A funny friend of mine tells a story about his resourceful second-grade teacher. Early in the school year he was causing trouble acting out, trying to win the approval of the other kids. After several failed attempts to get him to settle down, the teacher said, “I know what to do with you.” She cut out the front of a refrigerator box and put it over him and his desk. He was only able to see the teacher and couldn’t get the attention of the other kids. It worked like a charm so he remained that way for the whole school year. This good teacher knew that she had things to teach him that he needed to learn. She cared enough to force him to pay attention.
God too has good things to teach us. What distracts you from the Teacher’s voice? Are you having trouble getting your eyes off what the other kids are doing, or accomplishing? Are you focusing on what the other kids are thinking of you?
I confess that I’m a recovering approval junky. Scripture tells us that we get in trouble when we worry too much about what others think.
Nevertheless, even many of the leading men believed in Him [as Savior and Messiah], but because of the Pharisees they would not confess it, for fear that [if they acknowledged Him openly] they would be put out of the synagogue (excommunicated); for they loved the approval of men more than the approval of God.
John 12:42-43 (Amplified), emphasis mine
I’ve discovered that being an approval seeker pops out in lots of ugly ways. It can make me a hesitant witness. Will they think I’m weird? It can cause me to focus too much on myself at the expense of others. Do I look ok? Am I smart enough? It can become an obsession with my children. Am I a good enough mom for my kids? Are they going to the right school? Are they learning enough? And if I’m really being honest…Are they going to accomplish enough to make me look good? UGH! In my wrong-headed thinking, anxiety leads me to struggle for control and I say things to my kids that add anxiety to their lives. It’s a horrible pattern. When I am focused on God, I trust, pray and get out of His way. But when I lose my eternal focus and model a pattern of anxiety and distrust, I not only stress them out, but I also miss the chance to encourage my children to trust Him themselves.
Are you having trouble staying focused on the Teacher? Are you using something to drown out the Teacher’s voice? Busyness? The illusion of control; attempting to manipulate others? Shopping? Alcohol? Sexual excitement? Other dangerous life choices?
Like the good schoolteacher, He has good things to teach us. Is He trying to get you to look at Him now? Maybe He already has you in a refrigerator box. Are you in a tough relationship? A problem job? A health challenge? Financial trouble? A difficult marriage? Have a prodigal child? Is the Good Teacher trying to get your attention? He cares about our happiness and our comfort, but He cares more about our character. He calls us to thank Him in the midst of our struggles:
Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours]. Philippians 4:6-7
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Unlike a schoolteacher, who only had a box, this Teacher can control all things for our good with the goal of making us more like His perfect son.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…
He wants us to live out of the box, in freedom. He sent His Son to give us “life to the full”. The Truth sets us free. Unchecked desire to gain the approval of others can be a habitual sin that keeps us from being free.
So Jesus was saying to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word [continually obeying My teachings and living in accordance with them, then] you are truly My disciples. And you will know the truth [regarding salvation], and the truth will set you free [from the penalty of sin].” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been enslaved to anyone. What do You mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?” Jesus answered, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, everyone who practices sin habitually is a slave of sin. Now the slave does not remain in a household forever; the son [of the master] does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, then you are unquestionably free. John 8:31-36
The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. John 10:10
For me, paying attention to the Good Teacher means studying His Word, casting my cares on Him, remembering that He cares for me, confessing my sins and giving thanks with details, and trusting that He hears my prayers, just like He promises.
You are holy and good. Your mercies are new every day. You care more about our character than our comforts. You promise to finish the work you have started in us and in our children. Your ways are higher than our ways. Your thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Reign over us and our families. Forgive us again for trying desperately to hold on to certain things, certain people, certain hopes, foolishly thinking that we know what is best. Forgive us for seeking the approval of others more than we seek your will. Help us not to care about what others think of us. Use us for your kingdom however you want, even if it makes us uncomfortable and brings persecution. Thank you that You hear our prayers and do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ask or imagine in our lives and in the lives of those for whom we pray. Help us to stay focused on you enough to trust, pray and get out of your way.
In Jesus’ Holy and Powerful Name, Amen.