Leading Rather than Following People

yes_maamContinued from here.

God does not call us to pander to people to try to get them to like and accept us. Instead, He calls us lead others to God and be examples of godly living. Jesus’ life was an example of how we should live, and he never pandered to anyone. Instead, he lived a life that glorified God. Paul said,

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” ~ 1 Cor. 11:1

This should be our goal as well. We should do as Jesus did in seeking God’s approval rather than people’s. As we do this, we become an example to others. As they follow our example, they transform into Christ’s image, leading more godly lives and bringing more glory to God.

You cannot lead and follow people at the same time. If you follow God, you will lead other people to follow God as well. If you follow the World through people pleasing, you will lead people away from God because you cannot glorify God when your priority is pleasing people.

Only God sees people clearly. When we treat others as God tells us to treat them, He is invited to move in their lives. However, when we shift our focus to people pleasing, we live our lives through distorted lenses. People seeking anything other than God are focused on the cravings of their sinful nature. They want others to do things that make them feel comfortable – their priorities are focused on themselves, not on God. That’s why people pleasing does not work: As the sinful nature shifts what it wants in the moment, the actions that the person defines as “acceptable” also shift. Only God can meet someone’s needs, and what satisfies is quite different than what our sinful nature craves.

If you really want to please people in a positive way, lead them to Christ! He is the only one with the power to satisfy their needs, and he does it in a very different way than they expect. As you find fulfillment and acceptance in your relationship with God, you become a model of what truly satisfies. You can then lead others to the source of true satisfaction.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dressed in fatigues, standing in a tank, and saluting to the words, “Yes, Ma’am.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

People Pleasing for Acceptance

okayContinued from here.

The reason I was such a big people pleaser was that I deeply needed to feel like I belonged – like there was a place for me. Considering my life experiences, which included years of severe child abuse, losing my father to unexpected death as a teenager, being infertile, and parenting a special needs child, I don’t exactly “fit in” with most social groups. I’m different from most people, and being different made me feel excluded. I thought that people pleasing would lead me to feeling accepted and loved … that it would “buy” me a place at the table.

What I have grown to realize – and this was tough for me to accept about myself – is that people pleasing is manipulative. Rather than be myself, I changed my behavior to manipulate other people into liking and accepting me. I thought I was such a martyr for “being nice” to people, but my “niceness” came with a price – I expected acceptance in return. When that did not happen, I felt shame and anger.

Today, I truly do not give a hoot if people accept me or not. Of course, I prefer to be liked, but I’m OK if I am not. This is because I no longer value people’s opinions – I only value God’s. Because I know God fully accepts me exactly as I am, whether or not a person accepts me is irrelevant. If people do, that’s icing on the cake, but I still have the cake even when they don’t.

God loves me with an everlasting love. There is nothing I can ever do to lose that love. No matter what I lose, I will never lose God’s love. He always accepts me and is always with me, so I always have a place at His table. Even if nobody on the face of the earth loves, accepts, or approves of me, I always have God’s love, acceptance, and approval (through Jesus). Thus, my needs are always met, regardless of whether or not the people in my life accept me. Ironically, now that I do not care whether people accept me or not, I’m accepted—and even respected!—in most circles.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace bending her head down, looking sad, and saying, “Okay.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Jesus was Not a “People Pleaser”

if_you_say_soContinued from here.

Considering the goal of every Christian should be transforming into Christ’s image, we should look to Jesus as our role model. Jesus did not give a hoot about pleasing people. Instead of trying to please the Pharisees, he blatantly disregarded their manmade rules to please God instead.

As an example, according to manmade rules, Jesus had no business going to Samaria. He had no business talking to a Samaritan woman, which even surprised his disciples! He certainly had no business drinking out of the same bucket as a Samaritan women, which was the only way for her to share a drink with him since he had nothing to draw water from the well with. And imagine the level of displeasure that people had with Jesus when he chose to spend the night in Samaria!

And yet, through Jesus breaking all of those manmade rules, not only did the Samaritan woman receive life, but also many other Samaritans from the town. Jesus did not give a hoot about keeping up appearances and following manmade rules. He only cared about God’s opinion, and God loved the Samaritans, regardless of what His own people thought about this. Jesus prioritized God’s opinion over man’s opinion, and numerous people from the “wrong side of the tracks” entered into a relationship with God.

