Freedom from People Pleasing

Twenty-one-year-old Lorena Barrera had just started a new chapter in her life after moving to Los Angeles from the area of Reno, Nevada. However, her first day in her new hometown would turn out to be her last. She visited Point Fermin Park, a popular destination because of it’s incredible views of the pacific ocean from the top of a steep cliff.  There she climbed over a fence and walked past warning signs in an effort to post a great selfie of her in her new town.   Unfortunately she slipped at the edge of the cliffs and fell 100 feet onto the rocks below and died.

She joined the growing list of people who have died in the effort to post the perfect picture.  People have fallen off of buildings as they stand on the ledge taking a selfie.  In India there was a man trying to get a selfie by standing as close to a speeding train as possible and was struck and killed by the train instead. 

One report I read said that 26 people died in 2014 as a direct result of trying to take the perfect selfie.  More people are dying by selfies now than by shark attacks.  Which makes what happened to this Florida man especially tragic. He was able to take the picture and post it to Instagram as he was being eaten by the shark.

Okay –  that’s a totally fake picture – though unfortunately the other examples I cited were real. 

We live in a very interesting world right now.  Social media has created a device whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest – every one of these social media platforms have a way for the rest of the world to be able to tell us what they think of our life. 

Ever put a picture up there on Facebook and then – a few hours later – I wonder how it’s doing?  I wonder how that picture is playing out amongst my friends?  Oh, I got 30 likes.  Is that all?  That’s the cutest picture YET of my dog! 

Ever post a picture and get into a tiny funk because it’s not getting the likes you think you deserve?  Oh my friends will love this picture of Johnny with frosting all over his face.  So cute! Trying to eat a cupcake all by himself!

Two days later:  What?  Only 30 likes?  I have 500 friends on Facebook.  Do 470 people not like my husband? 

There is, inside all of us, an internal desire to be loved and accepted by people we value.  That’s totally human.  We want to be liked.  But, the problem is that if we aren’t careful, our desire to be liked by others can drive us away from God.  Our desire to please people can turn our faith into just another stage to perform for the world.  The world is my audience and my goal is to hear their applause.  You like me, you really like me! 

We’ve been studying the Sermon on the Mount for a few weeks now – which is Jesus’ greatest sermon – a beautiful description of the kind of life that comes through faith in Jesus.  It’s a life lived apart from religiously, lovelessly obeying a bunch of rules and regulations, and instead, it’s a description of the kind of Human Being that Jesus is turning us into.  One whose most important ingredient is Love.

That’s all in Matthew 5.  But now, in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus is going to give us three warnings.  Caution!  Danger Will Robinson!  Jesus is going to tell us to be on the lookout for three things in life that will rob us of a life of love.

And these three things are

3.  Worry

2.  Wealth

And isn’t this interesting?  You know what Jesus leads the list of things to guard our hearts about?  He leads the list with 1.  People Pleasing.  And specifically – living a religious kind of life in an effort to seek the approval of people instead of living our life for the only audience that counts – God.

The big idea for this morning is:  Live out of love, not for the ‘likes.’

We will never become a New Kind of Human if we live our lives seeking the applause of our fickle friends. 

Some people live for the like.  They live to hear other people approve of them.  They are kind of like trained seals.  Good seal – I’m going to throw a ball and you catch it on your face.  Good!  Here’s a sardine!

Living for the approval of men is like a seal getting a sardine.  Look at me – people like me!  How many tricks do I need to do before you are impressed with me? 

Don’t do it.  It’s just a matter of time before the audience says – oh, we’ve seen other seals do that same trick – it’s not that impressive anymore. 

I’m not sure where this metaphor is going – but break out of the zoo and freedom awaits you little sealy!  Somehow get to the ocean.  Now that would be a trick!  All you need to do is get to the Missouri and go south. 

