Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Seeking Approval

I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t like to pray in public.
O.K., I know that corporate prayer makes a lot of people nervous - the whole ‘speaking in public’ thing, and all. But that’s not what I mean; I’m O.K. with that aspect.
The problem is that when confronted with praying in public, a spiritual battle begins within me. It is a spiritual battle that rages on in many other areas of my life as well. It is a battle discussed by Paul in Galatians 1:10: Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? (NRSV)
My battle when praying in public: I fight to keep from praying words for the other people to hear versus praying solely to God. I struggle with praying to impress those in the room; to sound ‘pious,’ ‘holy,’ and ‘mature.’ I prefer to wage my battle by praying silently – for just God to hear. But circumstances often force the issue and put me right in the middle of the battle.
But, like I said, this is a battle that flows over into many other areas of my life. I often find myself trying to do even good things – Kingdom things – with the wrong motivations. “Will my extraordinary ‘spirituality’ be recognized in this?” “Will the pastor notice my contribution?” “What will they think of me if I can do that?”
Sometimes I give the battle to the Lord and He does mighty things. Sometimes I just ‘man up’ and the battle results in hay and straw (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
Several years ago, a friend told me a phrase that has helped me some in this battle. He said, “If you knew how little people think of you, you wouldn’t care how little people think of you.” Knowing that I’m easily befuddled, he went on to explain how seldom people actually contemplate their opinions and judgments of others, especially those who are not within their constant sphere of contact. So, since most people will seldom, if ever, even think about me, what they think about me shouldn’t really matter to me.
But God, on the other hand, is constantly thinking about me. How difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts about me, O God! How vast is their sum total! If I tried to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. (Psalm 139:17-18, NET) And what He thinks about me matters. His opinion counts. His approval is of singular importance. He is the One I need to please.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I need to try to ‘please God’ in order to earn my way to heaven or to deserve His love, or anything like that. Those things are already taken care of – by Him, of course.
I can’t make God love me more by my actions. But, by my actions I can love God more. By acknowledging and focusing on Him as the only One whose opinion matters, I start to love and worship Him as He deserves. And I start to align my life with the life He intends for me.
Because He is perfectly holy (in His thoughts, His actions, and His essence), by seeking His approval (rather than man’s) I am seeking His holiness, I am moving toward His holiness. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:15-17)

So, does it make any sense to be so concerned with pleasing men and gaining their approval rather than seeking only God’s approval? Of course not. But getting that truth from my thinking into my heart and then into my actions is a work in progress.
God loves me more than I can realize.
He thinks about me more than I can imagine (Psalm 139).
I would sure like to know that when He is thinking about me, a smile creeps across His face.
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.
Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and
who correctly explains the word of truth
2 Timothy 2:15, NLT

Seeking to please Him,
Craig Hollingsworth

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