I am a recovering people-pleaser. I don't find it an easy habit to shake. My natural instinct is to seek people's approval, avoid conflict and say "yes" when I really mean "no".
Just yesterday I found myself saying "yes" to my six-year-old son when he pleaded with me to buy him a large chocolate cookie when out shopping – even though I really wanted to say "no" as he'd had too much sugar already that day.
It's a very trivial example, but in that moment I was pleasing my son and not serving him. It's a subtle but important distinction. When we serve people we do what is best for them, even if they might not like it, but when we please people we do what we think will improve our standing in their eyes.
The Bible warns us against the dangers of people-pleasing.
In the Message version of Luke 6:26 we are told: "There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests – look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular."
People-pleasing is often rife in churches. A young church leader I knew burned out because she struggled to say "no" to her superiors or congregational members. She ended up doing far too much and as a consequence her health suffered.
Last Sunday my current church leader announced he would be changing the regular service times. He knew it wouldn't be a popular decision with some members of the congregation. He admitted that it was hard making a decision that he knew would upset some people. But ultimately he knew he needed to push through that discomfort because he felt that making the changes was what God was calling him to do.
The old adage is true – you will never please all of the people all of the time – and if you try, you will inevitably suffer in the process.
In Galatians 1:10 Paul examines his motivation: "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."
What can you do to move from being a people-pleaser to being a God-pleaser? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Seek God first
Taking time to know God's purposes and plans for you will help you to keep focused on what is important. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you day by day and if you have a decision to make seek God's answer first before you ask the opinions of others.
2. Be honest with yourself
Spend time reflecting on your own thoughts, feelings and opinions especially if an action or decision doesn't sit easily with you. Being clear on your own values and priorities can help you to make authentic choices and decisions rather than being swayed by others.
Check yourself if you use the word "should". This indicates that you think you need to do something that you don't really want to do. Ask yourself why this is and whom you are trying to please.
3. Take time to answer requests
If you have a tendency to say "no" or "yes" and then regret it, try delaying your answers. If someone asks you to do something, let them know that you'll get back to them and give them an idea as to when. Then spend time praying and reflecting on the request before giving your response. Avoid being swayed by pleading or negative reactions.
4. Check your motivation
Ask yourself if you are serving or pleasing. Are you being true to yourself and what you think God is asking of you or are you looking to be liked, respected and included?
5. Live from the inside out not the outside in
Be authentic and true to the person that God has created you to be. He is not looking for a clone of those around you, but for you to be you.
Sarah Abell is the founder of nakedhedehogs.com and is passionate about helping people to live, love and lead authentically. If you want to find out how authentic your relationships are, you can take a free test on her website.