why Jesus tells his disciples how to pray and fast. Our hearts are so sinful that we can twist the purest of activities — even prayer and fasting — into something that conjures praise from our fellow man.
Find Your Fill in Christ
So how do we kill this desire for human approval? Piper says,
Is not the most effective way of bridling my delight in being made much of, to focus on making much of God? Self-denial and fixation of the self are essential, but O how easy it is to be made much of even for my self-denial! How shall this insidious motive of pleasure in being made much of be broken except through bending all my faculties to delight in the pleasure of making much of God! Christian Hedonism is the final solution. It is deeper than death to self. You have to go down deeper into the grave of the flesh to find the truly freeing stream of miracle water that ravishes you with the taste of God’s glory. Only in that speechless, all-satisfying admiration is the end of self. (What Jesus Demands, 136–137)
Only Jesus is the living water. Only in him will we never thirst. Only when we crave Christ and the approval of the God-man will our bondage for the craving of mere human approval be broken. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and enables us to do the impossible: to say no to ungodliness and to open our eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Let Your Light Shine — For Christ
When Christ is supreme, we can handle our fellow man’s approval — or lack thereof — the right way. Then we can say with Paul,
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:11–12)
But being satisfied with all we are in Christ doesn’t mean we should be embarrassed or even shy about being influential. Rather, just the opposite. We should seek to increase our influence, as long as it is focused on showing the worth of God in Christ, not self. Jesus put it this way: “Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Jesus commands us that we should bring others to see the glory of God through our actions. This doesn’t mean that we should seek to be known for ourselves, or lay claim to our fifteen minutes of fame, but we should steward the relationships and opportunities God has given us — especially in the seemingly mundane — in ways that give glory to God. And we should seek to cultivate new relationships and opportunities so that others might “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
When we’ve stared the question in the face — whose approval do you crave? — and done the serious heartwork of renouncing self and exalting Christ, we are free. Free from condemnation (Romans 8:1), free to be fully satisfied in Christ (Psalm 16:11), and free to wield whatever influence we have, however big or small, for the good of our neighbor and the glory of God.
I approve of you, My child. Because you are Mine — adopted into My royal family — I see you through eyes of grace. I chose you before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in My sight. I know you fall short of this perfect standard in your daily living. But I view you as holy and blameless because this is your permanent position in My kingdom.
Of course, I don’t endorse everything you do (or fail to do). Still, I approve of you — your true self, the one I created you to be.
I know how much you long for My affirmation — and how hard it is for you to accept it. I want you to learn to see yourself and others through grace-vision. Looking through eyes of grace, you can focus more on what is good and right than on what is bad and wrong. You learn to cooperate with Me and embrace what I’m doing in your life: transforming you into My likeness with ever-increasing Glory.
I not only approve of you, I delight in you!
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If I am for you, who can be against you?
It is essential for you to grasp that I truly am for you. This is a promise for all of My followers. When things are not going your way and people you trusted turn against you, it’s easy to feel as if I’ve abandoned you. At such times it’s vital to tell yourself the truth: I am
not only with you always, I am also for you all the time. This is true on days when you perform well and on days when you don’t, when people treat you well and when they don’t.
If you really understand and fully believe that I am for you, then fear will diminish and you can face adversity more calmly. Knowing that I will never turn against you gives you confidence to persevere in tough times.
I approve of you, beloved, because you are Mine!
It is My opinion of you that prevails — and will continue to prevail throughout eternity. No person and no thing will be able to separate you from My loving Presence!