Two of those warning signals, a desperation for approval and acceptance, are closely related and easily confused for one another, so I must deal with them together. When I sense my heart searching for either approval of my performance or for acceptance of my person, then I know I am giving my heart to that which does not satisfy my heart. You see, like everyone else, I long to do something special and to be someone special. God created us in His image to be a community (be someone special) on mission (do something special)…a relationship of rulers who love and serve God, each other, and all that He has made (Genesis 1:26-29, 2:15, 18). So, there is a sense in which I was made to be approved for my performance and accepted as a person. The trouble starts when I seek that approval and acceptance from the wrong source (Jeremiah 2:13).
Have you noticed how Jesus never seemed to be concerned about whether people accepted Him or approved of what He was doing or not doing? His Teflon-like responses to the opinions of others were wonderfully refreshing. Neither criticism nor kudos stuck to Him. Oh, I long to be like Him. So, how did He do that? Perhaps it’s because He heard and believed the words that His Father said to and about Him: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22, 9:35). Just before the two most significant periods of His earthly life (His public ministry and His crucifixion/resurrection/ascension) Jesus heard His Father’s words of acceptance and approval. “You are My Son, whom I love. You are accepted. I am pleased with You. You have my approval.” All other forms of acceptance and approval pale in comparison to that of the Father. Oh, if only I could live like that. What would my life be like if I truly believed that I had the Father’s complete acceptance and convincing approval? Maybe I’d be more like Jesus.
But I do have the Father’s acceptance and approval. If by faith I am “in Christ” then I can hear the Father say to me “You are My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased because of Jesus.” It all comes back to whether I believe it or not. When I get discouraged because someone is disappointed with my performance or disrespects me as a person, that’s a light on the dashboard telling me that my heart under the hood is low on faith in the good news of the Gospel. When moments of praise and popularity lift my spirit and excite my soul more than the love of my Father, that’s a warning signal that my heart is getting gummed up with its own glory. These flashing lights remind me that when people are too big in my heart, God is too small.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite Henri Nouwen quotes:
But even as comforting as that thought is, it stills leaves my acceptance and approval dependent on my love for Jesus rather than on His love for me. Perhaps it’s more accurate and gospel-centered to say:
“The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show me some results? But: Are you in Christ Jesus?”