by Katie McCoy
Hi. My name is Katie, and I’m an approvaholic. (This is the part where you say, “Hi, Katie”) For many of us, the need for approval is as strong and insatiable as an addiction. While you may not call yourself an approval addict, perhaps you’re known as a people-pleaser, someone who will go to great lengths to keep everyone happy with them. But if we belong to Christ, the Bible says that we cannot live to please both people and God: “For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10, also check out Acts 5:29)
The culture will tell you that the best way to break from your people-pleasing path is to reclaim the real you! Take control of your life. Learn to say “no.” Indulge in the things that you want to do and “just do you.” (Sound familiar?) Ironically, an approvaholic may seem like they’re working for God and others, but the heart-motivation is often about their emotional security, their reputation, and their standing in the eyes of others. It’s not about God’s glory and obeying His Word; it’s about their own glory and others’ opinions.
An Approvaholic confuses pleasing people with honoring God.
Many of us can relate to Martha, who resentfully took on all the work she considered so important. She was so focused on getting things done the “right way” and meeting a perceived expectation that she almost missed her one real priority of knowing Jesus more and learning from Him (Luke 10:38-42). While what she was busy doing was not wrong in itself, as Jesus told her it wasn’t the one thing that was needed.
An Approvaholic seeks to validate the leading of God with the opinions of others.
The Apostle Paul probably had good reason to feel the need for validation. Before his own conversion, he was one of the early Church’s greatest enemies. In one life-changing encounter with Christ, the very people he was working to destroy became his peers. But unlike an approval addict, he didn’t seek the confirmation of other believers to validate what God had made clear to him. “But when it pleased God…to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me” (Galatians 1:15-17). He acted in obedience upon what God had said, without needing the approval or agreement of other people.
An Approvaholic views the opportunity to serve God as an opportunity to gain personal praise.
Judges 11 tells us the tragic story of Jephthah. Motivated by gaining the respect and approval of those that had mistreated him, he made a rash vow to the Lord that revealed his own heart: “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30-31). For Jephthah, and for the approval addict, the motivation for success wasn’t for God’s glory, it was for his own (“If You will deliver…into my hands). This is the same attitude that Paul spoke of in his letter to the Philippians when he said that, “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife…from selfish ambition, not sincerely” (v. 15-16). For the Approvaholic who thirsts for people’s high opinions, even good and godly things can be distorted for self-centered motives.
An Approvaholic’s self-worth is based on their performance and motivated by pride.
At the heart of a woman who is afraid of disappointing others is the belief that she can make everyone happy with her. Underneath the fear of saying no, letting someone down or falling short of a goal, is the lie that she can fulfill people’s expectations, do things the right way or achieve outer perfection. In fact, when we boil it down to the condition of the heart, feeding the approval addiction is just another modern-day idol.
Perhaps you’ve been working for good and godly things but have been motivated by a desire other than serving the Lord. God desires “truth in the innermost parts” more than a well-executed sacrifice (Psalm 51:6, 16-17). Maybe you’ve been accepting every extra responsibility out of the belief that you’re the only person capable of fulfilling it, and forgetting that God is the one who qualifies all of us to serve Him. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant,” (2 Cor. 3:5-6).
So how can we overcome our addiction to approval? It begins when we humble ourselves and realize how incapable we are of perfection and how unworthy we are of praise. Ephesians 1 says that before the world was even made every believer was chosen and accepted in Christ. And because He chose You, you were made right with and accepted by God because of Christ’s work on the cross (Rom. 8:30-31). It never has, or will have, anything to do with your performance. You did nothing and can do nothing to gain his approval. Your Heavenly Father chose to set His love on you. That’s it – and that’s grace!
God is far more pleased with an obedient heart that fears Him than the pretense of having it all together. When you start living to please your Heavenly Father rather than the of the approval of others, your time, your priorities and your heart-motivation will start lining up with His will. You may not be able to meet others’ expectations, but you will be honoring God.
You don’t have to be an Approvaholic. You don’t have to live in fear of being rejected, being punished, making a mistake or not living up to some perceived expectation. The same One that has already purchased your approval before your only Judge is the very One who said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). And in Him, you are completely – and already – accepted.