Some people don’t live for the likes as much as trying to live their life without anyone ever expressing a dislike about them.  They don’t need to get atta-boys, but any kind of criticism cuts deep.  So they live trying to never have anyone press the dislike button.  Aren’t we glad there isn’t a real dislike button people can press about our lives?

But the deal is that people don’t need an actual dislike button.  People have become great at manipulating others by expressing dissatisfaction with others – the eye roll, the dismissive head shake – the sigh. 

You don’t meet my expectations.  This is a lousy seal show.

Living for the approval, or to avoid the disapproval, of people is simply a form of bondage.  You are bound to the opinion of others.

It turns us into beggars – begging for the approval of people.

Now some of you are like, not me.  I don’t care what the world thinks of me.  I don’t care about nobody but me.  I do what I want.  I say what I think.  I mean what I say.  Who cares about people!  I do what I wanna do!

And I would simply say, that’s not exactly loving either.  You are just in bondage to your out of control desires.  You know who else doesn’t care about what the world thinks of him?  Kim Jung Un and every other despot both large and small. 

Jesus offers us freedom from the bondage of other peoples opinions.   

The goal of a life lived as an apprentice of Jesus is to be transformed into loving human beings.  To become the kind of people who live a heart that is overflowing with love.  And therefore, we have no need to seek the applause of our fickle friends.

The goal is to live from love, not for the likes.

We have been studying the sermon on the mount.  Jesus’ declaration of exactly what is good about the good news.  If you were to turn to Matthew 5, you will read that.

1.  Good News!  (Matthew 4:23-25)  The gates to the Kingdom of Heaven have been thrown wide open to all mankind, even the spiritually bankrupt.

2.  All people are blessable through faith in Jesus. (Matt 5:1-11)

3.  These people will become the Light and the Salt of the earth.  They make life better for everyone who comes in contact with them.

4.  In order for this to happen, a different kind of rightness must be formed inside of us.  Not just following all the technical fine print rules that are born fro religion, rules, but becoming a person who operates out of love for God and Others.

5.  We can become the kind of person who lives without anger.  Apart from Lust.  Without having to lie or manipulate people with our words.  We become the kinds of people who can love others – even people who don’t like us.  We can even love our enemies, because they are human beings who are also loved by God.

This morning we are finally in chapter 6.  And what we are going to find in Matthew 6 are warnings – three things to watch out for that ill impede our spiritual transformation into this new kind f human being.  Indeed – any of these three things could bring our transformation to an utter standstill. What are these three things?

1.  Living for the approval of others. (Matt 6:1-18)

      Three Examples –

a. Good Deeds: 6:2-4

b. Praying: 6:5-15

c. Fasting: 6:16-18

2.  Material wealth. (Matt 6:18-24)

3.  Worry. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Matthew 6 NLT

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.

Now some bright bible student out there might ask – didn’t Jesus, earlier in Matthew 5, say that we will be the light of the world, that people will see our good deeds and glorify our Father in Heaven?  Now he seems to be saying to do these good deeds in private.

And of course, as you can already figure out, the key idea here is – for whose glory am I doing good deeds?  If I am doing good out of love – then there is no need to draw attention to myself – others will notice and attribute my actions to a love for God.

There is no law here that requires that no one ever knows about the good deeds we might do.  Instead Jesus is asking us to examine our motivation for doing those good deeds.  Is it to draw attention to myself?  Or is it a result of living a life of love.

Am I doing it for a pat on the head – or am I doing it because it’s the loving thing to do.

When Jesus uses the terms hypocrites here – it’s an actual term for actor.  The actors were called hypocrites – it wasn’t necessarily a bad term.  We use it universally as an insult – right?  But Jesus is saying, don’t act like you are doing something for God if in reality you are doing it to here the smattering of applause from the fickle spectators of your life.

So, if you are giving, make sure that you are giving out of love, not for the ‘likes’ of people. 

I was having lunch with Jim Warren and a person who had some land we were interested in buying for Journey Church, and I love how Jim opened the conversation – he said something like, John, we would like to build a building, and how do you feel about us putting your name on the building!?

