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

pleasing ways.

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

our behavior.

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

some hope.

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.

Catharine Griffin was born and raised in Covington, Georgia. She earned an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2012. She enjoys mentoring and discipling college women and is currently doing so at East Texas Baptist University. She is passionate about hearing people's stories and helping people see their potential in Christ and serves this calling out as a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate. She has also been coordinating ministry to women for several years in various churches and longs to equip women to serve the church with biblically sound teaching. She is a mother to three boys, wife to a Baptist Student Minister, and enjoys teaching, writing, cooking and all things outside.

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