People pleasing; an invitation to faith over fear
For a while, I had a “people pleasing” dog. She really was quite the gem because she was
terrified that we would be upset with her. For the first few years of her life, when she learned that
her behavior caused a negative reaction, she simply would not repeat it. Seemingly we had
trained her well, and we had definitely tried. Over time however, she grew comfortable with us
and now in year 8 of her life, I’m quite certain she has completely recovered from her people
I am not too different from her, in my complacency and trust of others, I can grow so comfortable
and sure of my relationship that I am no longer on my best behavior. I know that if and when I
mess up I will be received with grace and remain in good standing.
However, sometimes as people pleasers, we grow to love the idea of being in “good standing”
with others so much that unknowingly we become addicted to the feelings that come with
acceptance and praise that we will do anything to keep those pats on the back coming.
Perhaps the most sinister character in the people pleaser’s life story is the one named fear. It
isn’t just praise and acceptance that motivates us but fear that becomes the driving force behind
The story of Aaron and the golden calf in Exodus 32 serves as a reminder for believers when it
comes to the lengths that we will go to avoid feeling uncomfortable in the crowd, how fragile our
conviction can be and the price we may pay for giving in.
In short, Moses had been on top of Mount Sinai for 40 days receiving instruction from God. 40
Days is in fact a long time. Aaron had been left behind to shepherd the Israelite people in the
desert while they waited for Moses to come back and resume leadership. Whatever the reason,
be it fear of abandonment, impatience, lack of leadership from Aaron or the hot desert sun, the
people came to Aaron and said we need a god, now. In the story, Aaron doesn’t hesitate to help
the people make a god out of gold that brings instant relief to their grumbling and one step
further, a welcome reason for merry making.
People Pleasing can be impulsive
Interestingly in the narrative, the instant that the people told Aaron that they needed something
he hopped to it. It wasn’t just anything, it was an idol. Aaron’s automatic response was to give
the people what they wanted. My guess is that Aaron had a long-time habit of keeping the
peace and probably felt a little discouraged himself which is a recipe for a quick decision that
will make the most people “happy.”
Aaron was also quickly consumed by fear of losing control (Ex. 32:22).
Other common fears that we face and Aaron likely faced are-
Fear of rejection– As a leader, he needed the people to be “happy.”
Fear of abandonment– where was Moses anyway?
Fear of criticism– Aaron was quick to justify his actions before Moses, and he gave the people
what they wanted to avoid criticism (judgment)
If you are often faced with an overwhelming need to be in good standing with the people around
you can probably easily add to this list of fears that motivate you to manage the emotions of
others, and you might even risk it all to do so.
Distance from God creates weakness
The Israelites had been physically apart from their leader and seemingly this made them feel
distanced from God. Apparently, Aaron wasn’t able to draw the people close to the Lord and the
people weren’t able to do it for themselves so the more time they spent apart from Moses, who
beckoned them to know God, the more space they had for seeds of doubt and fear to grow.
Sound familiar? The distance between us and our savior leaves space in our lives to easily
forget what the Lord has done for us. After all, the Israelites had just experienced miracles from
God but in just a little over a month they were scrambling for a new god that could offer them
Our time and proximity to the Lord is precious. We know that if we draw near to him He will draw
near to us and his nearness brings courage (James 4:8).
It takes courage to lead our lives with conviction, unto the Lord, forsaking all others. Not with
the absence of service and love but with the determined purpose to be true to God and his
calling on our lives, standing firm in the face of clear rejection.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you
will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Col. 3:23).”
Aaron and the Israelites were up against one of our greatest fears, actual rejection. God’s
response to the worship of another god was to “consume” the Israelites out of judgment and
wipe them from the face of the earth (Ex. 32:10).” We can’t always know what price we will pay
for “people pleasing” but we know from this story that if and when we live to serve anything
other than God, be it man or “thing,” there will be consequences.
Examine your heart
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).”
In today’s culture we have plenty of opportunities to choose who we plan to serve and whose
“good standing” we care the most about. In taking the time to truly examine our hearts we may
uncover the fears that plague us. With our fears realized, we can combat those fears with truth
from God and an otherwise split-second decision to preserve ourselves can transform into a
meaningful experience where we bring God glory and enjoy our peace and security in Him.