And of course we all laugh, because what Jim is really saying is – if you give us enough money to build the building we will gladly call it the John Doe community center.  If you offer someone the opportunity to put their name on a building it might inspire them to give.  Not you of course!

Not you, of course – right?  Recently my wife and I gave some money to someone raising money – and it was through a go Fund Me Page – and you can give money and then they ask you – do you want them to know you gave or would you like to give it anonymously?  And so I look and just about everyone clicked the anonymous button.  Crud!  I want them to know we supported them.  So I clicked the sure – let people know we support them. 

Did I lose my reward in heaven?  Aha!  Legal thinking.  See – let’s remember – not to turn Matthew 6 into more laws.  Jesus is not giving more laws.  He is giving a warning to watch out – to check our motives.  Why are we doing this?

Now in that case, I wanted this person to know we believed in her.  And we do believe in her – we didn’t give to receive some kind of heavenly credit.  Was I like this religious leader?  Am I now, even by mentioning this as an example blowing my own horn to be admired by you?  Am I sinning right now?

Jesus is not giving us laws here to bind us up.  It cannot be said too often.  When we read the Sermon on the Mount, we are not looking at laws, we are looking at a life. 

See how turning the Sermon on the mount into a list of laws will bind you up?  Jesus understood the temptation and the problem of turning his teaching into laws – which is why I think he goes the extra mile to tell us in Matthew 11

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Turning Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount into laws turns his teaching into a heavy burden.  Instead, Jesus is describing here the loveless religion of the Pharisees – who gave to receive the applause of man.

If, on the other hand, my goal is to be a loving human being, then I am motivated by love for others and not for the ‘likes’ – the approval and applause of a very fickle audience. 

Now this example that Jesus gives of guarding against people pleasing happens to be a good deed about money. 

Anyone ever fake give at church before?  The offering plate comes by and you pretend to put something in there?  C’Mon – this is a safe place – raise your hand – you splash the pot a bit – ruffle the dollars – maybe put an empty offering envelope in there?  C’mon…  no one but me? 

Someone asked me once why we don’t pass the offering plate during a service?  And the truth is that when we started Journey we did.  And then we stopped and we compared and the discovered that the only difference was – the number of $1 bills were much less when we stopped passing the plate. 

And we realized we were putting people in a position where they felt I have to put something in the offering- people are watching.  So we stopped doing that – now if you give it’s not for anyone’s approval in this place. 

This is why in the New Testament – there is not a legal demand that you give a tithe.  A tenth of all you make – instead the Bible tells us to be generous givers, and the give cheerfully.

Why?  Because cheerful giving is a mark of a heart that is being transformed by love.  We want to give to people in need – we love helping others. 

Giving ought to be one of the first things that changes in the way we live our lives once we make the call to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So often we think it’s the last thing to come along.  That giving is only for mature believers.  No – give out of love, not out of duty.

But it doesn’t have to revolve around money.  If I’m going to spend three hours of my Saturday at Heartland Hope, the least I can do is let people know it –  Selfie Serving!   

I’m teasing by the way – I think you an totally post that picture out of love for our partnership with Heartland Hope – and to raise awareness of all the good they are doing in the city. 

But this is where it gets tricky – only you ad God know the real motivation for posting that picture.  It is possible, isn’t it, to post it for the wrong reason?  The smattering of applause from your fickle friends?

And if that is the reason you are serving, – and this is important to understand – God will not stand in your way.  If you want the applause of people, God lets us have that. 

I’ve said quite a few times that the only reason I ever do laundry or clean the house or make dinner is for my wife to notice.  I love her and I want her to know it.  And so God, I believe, is fine with that.  It’s for her. 

The problem with that is if Jody doesn’t notice right away then I turn all sulky, Waa!  How pathetic, right?

