I struggle with riding the approval rollercoaster. When others praise and compliment me, my children, or my ministry, I soar. However, when people are critical of anything from my haircut to my husband, I can often spiral downward into defeat and shame. Over the last year, God has been convicting me through His Word that elevating human relationships over Him in my life is a dangerous thing. The apostle Paul said, “If I were still trying to please men [or women], I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galations 1:10 NIV).
However, God tells us to live in community so I know He doesn’t want me to live as an island. After all, relationships originate with God. God says in His Word that marriage is good, and He sets the lonely in families. Relationships are His gift, yet like every other gift from God, we must be careful to give them the right place. God must always be first, as Colossians 1:18 (NLT) says: “He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything.”
Though God gives us family, friends, and the church, we must guard against elevating those relationships above Jesus in our lives. When we allow anything to come before God in our hearts and minds, it could become an idol. Usually I envision idols as statues or figurines like the ones people worshipped in the days of Jeremiah. How could a person or a group of people become a counterfeit god? Timothy Keller, author of Counterfeit Gods, defines an idol as, “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
Sometimes idols are just good things the enemy subtly twists. God wants us to enjoy our marriages, find community in our churches, love our friends, and pursue the hearts of our children. But He doesn’t want us to be enslaved to the people we love. He must come first in our lives. God graciously gives us a word picture in the book of Jeremiah: “For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all” (Jeremiah 2:13 NLT)! In Jeremiah’s day, people had cisterns to collect rainwater. A cracked cistern would be completely useless because it would leak out anything that was collected. God is reminding His people that He offers an endless flow of clean water. Even though it can be tempting to trust in tangible people over a God we cannot see, only God can continually fill our hearts. The process of seeing my own relational idolatry exposed was painful and humbling, but worth it. I am now experiencing a rich intimacy with Him like never before. He offers more than any human relationship can.
As a consummate people pleaser, I have struggled at times to keep my relationships in the right place and to enjoy them as God intended. So how can we know when a relationship borders on idolatry? A few clues include:
- Caring about the person’s reaction to a decision more than what God’s Word says
- When good or bad things happen, going to the person first, rather than God
- Expecting the person to meet needs in our lives that only God can
- Obsessing over the person’s approval or acceptance
- Blaming the person when things go wrong in life
- Telling the person what he wants to hear, rather than speaking God’s truth
Jeremiah 51:18-19 (NLT) says, “Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies! On the day of reckoning they will all be destroyed. But the God of Israel is no idol! He is the Creator of everything that exists, including his people, his own special possession. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!”
People are not worthless or ridiculous lies, but elevating them above God in our hearts is idolatry. Only in embracing God as the fountain of living water are we able to stop trusting in our cracked cisterns. Only in letting go of our idols, will we experience true fulfillment in God. He provides real peace down deep–the kind that isn’t dependent on other people, circumstances, or things.
I pray that in my marriage, parenting, family and friendships, I will remember this truth and learn from past mistakes. By looking for approval in the eyes of Jesus alone, I am free to get off the bumpy ride of people pleasing. I want to love others extravagantly, but never make them bigger than God in my life. He is no idol and the Creator of everything that exists. He IS first in everything.
Prayer: God help me to give you first place in my life. I don’t want anything to capture my heart and imagination more than you. Show me where relational idolatry and people pleasing has crept into my life and teach me how to rediscover my first love in my relationship with you.
“Does a young woman forget her jewelry? Does a bride hide her wedding dress? Yet for years on end my people have forgotten me.” Jeremiah 2:32