This is how we need to live our lives by following Jesus’ example. People’s priorities are selfish by nature. They want to be with the “in crowd,” which, by definition, means they exclude other people from their group. As one person worded it to me, “I want to be part of a group that removes the riffraff. I just hope I’m not the riffraff.”

God loves the riffraff, and Jesus died an excruciating death to reconcile the riffraff to God. So we, as Christians, have no business excluding anyone from our groups. God calls us to value others above ourselves, and that mean all others, including the riffraff and Samaritans in our society.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging under the words, “If you say so…” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

The Folly of “People Pleasing”

shameI used to be the world’s biggest doormat. Seriously! I was the world’s biggest people pleaser. It mattered to me sooo much that everyone like me, and I felt shame if someone didn’t.

I wound up feeling shame a lot. I tried to please people by wearing the right clothes. Inevitably, the outfit I spent a lot of money on went out of style. SHAME! A friend would ask my opinion and not like my answer. SHAME! I would do something to please one person, but that action displeased another person. SHAME! I would do something I didn’t want to do specifically to please someone, but by the time I did it, the person changed her mind, so I wound up displeasing her anyhow. SHAME!

Nowhere in the Bible are we told to please people. In fact, we are told just the opposite:

You adulteresses [disloyal sinners—flirting with the world and breaking your vow to God]! Do you not know that being the world’s friend [that is, loving the things of the world] is being God’s enemy? So whoever chooses to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. ~ James 4:4

It’s not our job to try to please people. Our focus should always be on pleasing God:

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. ~ James 4:5-7

God’s ways are higher than man’s ways. In other words, they are different. Thus, we have a choice to make: Will we live our lives seeking to please people? Or seeking to please God? We cannot do both.

Ironically, since I stopped trying to please people and have only sought to please God, I have found favor with most people I interact with. The ones who take issue with me tend to be those who are self-absorbed and angry because I refuse to bend to their will. However, because pleasing God, by nature, involves humbling myself and valuing others above myself, I generally find much more favor with people without trying.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace frowning over the word, “Shame.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Overcoming Despair: God is Bigger

mountain_full_perspective

Continued from here.

Please know that I do not take the subject of despair lightly. I am not a proponent of minimizing pain or the human condition and balk at the advice to compare my situation to someone else’s so I can gain perspective that my situation isn’t that bad. Sometimes it is “that bad,” and your situation is the one people compare against to feel better about their own.

Being repeatedly raped as a child was “that bad.” My father’s sudden, unexpected death was “that bad.” Being unable to conceive a child was “that bad.” The Bible does not shy away from “that bad” life situations, nor does it minimize the depth of the pain. Instead, the Bible assures us that God is bigger. Jesus said,

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33

Worldly trouble is to be expected. It does not mean that God has forgotten you. Instead, it means that God is going to show you that He is bigger. I have lived this truth, so I know firsthand that it is so. God was bigger than my childhood abuse, grief, and infertility. He was able to heal my pain and bring me joy and peace. He was even able to heal a post-traumatic disorder condition that experts said was incurable. I am not minimizing your problem: I am encouraging you to recognize that your problem is dwarfed by the size of your God.

If you are ensnared in despair, you have zoomed your lens onto your problems so that they take up the entire screen of your focus. It’s time to zoom out so your focus includes not only your problems but also your God. As you do this, you will gain perspective: not that your problem is not big but that your God is even bigger … much bigger! Shifting your focus back onto God is the key to removing the shackles of despair and restoring you to a place of joy and peace.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in front of a large cube with “Problem” written on it and a huge triangle behind them with “God” on it. The huge triangle makes Grace and the “problem” cube appear small. Courtesy Bitmoji and Grace Daniels.]

Overcoming Despair: Praising and Worshiping God

dancingContinued from here.

One of the most powerful ways to restore hope when you are mired in despair is actively choosing to engage in praise & worship, especially when you do not feel like it. If you let your feelings of despair drive your choices, you will spiral deeper and deeper into the emotional abyss. The fastest way to change direction is to make a conscious choice to praise and worship God. This works because it takes your focus off your yourself and places it squarely onto God.