This is why God would remind me, that doing the right thing for the wrong motivation doesn’t feed the soul.  It doesn’t touch my soul.  It’s depriving me of a greater kind of love.  God wants to turn me into the kind of person who does good out of a loving heart, not just for the likes – even the likes of my spouse.

But I need to be warned, right? If I make it a habit of only doing loving things in order to receive other people’s likes, then I have negated the transforming effects of serving others.  I’m acting just like everyone else in the world – as Jesus would say – even people who don’t believe God exists do that kind of thing – and so, what’s really different about us?  In what way is that a description of a different kind of human?

Do what we do out of love for others, not for likes, or to avoid dislikes.

The next example Jesus talks about is prayer.  Pray out of love.

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

Once again – this is a life, not a law.  This doesn’t mean we must shut ourselves in a closet, that we may never pray out loud.  Rather, it’s a description of the prayer life of a person transformed by love. 

These kinds of people – they recognize they do not need to impress God or anyone else with flowery words.  And they don’t need to twist God’s arm by praying in some kind of coercive manner that makes God have to act on our behalf.

People in the Kingdom of Heaven see Jesus as our good Shepherd who walks alongside of us.  He is close, and our prayer life is a natural and free from any kinds of pretension or manipulation. 

From here, it’s only natural that Jesus would give – as an example of how to pray – the Lord’s prayer.  And one can pray through that and see how relational and loving that kind of prayer is.

Our father – the one who lives in the heavenly realm – hallowed be your name – truly – it’s wonderful.  You are holy and perfect and loving and you deserve my respect. 

Your Kingdom come in my life Father.  Your will be done in it. 

Father – will you please provide for my needs this day.  Thank you that I can trust you for it.

And forgive me Lord of those times I don’t want to listen and I want to do things my way.  Help me to become the kind of person who forgives others as quickly and as kindly as you forgive me.

Lead me away from temptation, and from doing things I know better than do.  Rescue me when I get myself into trouble. 

These things – the way Jesus is teaching us to pray – it’s natural and easy.  And God’s “response” to our prayers is not a charade. He does not pretend that he is answering our prayer when he is only doing what he was going to do anyway. Our requests really do make a difference in what God does or does not do.

We pray out of love for God – not to get likes – even from Him.  Now here’s an important thought. 

We don’t need to live our life trying to get God to like us.  He already does!  He already deeply likes you.  For God so liked you that He gave his only son. 

Jesus loves you and you don’t need to live your life right now trying to get him to like you.  You wouldn’t do that with a friend, right?

How annoying would it be to have a friend who every day was like, “Do you like me?  We’re good right?  Am I annoying you?  Do you like what I did?”  Do you approve of me?  You’re not mad at me are you?”

Ugh.  Think about how much your life would change if you truly received the good news – that you are acceptable to God.  That He loves you and will transform you as you submit yourself to him – as an apprentice to a master.

Once we get that settled – that the creator of the universe likes you?  Well, then no wonder we don’t need to worry about whether that person at work does.  We are settled – firm, confident and free.

We can become the kind of people – truly loving from the inside out – We can live life openhandedly – loving without an internal demand to be patted on the back by others. 

We can be free from the bondage and control of the opinions of others. 

Now, can I suggest one spiritual discipline – one thing to train your soul to be able to break free from the ‘likes’ of others?  It’s the discipline of secrecy.

The discipline of secrecy will help us break the grip of human opinion over our souls and our actions.

What that means is this – this week – in an effort to break ourselves free from the desire to hear the applause of our fickle audience, do something for someone every day – that they will not know about.  Pray you can find a way to bless someone without them knowing they were blessed.

Now I’m not talking about secret Santa – where you get the joy of watching them guffaw over a chocolate bar without knowing it was you all along! Since no one knows I guess I will have to pat myself on the head.

I mean, serve someway in which the person being served might not even know you did it.  Without even knowing their response. 

Be loving for loves sake.  Train your soul to rest in the sure confidence of the love of God.

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