I have nearly completed my sixth decade of life, all but five years of it as a believer, yet I find myself trying to earn the approval of both God and the people around me. I need to transition from trying to earn God’s approval to responding to the love and acceptance that I already have. Rather than trying to be an initiator, I need to be a responder.
In the case of God, my head knows that he already approves of me. I do not need to earn his love. By doing so, I am trying to earn what I already possess.
In the case of the people around me, it is a fools errand to try to please them due to a combination of my propensity to failure and their own similar struggles. My experience is (John Lydgate not withstanding) that I can’t please some of the people all of the time. I can’t even please myself all of the time.
Yet, I am reminded that while I do not need to earn God’s approval, my life goes better when I am obedient to what he calls me to do. While I cannot earn God’s love, nor earn my salvation, I can act in such a way that brings pleasure to God. In the parable of the talents, Jesus enjoins us to faithfulness so that in the end we hear “Well done, good and faithful slave . . .” (Matthew 25:21).
But I find this complicated by the distractions both within and around me. My life has been a process of transitioning from being a man-pleaser to being first and foremost a God-pleaser. I feel that I should be so much farther along than I am in making this transition.
I am very good at making excuses for my lack of progress. I might blame it on personality (indirectly blaming it on God who made me), I might blame the way I was brought up or I might blame it on the people in my life. While these often make it more difficult, they are not the reason for my lack of progress.
My lack of progress in making this transition is due to my pride. I want to be in charge. I want to earn what I am given. I want to be admired for what I have done. I want to finally conquer the lingering feelings of inadequacy through hard work and determination. I. I. I. I ad infinitum.
My only hope is what Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:4-7:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (ESV)
I should follow God’s advice and cease striving and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10) and let him do the work that only he can do.