THE EMPTINESS OF HUMAN APPROVAL
Morning. My name is David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
In early 2009, I began to tell people that I was preparing to leave my job as a youth pastor to start a new church in Blaine.
It was something that God had been building in my heart for a long time, and rather intensely for the year leading up to that.
And so as I told people in my life my plans, often with much excitement in my voice, it was difficult to sometimes hear cautioning words.
Like, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Are you sure you want to leave your nice youth pastor job at a big church…with a growing youth ministry…paid benefits…and just start a church from scratch?”
Now, a lot of people (most people) just said, “Let’s do it! Can I come?!”
But some people (usually the ones older than me…whose approval I also really desired) said things like: “Sounds great. I’m sure it’ll be fine. But are you sure you wouldn’t just rather take the job opening for a Senior Pastor somewhere? That would be much safer. Less risky.”
Which I heard, especially as a 26-year old at the time, “So you think it’s going to fail.”
And that for me was hard to hear. I remember those conversations vividly still today.
I’m a driven person.
We just hired a new Graphic Designer, Kiah Ortman, and we have all of our staff take the StrengthFinders Personality test, so we can better understand how God wired them.
And it made me think back to my own results.
My first three start off with: Achiever (constantly want to get stuff done), Activator (always itching to start something…get things moving), Competition (want to do it the best)
In other words, God, when He created me, wound me up like one of those toy cars you pull backwards first, and then let go…
And so when Renovation started, and had a really nice Grand Opening…and people kept coming, and coming…
Naturally, like the sinful person I am (I’m not different than you), I was waiting for some of those people to come back and say, “You were right! Great job! YOU DID IT! I should have believed in you. Trusted in God’s call in your life.”
How many of you right now…have just been waiting for someone to come to you and say, “You were right! You did it! Good job! I’m proud of you!”
But here’s the deal…from some of those people, I still haven’t heard it
It begs the question: “Whose approval am I really living for then?”
Do you find this is a challenge in your life? Living for the approval of others?
There’s a lot of people out there that are still living to make their parents happy.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re 16, 26, or 46.
Maybe you grew up in a home where you could never impress your mom…or your dad.
You won State in some competition and the first words out of their mouth was something like, “Let me tell you where you could’ve done better.”
Maybe there’s a certain person you’re trying to win the approval of…
Let me ask you some more questions to see if this is perhaps a struggle for you:
Do you struggle with peer pressure?
If everyone at work wants to do something one way, but you feel like it would be unethical or lying, do you just go with what they want anyway?
It could be that what you really want…is approval…acceptance.
Are you an over-committed person?
Over-committed people are often over-committed BECAUSE they’re excessively desiring approval from others
Do people ever say you’re defensive? Or that you blame others a lot?
It’s probably because you need approval more than the average person, and can’t bear to not be good enough…or to not be right.
Are you easily embarrassed?
If so, people’s opinions probably matter a lot to you.
I remember, when I was in high school or college, I would be talking on the phone to Lindsey, and we get in some little spat, and we’d be arguing on the phone.
And then I’d say, “Wait, are you in the same room with your parents?!?!”
And I’m almost have an anxiety attack because I couldn’t stand the idea that they could now possibly be thinking that maybe I wasn’t amazing and awesome…because their daughter was just arguing with me”
Oh no, they would discover I was HUMAN!! J
We’ve talked about Social Media a lot in this series as it is often a serious identity stealer…
But let’s talk a bit more about it…Because what’s the drive for many?
Why do so many of us do it so much?
For most, it’s the applause. The approval. The 100 likes, the hearts, the “Wow, you did it!”
We’re looking for approval!
Some of us even dream about it.
We think, “I can’t wait to post this and see what people say.”
In fact, let me ask you something:
When you actually have a free moment, what do you dream about?
Life in a bigger home? A promotion? A nicer car? Perfect kids?
What do you dream about?
For many of us, those dreams are actually connected to approval idols.
Because in our fantasies, we don’t just picture ourselves in that nicer job or accomplishing X, Y, & Z…
What we picture is someone saying, “Wow, you did it! You got the job! What an amazing house. You are great!”
Am I right?!
And that’s what drives it more than anything. APPROVAL.
Listen, it’s fine to please people.
We’re told in Scripture to please one another (make each other happy, please your spouse, make your employer happy…
But like everything in this series, it becomes a problem when it becomes an inordinate desire.
It’s fine (and good) if I buy my wife flowers to please her.
It’s a problem if I do it ONLY because I want her to say, “You’re a good husband”
When our actions are driven by obtaining approval from other people, it’s just a trap.
An empty trap.
(Proverbs 29:25) – NIV
Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.
Fear of man and wanting approval are essentially the same thing.
