The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
— Proverbs 29:25
Anyone remember being in junior high? As I think back on my 7th and 8th grade years, I have vivid memories of doing my best to fit in with the crowd. I suppose I was like every other student, but when I was that age and in those circumstances, it seemed as though everyone in my world was not only looking at me but simultaneously judging me. As a result, I did all sorts of things to blend in with my peers. You name it. I wore deck shoes with the tightly curled laces, sported Z Cavariccis, shaved lines in my hair, and even wore parachute pants from time to time. Why? Because I wanted to fit in.
I suppose I could pick on the 8th grade version of me all day long, but the reality is my desire to please my peers followed me through high school, college, and even into my career in ministry. Honestly, I still struggle with the pull to please those around me. I want to measure up and meet expectations. I want to be liked. I want to gain the approval of man.
As a matter of confession, I want you to know that I care about you, but I also care about what you think of me. It isn’t unusual for me to scour Facebook after a sermon to see if anyone paid me a compliment. I may get a dozen compliments, but if I suspect someone was critical of my message, it voids out the compliments in an instant because I worry about what that one person thinks of me.
When my kids misbehave in public, I wonder if people are judging me as a parent. If one of my kids struggles in school, I wonder what other parents are thinking about my ability to help my kids succeed. If a group of friends invites my wife and I to go on a trip with them and we have to say no because of finances, I worry they will find out and formulate an opinion of how I steward our resources. If I am out of town or my mower breaks down, I worry about how the neighbors view my yard and my ability to maintain my home. I could go on, but surely you get the confession. I am sympathetic to the tendency we all have to worry about what others will think of us.
Then, I come to a passage like Proverbs 29:25. Why is this in the scripture? I suppose it is in there because of people like me. When we fear the opinions of others, we lay a trap for ourselves. I am not 100 percent sure what all the traps are, but the biggest one is we begin to play out our lives for the wrong audience. The opinions of others shift as often as the wind. In trying to please everyone else, we eventually lose ourselves. In the end, we lose. We can’t fear man and trust God at the same time.
However, when I play to an audience of one, I can’t lose. When I trust that God is pleased with me as his son, I can live my life with confidence. When I believe that God loves me in spite of my shortcomings, it gives me what I need to continue to press on.
Are you working really hard to impress the people around you? If so, it’s exhausting, and it is good to stop. Instead, play out the story that is your life to a holy God, and trust the scripture that teaches us that then, and only then, will we be safe and at peace.