Are you a people pleaser? Do you do things for others so they will like you, thank you or just not get upset at you?
The Urban Dictionary facetiously remarks that when people-pleasers die, it isn’t their own lives that flash before their eyes; they see the life of someone else flash before their eyes!
There is a well-known parable in the Middle East of a father who sets his young son on a donkey as they travel together toward town. As they journey they overhear some folks on the side of the road complain that the boy has no respect for his father. So the son asks his father to allow him to walk while his father rides the donkey. But no sooner have the two changed places than they overhear someone criticizing the father for making his son walk while the father rides. So the father and son together mount the donkey. But as you may have guessed, yet someone else censures them for overburdening the poor beast. In one version of the story, the father and son — in an exasperated attempt to please people — try to pick up the donkey and end up falling into the river!
Where did this expression “people pleaser” come from anyway? I don’t know for sure, but perhaps the Apostle Paul had something to do with it. Paul writes, “Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ” (Gal 1:10 NET). Take note of the contrast Paul draws here. Either he is serving Christ, or he is a people pleaser. Our life-orientation cannot be focused on trying to please people if we want to be servants of Christ.
But this is where it gets tricky. Serving others in love is something every Christian is called to do (Gal 5:13). People pleasers serve others. And people who get served by people pleasers often appreciate receiving the service. So what’s the difference between being a people pleaser and serving out of love? The main difference is motive. Why do you do what you do? Where is your heart in service? Do you crave the approval of others? Are you driven by a desire for people to like you? Or, are you motivated by the desire to serve God when you serve others?
Why did you stay up late to finish that particular project even though you were already short on sleep? Was it because you genuinely thought that the Lord would be pleased that you sacrificed sleep to serve another? If so, your loss of sleep was worth it. Or was your primary motive that you didn’t want someone to be disappointed in you? Be honest. Your answer will help you determine whether you tend toward being a God pleaser or a people pleaser.
If you discover that you gravitate toward people pleasing, confess it openly to the Lord. Start reminding yourself that if you are in Christ, then your most important audience is Christ. And don’t stop reminding yourself. Bring this truth to mind over and over again. You are not hostage to others’ opinions. You belong to someone else. Your service should be motivated by your central focus on Christ. You don’t have to be a people pleaser anymore because you are in Christ.
Here are a few helpful reminders from the Apostle Paul:
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Cor 5:9 ESV)
“Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God?” (Gal 1:10 NET)
“... and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Eph 5:10 ESV)
This post was adapted from devotional #51 in my recent book How to Live an ‘In Christ’ Life: 100 Devotional Readings on Union with Christ.
This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.