In “fear of man,” you’re letting the other person dictate who you are…so you can be happy.
In always “wanting approval,” you’re constantly looking for ways to get approval (again, from other people)…so you can be happy.
And they’re both empty traps.
Often times we never even get the verbal approval we’re looking for.
As we said, many of us have been waiting decades for those words of “good job…”
And a lot of us don’t give up on that dream until we’re sitting at that other person’s funeral.
And even if you DO get their approval, it never seems to be enough..
Human approval isn’t enough because it’s based on what we do…and although sometimes we do good things, we also happen to be sinful, imperfect beings.
And so if you get verbal approval from others…often it will puff you up with pride for a time…but your heart will ALWAYS remind you of your imperfections…so what you’ll want…what you’ll need…is MORE approval
Human approval is like a drug
This cycle is really easy to see with celebrities…who can never seem be famous enough or good enough for themselves.
WHICH APPROVAL IS TRULY DRIVING YOUR LIFE?
And so really the diagnostic question for all of us is, “Which approval (human or divine) is truly driving our lives?”
Pastor Andy Stanley says the important question for us is this:
“Who or what am I going to use as my reference point to tell me I’m okay?”
Because that’s kind of what we want, right?
We want to know that we’re good…acceptable.
That we’re lovable, doing life right!
We’re worth imitating or being liked…
That…we have worth!
So who are you letting determine that you are alright??
Who are you letting be your source of approval?
The early Christian leader, the Apostle Paul, was constantly criticized.
Both by nonbelievers who often chased him out of cities and even stoned him
And by Jewish Christians who didn’t like the idea that he was sharing about Jesus to people who weren’t Jewish.
And in it’s in that context that he writes these words in his letter to the Galatians:
(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.
He’s obviously way past living for the approval of human beings.
When they’re lining up to stone you, that’s when you say, “Nah, I’m just kidding, I worship idols just like the rest of you…” if your goal is to just make everyone approve of you.
But that’s not the approval that’s driving him.
It’s not the reference point he’s using to tell him “he’s okay”
In fact, there’s something interesting in this verse that you maybe didn’t see the first time.
He says, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ”
In other words, these two things are incompatible.
You can’t be equally living for the approval of others and of God at the same time.
At some point, in every situation, one of them wins out.
If you were here last week, Brenton Balvin preached a great message on a related concept to this: “that so often we don’t do the things our faith asks of us because we just want people to like us…and not think we’re weird”
And today, is a similar, but different topic…both related to that same verse:
The question today is: “Who are you looking for to touch the great need in your heart that says, “You’re okay. You’re loved. You have worth?”
Are you going to ultimately find that from people or from God?
And Paul is saying, “If you’re looking to get that from people, you’ll never actually be a servant of Christ”
Because you won’t want to serve Him unless you first understand His approval…his enormous love for you.
THE SATISFACTION OF DIVINE APPROVAL
So what IS God’s approval? What is His love for you?
It’s the Gospel. It’s the good news of Christianity.
That God looked at all of our sin…saw we were deserving of punishment and hell…
And yet sent his own Son Jesus to die in our place and take our punishment instead.
And if we believe in that, and start a relationship with Him, we can be forgiven of everything we’ve ever done.
That we’re not guilty in his eyes.
And in doing so, he not only forgave us…but brought us into his family
(Galatians 4:4-7) – NIV
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
And so, he approves of you.
He loves you…unconditionally. And here’s why:
He loves you….BECAUSE…you’re his child.
It’s actually pretty amazing when you think long and hard about it.
God, unlike all of the people in this world, has actually seen you do (and think!) way worse things than anyone else has seen you do…and yet, if you are a believer in Him, he approves of you and loves you way more than anyone else.
Because He’s adopted you!
You’re in His family!
If you have kids…and your kid was often saying to you, “Mom, Dad, I’ll never measure up. I’m don’t get good grades like Michael. I never start on the basketball team like Joey. I’ll never be as pretty as Olivia. I’ll never…”
A good parent would say to them: “It doesn’t matter. I just love you. I don’t care about that stuff. You’re just my child.”
The other day I was showing my daughter Livi a video of when Lindsey was pregnant with her and her twin, Jeremiah.
You know like those scary videos where you see the woman’s stomach jump because some child just kicked them?
And I said, “Why were you kicking mommy?”
And I said, “I already loved you. Even then”
“Even…before you did anything…I loved you”
And this is why that Scripture from Galatians is SO important for us.
You’re a CHILD of God.
That’s the same kind of love your heavenly father feels for you.
Do you remember what we said was underneath the whole approval thing?
We want to be told we’re good. That we’re right…that we have worth.
But 9 times out of 10, we want to be told that because of something we’ve DONE…or accomplished.
