There are few subjects that I wish I were a poorer student in. From a very young age I have always wanted to pursue my goals wholeheartedly – to win each contest, ace every exam and score the winning run. This unabashed pursuit of zealous results is likely why I was entrenched in alcohol and drug use for so long and on such an extreme level. My thoughts back then were, “Why drink one beer when there is a whole twelve pack available? Why spend a night in one club when there are five within two blocks of here? Why settle for moderation when excess gives a fuller expression to who I am? Pity the moderate – give it your all!” Though this thinking in me proved to be self-destructive over the course of a decade, I was certainly consistent with my desire to throw myself completely into whatever I put my hand to. I didn’t want a passing grade…I wanted to maximize every moment and all that I did by slaying whatever was contained therein. But when it comes to the course on “the fear of man” I really wish I had learned to happily flunk and walk out of the classroom.
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” – Proverbs 29:25
You want people to like you, bottom line. The person who declares regularly with a tone of abrasiveness, “I don’t care what people think of me!”, once cared deeply what people think, and he or she also craved affirmation from others. When they did not get it, they developed a callous on that part of their heart and decided that it was easier to choose to not want others’ approval than it was to want it, only to ultimately be refused. When someone comments on your appearance in a less than flattering way, what is your reaction? For those of you who use Facebook, has there been a moment when you wanted to send a friend request to someone but could not click the Send button because you were paralyzed with the fear of their not accepting your request? That’s the fear of man at work. Single people sometimes remain that way longer than they have to because it is easier to not have a date than to seek one and be declined – again, the fear of man (or woman). Pastors, we are among the worst of living with the fear of man because we have scores of people who assume they know how we should fulfill our calling and, if you are not wise, you will expend copious amounts of time and energy trying to keep everyone happy with you and your leadership. I spent about 3-4 years in ministry trying to manage people’s opinions of me. I became defensive, defeated and disillusioned about people and ministry. God allowed me to live under the cloud of the fear of man until my desire to be free to follow Him grew stronger than my desire to have people pleased with me. The fear of man started as a little seed in my heart that I failed to pluck up immediately. Soon it grew into a tangled nest of thorns that eventually encompassed my entire heart. Not only could I not breathe in those years, I was not living. The fear of man had made me a slave and I could not rest until I was assured that everyone understood me, appreciated me, liked me and respected me. That day never came. Not only did they not like me back then…I didn’t like myself much.
The remedy to the fear of man is a robust love for God. The Apostle John boldly declared that love evicts fear (1st John 4:18). The Proverb I mentioned above says that “whoever trusts in the Lord is safe”. When I encourage you to utilize your energies to learn to more deeply love the Lord instead of growing in fear of people, I am not primarily giving you theological advice. I am counseling you relationally concernign your interaction with God and people. When people become too big to you, God becomes too small for you. Pursue development in what it means to love God and He will ultimately shrink your fear of displeasing people. God says you are fearfully and wonderfully created, but man says that you need to be a size 6 (if you are a woman), be 6 feet tall, have a flat stomach and full head of hair (if you are a man), and have no blemishes on your face if you are a teenager. If you are not careful you will let the fear of man motivate you, and you will be regularly discouraged about your appearance. Pursuing a growing love for God results in an eventual contentment in how He sovereignly developed your temperament and personality; yet, if you fear the disapproval of people, you may cave in to the pressure that insists you be outgoing, witty and the life of the party. God loves and enjoys introverts to the same degree that He loves and enjoys extroverts. The fear of man demands that you appear successful in order to garner admiration from others, but love for God reassures you that godliness with contentment is its own success. The fear of man always insinuates that your enough is never enough, but the a healthy love for God offers you a peace in knowing that God is never impressed with our striving – He is pleased when we rest in the work of His Son. Loving God results in a rest while fearing man results in a wrestling match we never win.
Your life – short as it is compared to eternity – is an incredible gift from God. He will not allow anyone else to live it out on your behalf. He really loves His unique design that He has for you. The fear of man will snatch that precious design away and replace with an inferior substitute. The fear of man actually serves as a counterfeit god in our lives. What do you say that we dethrone that little god? Employ courage today and decide that you will join a host of us who have chosen to purposefully flunk the fear-of-man class. Nobody has ever aced that course and lived happily. That particular class is always held in a prison cell, and that is not where God has designed you to be. The fear of man incarcerate you there for as long as you allow it to do so. Loving a trustworthy God will allow you to push back from the pupil’s desk, walk out and meet the smiling Son of God in the hallway who will joyfully say to you, “Do you want to know how much I love you?”
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