While praise & worship do not require music, that is my preferred way of doing this. I am musical by nature, so combining praise & worship with music enables me to shift my focus from myself to God more easily. I also find it helps to engage my entire body in the process, such as by singing praise & worship songs to God while standing rather than sitting and raising my hands upward.

If you are not musically inclined, you can accomplish the same thing without music, such as by reading the Psalms aloud. For example, read Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 aloud while standing to engage your body. The Psalms provide a wonderful blend of expressing the human condition while redirecting the focus back to God.

No matter what is going on in your life, you have something to be grateful for: your relationship with God, which can never be taken away from you. You are not walking through this painful season alone: God is always with you. Whatever you are feeling and experiencing will come to an end, just as the seasons end. The one constant that never ends is your relationship with God. He is walking alongside you through this challenging time and even carrying you, when needed. Shift your focus from yourself to God, and the despair will transform into hope.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dancing, surrounded by musical notes and lightning bolts. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Overcoming Despair: Doing Your Part

forgive_youContinued from here.

While God is perfectly capable of healing your deepest pain, He isn’t going to do His part until you do yours. You cannot passively pray for God to wave a magic wand and heal your emotional pain while you make no changes whatsoever. As I shared in my last blog entry, holding your thoughts captive to Christ is a critical part of this. In addition, you need to do whatever God commands in the Bible to invite God’s healing in.

The first step is to pray. Pour out your pain to God, just as David did throughout the Psalms. Be 100% honest with God about how you are feeling: He already knows! The point isn’t to get God up to speed. God knows that you need an outlet for pouring out your emotional pain, and prayer is the best way to do it. Pouring out the poison leaves room in your soul to invite the healing in.

Ask God to show you what you need to do to make changes in your life so God will then do His part to heal you. For a large number of people, including myself, the obstacle is unforgiveness. People (including me in the past) want God to magically heal their emotional pain, but they are unwilling to do their part by forgiving those who have wronged them.

Here’s the secret: forgiveness is the antibiotic that God uses to heal your emotional pain. Like an antibiotic, this is not an instant fix. In fact, the pain might get worse when you first start focusing on forgiving the person who wronged you. However, as you take your ”antibiotics” daily by praying for the person who wronged you and replace your bitter thoughts with thanksgiving for the many ways God has blessed you, God will gradually heal the pain. In my case, my well of bitterness ran so deep that I had to do this day after day, week after week, and month after month for over a year

Whatever God tells you to do in the Bible, you need to do, even if it makes no logical sense. Don’t worry about how you feel: your feelings will eventually align with your choices. The greater the sacrifice to obey God, the greater the blessing you will eventually receive. Trust that God knows what He is doing. Do your part, and then He will do His.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with angel’s wings and a halo, saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Overcoming Despair: Holding Your Thoughts Captive to Christ

hmmmmContinued from here.

Whenever you find yourself sinking into despair, press the “pause” button in your head and analyze what you have been thinking about. What you feel is a byproduct of what you think. This is why Paul told us to hold every thought captive to Christ. In other words, you need to take ownership for your thoughts and choose to align them with God’s Word. If you will do this, you will fight your way out of despair. Although this is not easy to do, it really is that simple.

If you will let him, the Enemy is happy to push all sorts of negative thoughts on you that do not align with God’s Word. Here were some of mine: “I am fundamentally unlovable. I’m a lost cause. Nobody cares about me. I’m too broken to be healed.” Most people are passive about this and simply allow those negative thoughts to fill their heads. They then turn to alcohol, drugs, busyness, self-injury, or other negative coping strategies to briefly escape those negative feelings for a while.

You must choose whether to believe those negative thoughts or God’s Word. Whichever you choose to align your thoughts with will drive your feelings and resulting behavior. If you are not intentional about your thoughts, your default setting with be agreeing with lies, which will then become your reality. So, even though God promises you a life filled with joy and peace, you will live a life filled with despair, not because God has not made joy and peace available to you but because you are choosing to believe Satan over God.