That’s HOW we want to be approved.
“Mom, Dad, look, I made something of myself, can you just acknowledge that!!”
But God says, “unlike the world, I go deeper than that. I’m like a Good, Good, Father.”
“I don’t love you because of what you’ve done, but because of who you are…and you’re mine…my adopted child”
Do you remember the mess of trying to find approval from the world?
You seek it, it brings pride, it’s not enough, you want more, you grow bitter against those who don’t give you more, you need to better, accomplish more
It’s this never-ending cycle where you always need to do more, and yet it’s never enough.
The Gospel is the antithesis of this.
It’s…no matter how many times you fail…He already loves you and approves of you.
Because…your worth is not in what you’ve done, but in who you are…His child. His.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should then do whatever you want…no, in fact it’s the exact opposite.
It’s: “If that’s what love is…then you want to live in it, and trust him, and live for Him…more than ever!
See, seeking human approval digs you deeper and deeper into anxiety and insecurity…but living in divine approval leads you deeper and deeper into contentment and joy.
REMEMBER your identity in Christ. Don’t forget it!
And for so many of us, it’s this “approval idol” that causes so much of the chaos in our lives.
We work really long hours…for approval.
Sometimes approval through promotions.
Sometimes approval through the things we can buy
We exercise like crazy…for approval.
“Oh, you’ve lost weight!”
Again, we don’t dream about losing weight and being healthier..
We dream about people SAYING, “Wow, you’ve lost weight!”
What do you need to do to stop pursuing human approval?
Who’s approval do you need to release yourself from today??
To say, “I don’t need to live for this person saying to me, ‘I’m proud of you,” or for this person saying, “You are such a good parent, employee, whatever.”
So many of us today need to stop seeking approval from our parents, from Social Media, from whomever…when we already have it from our heavenly father.
So how can you begin to rest in God’s approval? In our true identity in Him?
We need to trade in the emptiness of human approval for the satisfaction of divine approval.
But when you make that trade, you can’t just simply stop seeking human approval.
Idols cannot be simply removed, they must be replaced…otherwise they grow back.
They must be replaced by a living relationship with God…they must be replaced by the promises of God.
If approval is a serious idol for you…start meditating on the truths of Scripture every day.
That you are God’s child.
(John 1:12) – NIV
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
That you are completely forgiven.
(Psalm 103:12) – NIV
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
That no matter what anyone else thinks of you, He loves you.
(Psalm 27:10) – NIV
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
Maybe go back in the app, and write these down later…so you can let God’s approval soak into your hearts.
So you can understand, that when you wake up in the morning, that God thinks things like: “Ah…yes…there she is…there he is…my child. Man, I just love them”
The disciple John got this, He always refers to himself in the Gospel of John, as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”…because He KNEW God’s love.
His letters are all about love.
Can you start praying like, “Lord, it’s me, the disciple you love” ?
Can you fill yourself so much with God’s love and approval, that you’re not craving the approval of the world anymore?
Can you see what life can be like if you’re walking away from the idol of approval?
Through Pastor Mark Vroegop in Indiana, I recently read of a man named George Matheson, who lived in Scotland in the 1800’s.
At age 20, George Matheson had a promising life in front of him, he was engaged to be married…and then…he found out…he was starting to go blind.
When he broke the news to his fiancée, she decided she could not go through life with a blind husband…and she left him.
Before losing his sight, he had written two books of theology and some felt that if Matheson had retained his sight, he could have been the greatest leader of the “Church of Scotland” in his day.
And yet…he went blind…and approval from so many…was out the window.
No more “Wow, you’re a great writer…”
No more, “We’ll have a great life together as husband and wife…”
And yet, God was still there.
Not too long after he went blind, thankfully, George’s sister offered to care for him.
With her help, George left the world of academia for pastoral ministry, and soon enough people were SO encouraged by his teaching, that he wound up preaching to 1,500 people in his church each week…blind.
The day came, however, in 1882, when his sister fell in love with someone and prepared for marriage herself.
The evening before her wedding, George’s whole family had left to get ready for the next day’s celebration.
He was alone and facing the prospect of living the rest of his life without the one person who had come through for him.
On top of this, he was undoubtedly reflecting on his own wedding day (that never happened) twenty years earlier.
It is not hard to imagine the fresh waves of grief washing over him that night.
And In the darkness of that night, George Matheson wrote a famous hymn that ministered to people for over a century. It reads:
O Love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be
Your life is going to be full of great accomplishments and embarrassing failures.
And so either way, your pursuit of approval from the likes of humanity will always leave you empty…grasping for more.
Seek it from the one whose love for you never fails.
Seek it from the one who loves you…just because.
And from the one who already proved how much He loves you…by sending you His son.
Let me pray.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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