God or People. Which Do You Fear?

I read (check that – I listen to) a lot of books throughout the year. Commuting back and forth to St. Louis for my seminary education affords me this opportunity. My usual custom is to visit the public library, once at the beginning of the semester, and once at about mid-term. Last spring I went to the library to grab my usual supply of audiobooks. However, my wife had requested a certain book, so I placed a hold on it, intending to pick it up while I was getting my audiobooks.

I walked to the check-out desk and handed over my four audiobooks to the man behind the counter. He looked over my choices, commented on them, and we had a brief but nice little conversation over them. As he checked the final book, I mentioned that I had one on hold. He slowly walked away to retrieve it. I saw him grab it off of the shelf, examine it, and slowly turn back towards me. As he approached, I noticed a puzzled look on his face. He held the book up, looked at me, and with pity said, “you know this is a real book…right?” His question sent me into a frenzy. For about 30 seconds I stumbled, bumbled, and stuttered, justifying myself. “I really can read, in fact, I’ve read lots of books before….audiobooks are just convenient, because you see, I’m in my car a lot and…”

Of course, this is a humorous personal anecdote. However, I am passionately concerned with what people think of me. Do they perceive me as intelligent? Funny? Talented? Hard working? Or do they see me as lazy? Stupid? Inept? The theys are different for all of us. Mine include my wife, my friends, my bosses, my peers, my professors, the students I minister to.

I am discussing one of the crippling sins we face as humans: the fear of people. We care what others think of us. We order our lives, make decisions, dress in certain ways, use certain phrases, all because we are living for other people’s approval. But clearly, as Christians, this is not our calling. God wishes for us to be concerned about his perception, his desires. And yet, our struggle is neither a new nor uncommon one. The Bible mentions it on many occasions.

John 12:42-43 – “But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

John 5:44 – “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?”

The life of faith demands we live for God’s glory and for his will and for his attention, not others. We know, both from Scripture and from our personal experience, that living out of a fear of people only leads to despair, disappointment, and enslavement.

I ask that you look at your lives. Do you struggle with this like I do? Hopefully I’ve painted a picture that convinces you that you do. If you indulge me again next Saturday, now that we’ve established we have a problem, we’ll explore together how to fight it.

A good resource, one I’ve consulted repeatedly, is When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch. It is also available at our bookstore.

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