The key to holding your thoughts captive to Christ is meditating on Scripture. Whenever you have a negative thought, replace it with Scripture. For example, if you have the thought that you are fundamentally unlovable, replace it with meditating on Jer. 31:3. If you are thinking that you are a “lost cause,” meditate on Ezek. 36:26. Whenever you believe nobody cares about you, meditate on Rom. 5:8.

God’s Word is truth, and anything in contradiction is a lie. Whenever you are sinking into the depths of despair, you are choosing to believe lies over truth. Challenge your negative thoughts by researching what God has to say about the topic. If they don’t align, change your thoughts to align with God’s Word. This will heal you.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a “thought bubble” around her saying, “Hmmmm.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Overcoming Despair

sad_puppy.pngOne of the most difficult parts of my Christian journey has been overcoming despair. The more you have suffered in your life, the easier it can be to believe that you are a “lost cause:” that there is no hope for you. That is a lie the Enemy will use to lure you out of God’s joy and peace and back into emotional bondage. God is our anchor of hope, always pulling us back to Him if we will chose to believe His truth over the Enemy’s lies.

I had many legitimate reasons to sink into despair. I was severely abused for years as a child and struggled with intense self-loathing as a result. I did not love myself, so I did not trust anyone else’s love for me. I had an eating disorder, panic attacks, and nightly nightmares. The urge to die was “background noise” in my head for decades: I longed to die and be released from the daily struggle of living with the aftermath of the abuse.

My despair grew worse after entering therapy because I finally faced the severity of the abuse I had suffered. The intensity of my emotional pain grew so strong that even the eating disorder was no longer enough to manage it, so I turned to self-injury. I would bang my head against a pillow repeatedly (I wanted a wall) as hard as I could, to the point I gave myself whiplash at times.

People who have never self-injured are often perplexed by why someone would do it. It actually makes more sense than you might think: self-injury provides immediate relief. When the waves of pain and despair threatened to drown me, self-injuring was like flipping a switch that immediately shut it all down. In the moment, I did not feel the physical pain because I was so focused on the immediate release from the emotional pain. However, after the crisis passed, the emotional pain would return on top of the physical pain from having self-injured. This was a miserable way to live.

I have not self-injured in years because God healed the emotional pain driving the behavior. Unlike self-injury, which is a temporary fix, God’s healing runs deep and removes the pain instead of temporarily masking it. As long as you have God, you have hope. You do not have to live your life miserable if you will invite God in to heal you and cooperate with Him by doing what He tells you to do.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace and a dog looking very sad. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Trusting God Will Work Your Situation for Good

blessedContinued from here.

At the end of the day, we either trust God, or we don’t. We either believe Him, or we don’t. The Enemy will attempt to complicate the issue and provide you with numerous excuses for disobeying God, but the decision really is simple: If you love God, you will do what He says to do. If you are unwilling to do what God says to do, whether the issue is a big one or a small one, it’s reflective of a lack of love for Him.

God promises that He will work out our circumstances for good if we love Him and do what He tells us to do. So, we don’t need to worry about what is going to happen. When we are alarmed by our circumstances, we need to resolve to seek God’s will and do it, trusting Him to work it all out for good in the end. We might go through a season of pain, but the joy is coming.

My biggest struggle during the season that led to losing my job was ensuring that I was “hearing” God correctly and following His will. I did not want to make big sacrifices, only to learn later that I was way off base and walking out of His will. I repeatedly prayed for God to redirect me if I was not doing what He wanted me to do. He gave me repeated reassurances in a variety of ways, including leading me to Bible verses that showed me that my position aligned with His priorities in His Word.

If you are truly trying to do God’s will but are doing something “wrong,” God is perfectly capable of redirecting you. That was Paul’s story—he thought he was doing God’s will by persecuting Christians, so Jesus redirected him in a huge way. I have seen God work in the opposite extreme as well. A friend thought she knew that God was telling her to do something that seemed ludicrous and kept praying for confirmation. God gave her confirmation through a loudspeaker at a grocery store, of all things. I was there and can testify that this did, in fact, happen.

God knows what is in your heart, and He will direct your steps if you are willing to follow where He leads you. You don’t need to be afraid to take a stand for God. He is faithful, and He will repay you double for all that you have lost:

Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.” ~ Is. 61:7

[Graphic: Cartoon of  Grace holding her hands in prayer over the word, “#Blessed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]