Growing up I was the very definition of a people-pleaser.
To the extent that in my late teens, I willingly agreed to working an extra 8 hours per week, long-term, with no extra pay - simply because my boss put the pressure on – and I wanted to please him.
Symon the people-pleaser. It could have been my middle-name.
Fast forward a couple of decades and three years into my role as a senior leader/pastor of an average-sized city church, I was on a collision course with either burn-out, resignation or most likely both.
I desperately wanted to be the lovable, personable, permission-giving pastor that everyone dreams of having… but I was failing miserably.
Because pleasing people and leading a heathy church are just not compatible.
Whenever I pleased one person, I inadvertently dis-pleased another, and pleasing God, sometimes meant that I would please no one.
But still I tried so hard – until my anxiety levels became so high that the ED doc thought I had had a heart-attack.
During that night in hospital God spoke very clearly through His word to my heart, and it has quite literally changed my life, and the way I lead.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
I realised it was not God’s yoke that was overwhelmingly heavy, it was the expectations, demands, opinions, suggestions, approval of everyone else. I had the freedom to choose what burden I would carry… Stress, or rest. We all have that choice.
Present day and I no longer live to please people… but like most people, I still like being liked.
As a pastor, not a day goes by where I’m not tempted to please someone, and not a day goes by where I am not faced with the internal struggle…
Do I agree to something because I don’t want to disappoint that person? Or do I follow my heart, my gut, the Holy Spirit's prompting and disappoint that person? Do I say what needs to be said, as graciously as I know how, while knowing that the person will probably feel hurt, upset, and unappreciated?
I realise now that pleasing everyone is not a luxury I have. People will place demands on me every day. Therefore, I will disappoint people every day. Some people won't like me anymore as a result (but hopefully not too many).
As pastors we are called to love people, to lead people, and to serve people, but we are not called to please people…
We are called to please God.
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. (Galatians 1:10)
We read the Bible with a filter of how we see God. To a degree, what we believe about the character of God influences our interpretation of the Scriptures.
It is all too easy to google a Bible verse and use it to validate a theological or doctrinal stance. It is also too easy to take a Bible verse out of context. I could easily mis-quote verses to argue a compelling case for slavery, polygamy, even human sacrifice for example.
We know that God does inflict the wicked with sickness as a judgement. We also know that God can use everything (including sickness) for His glory, but what I’m specifically addressing is: Does God give sickness to His children? Is it part of His perfect will to inflict His kids with infirmities in order to bless them?
I say a passionate NO, and I’ll explain why.
Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1 (The Bible)
A major sporting event, a huge stadium packed with tens of thousands of people, cheering the athletes on. A metaphor of our life, where we are the athletes, being encouraged by the past generations of men and women of faith who have gone before.