In my early years, I was in bondage to what people thought of me. But I've worked through why and God has freed me. It stemmed from my inability to please the most important people in my life growing up. In the home where I grew up if you performed well you were loved, if not, love was withdrawn. And just like a powerful virus, I caught that dysfunction from well meaning but sick people. And it grew into flawed thinking: if people think I'm valuable, then I must be. God knew that if I was going to thrive in life, I needed freedom from that bondage and so he's allowed some painful experiences as part of the process to set me free:
In the nineties, I was leading a ministry to women in a church, and a woman attempted to have me thrown out of the church as a false teacher because of my views on salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Her theological position subtly added works to salvation. I was ultimately exonerated and it was tough, but actually she gave me a gift, because I learned a ton about God, other people, and myself. I learned that I had unrealistic expectations of people and I cared too much about their acceptance.Through that and other experiences, I learned to stand God-reliant and people-free.
When I say "people-free" don't misunderstand, We are commanded to love people well, but loving others is not the same as needing their approval. That can actually interfere, because sometimes, loving others well means loving them with tough love, which may mean we risk their disapproval. But that may be the right thing to do–if we really love them.
In addition, Genesis tells us that it's not good to be alone. Healthy relationships enrich our lives. Being "people-free" doesn't mean we don't listen to wise people's ideas, suggestions, admonitions. Family, friends, colleagues and mentors deeply enrich our lives. I'm grateful for them all. But after we've taken into account people's input, ultimately it's God's direction we follow. We pray, listen, look for God's direction, then we trust God.
How much power do you give people in your life? Down deep do you care too much about what people think of you? If you do, God might teach you through a "woodshed" experience like mine, or you could learn from the Apostle Paul's example. Paul is a stellar example of a minister who loved people but refused to be controlled by them. This strength is nowhere more evident than in the first chapter of his letter to the Galatians. There he describes his early years of preparation for ministry.
Look carefully at a few of the verses that emphasize that Paul learned to stand God-reliant and people-free:
(1: 11-22) I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ…But when God, who set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord's brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches in Judea that are in Christ.
Here are a few quick observations to help us stand God-reliant and people-free:
• Trust God to secure your platform. If you want to be noticed or be published, you'll likely hear that you must "build a platform". For example, you must make your presence known in the world of social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google–make it all fit together and work for you–write the best blog that reaches thousands of people, be sure you get a certain number of "likes". Get out into the marketplace where the people you want to influence gather, and make a splash; Build your own tribe–people who share similar interests and passions. Get people with name recognition to write a bunch of endorsements for you. There's nothing wrong with doing any of these things. Work hard to influence people for Jesus. Just realize that ultimately your life is God's deal. So watch your motivation.
• Paul makes a point of telling us that immediately after God got a hold of him, he didn't hightail it to Jerusalem to be trained or get the approval of the Christian leaders. I better check this out with the big wigs of the church. If I can just get their approval. People need to see me hanging with the other Apostles–then they'll respect me. Paul doesn't head for the place where the action is. Instead, Paul heads for Arabia, probably a desert not far outside of Damascus. Since Jesus appeared to him in such a vibrant way on the Damascus Road, I wonder if Jesus oversaw his preparation out there? Maybe Jesus was his teacher out there as Paul studied the Old Testament with new eyes. What did Paul do out there? Probably he prayed. He studied. And God prepared him for the years ahead. And isn't the timing interesting? Verse 18 says he was out there "three years"–same time Jesus spent with the original Twelve. What a credibility booster for Paul with those who wanted to discredit him as well as the other Christian leaders!
• Paul trusted God to secure his platform–and you can trust God to secure yours–if he thinks you are going to need one. He's entirely capable of doing that.
Wouldn't you love to be people-free from what people thought of you–like Paul. He never asked questions like: Is everybody happy? How will this look? What about my image? Instead he stood God-reliant and people-free and it made him a ferocious lion for God's magnificent Gospel of Grace and it prepared him for the beautiful life path God had ordained for him. Too many of our struggles are rooted in comparing ourselves with others and trying to make people happy when that's their responsibility and not ours. Caring too much what people think can make us vulnerable to poor choices and wasteful life patterns.
What would a people-free version of you look like? You'd be indestructible inside. You'd care about people but not controlled by them. You'd be unintimidatable. People couldn't intimidate you into doing what they wanted, you'd only be doing what you knew God wanted. You'd be free of perfectionism, you could say "no" when you need to, you couldn't be easily manipulated or exploited, you wouldn't be a conflict avoider. You'd enjoy a supernatural joy and peace despite what other people think or do. You'd be strong, God-reliant, performing for an audience of One. So love people well, connect with them and listen to the wise ones, but ultimately trust God and rely on Him. Remember that ultimately it's all God's deal–and he loves you and will guide you into paths that are the best. So Stand God-reliant and people-free.
To hear more about God's work in Paul's life that helped him stand God-reliant and people-free, join Sue who will be speaking in Dallas Theological Seminary chapel service today (September 16) at 10:40 am or tune in online next week at dts.edu/chapel.