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I have often confessed to being a people pleaser. I still remember the day when I made a conscious decision to be liked by other people. I was standing inside the doors to the high school I attended. I felt rejected by a group to which I wanted to belong. There was a very popular guy in my class, who worked at being friendly and funny. I still remember saying to myself, “I’m going to be like Dan.”
After making the decision to be like my popular friend, I still wasn’t willing to pay the price to be a popular member of that group. High school was lonely and lousy for me.
When I met Jesus after graduation from high school, I found that people accepted me and even seemed to like me. I was appreciated both at church and with a Christian group in college. These friendships changed how I felt about life. Life stopped being lonely and lousy and became rich and meaningful.
What I experienced from Jesus and his church was the fulfillment of a longing to belong. I found a home for my soul and it felt great. My prayer for every church is that they provide what I experienced for every person. May every person feel accepted, appreciated and valued as precious in every church.
Acceptance, approval and appreciation are all tremendous gifts that can often be found in a church setting. However, God has more for his children than just being accepted by the crowd.
As we have learned from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, God wants to transform our inside condition. Without a transformed inside condition, what I am about to describe will more than likely take place in a person’s life.
People initially experience the kind of love and acceptance I have been writing about when they start attending church. Then, something negative happens. In fact, if you stay around church long enough, something negative is bound to happen. If your entire relationship with Jesus and the church is no deeper than the friends who build your self-esteem, you will suffer greatly at this time.
There is a long list of people in every church who seemed to start off well. Something took place that caused them to no longer feel accepted, approved and appreciated. What happened? They left church, often to never return again.
My experience is that everyone will occasionally face painful experiences in church. Churches are made up of people and people will fail us at one time or another.
While church is a valuable home for the soul, we need more. We need an intimate relationship with Jesus. One of the things that I like about Coach Jake Taylor’s preaching is that he gives us practical exercises to do. He knows that if we are not going deeper in our relationship with Jesus, then we will fall prey to the problems I have been writing about.
What is needed? We need to cultivate our inner life with Christ. If we don’t, we run the risk of adding our names to the list of people who tried church and left after a while over hurt feeling or lack of attention.
Jesus devoted 18 verses in the Sermon on the Mount to encourage people to develop their inner life. He began his discussion with these words, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6.1).
Jesus seems to be saying that if all we want is attention from other people, he will let us achieve that. However, we can’t pursue attention-seeking Christianity and have a close personal relationship with him at the same time.
Please note, Jesus is not being harsh when he says we will have no reward from our Father in heaven. He is trying to protect us from investing all our energy in obtaining approval from the wrong crowd. He wants us to invest in our relationship with him.
Jesus gave three illustrations over 18 verses to make his point clear. Remember, these are illustrations and not new, stricter laws. The theme has not changed from chapter 5. God is giving us both the opportunity and the calling to live a Jesus-kind-of-life.
First Illustration – Giving
The first illustration has to do with giving.
Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6.38).
God both needs and wants givers. He needs givers, because he has chosen to bless the world through his own followers. The way that God gives to those in need is to move his resources though the hands of his children.
God also wants givers, because he knows what giving does to our inside condition. There is an immense inner freedom and joy that comes from giving our time, talents, energy and material possessions.
Friday night, I sat in my folding chair on the parking lot of Maywood Baptist Church. Donnie Mote and friends shared their music ministry in a time of fun and fellowship. I haven’t taken a survey, but I will state my firm opinion that the people who were most blessed by the event were those who gave their energy to help it happen.
Givers become receivers – not always in a material sense. They receive an inside condition that is like the greatest Giver of All, God.
However, Jesus cautions givers with these words. He said, “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6.2).
What is Jesus’ caution about giving? It is simple. If we are giving so that other people will accept, approve, and applaud us, we run the risk of the day when approval and acceptance doesn’t come. What will happen then, especially if we haven’t cultivated an inner life that lives in a real and personal relationship with Jesus?
Jesus presented an alternative way of giving that is impossible to literally fulfill. He said, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6.3-4).
There is literally no way possible to give with one hand in such a way that the other doesn’t know what is taking place. There is, however, a way to be so caught up in the life of Jesus that we give with such a freedom that we are not conscious of giving at all. That is the kind of giving that Jesus wants us to experience.
How do we become Jesus-kind-of-givers?
As a life-long people pleaser, how can I advise you to best follow Jesus’ direction in this passage? Here is how I have approached giving and doing it from the inside out.
I think we all have to start where we are. If you, like me, recognize your need for approval and acceptance, you can join me in surrendering this to the Lord. Before I preach, I confess my need for approval to God and ask him to make Jesus bigger than my need.
I also strive to give not out of a desire for acceptance and approval, but out of a love for Jesus. Again, I need God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit for this to work out right.
My rule of thumb in giving is to not give out of obligation or guilt. Neither do I want to give out of a need to please other people, who are asking for my help. I want to give as the Holy Spirit prompts me. Please know, I probably fail as often at this as I succeed.
I believe the prayer that Jesus gives us in the next section of the Sermon on the Mount will greatly enhance our inner life with him. Prayer, along with an understanding of our need for attention, should draw us to a better place concerning giving.
The goal is to have a life that is activated, captivated, and motivated by our relationship with Jesus. As we mature in this inner life, it will show in what we do with all aspects of life, including giving.
Dear Jesus, thank you for giving us new life. Thank you for entrusting to us such valuable services as acceptance, approval and applause of others. Please help us to know how to balance the applause of our friends with that of living your kind of life. Please draw us deeper into your life, we pray.