My whole life I’ve sought approval, intentionally and unintentionally. I often place things in two categories: Failure or Accomplishment. My efforts in school have had a great impact on this mindset. I’ve always been determined to do my very best, and the reward of an “A” fell into the Accomplishment category. I based my success on my grades and teachers’ comments. I raised a high standard for myself, and I usually accomplished my goals. All of this sounds harmless enough, but I stressed out…A LOT. I always did my best and the results were usually high marks, but I still worried and stressed. You would think I would learn that stress was not necessary, but I just got into a routine of “how to do school work” (involving much stress) which transferred to undergraduate and graduate studies. I always wanted approval to know that I was doing everything right. It seemed like teachers and colleagues had more confidence in me than I did.
Because most of my life has been immersed in school, the idea of approval permeated other areas of my life: family, friendships, relationships, everyday tasks, etc. Any criticism from these and other areas I placed in the Failure category. If friendships or other relationships started to falter, I tried to make them work. I HAD to make them work. Failure (as I saw it) was not an option. You can probably guess that this didn’t work out too well for me. When God told me to make a big change in my life, I obeyed, but I still feared man. “How would my friends react?” “People won’t believe me.” “They’re bringing accusations against me.” “My family doesn’t support me.” My focus has been on what people think rather than what God has asked me to do. Even in writing this blog, it becomes such a temptation to want tangible feedback. But God didn’t want me to start this blog for people’s approval, but rather to share His truth. So this is what I will share now.
Acts 3:1-4:31 is a profound example of what God requires from me and every other Christian who seeks to follow His will. I include the passage in full because sometimes a summary does not do Scripture justice:
3 “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. 2 And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. 4 But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, ‘Look at us!’ 5 And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’ 7 And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8 With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 10 and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, ‘Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. 17 And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.’
4 As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, ‘By what power, or in what name, have you done this?’ 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.’
13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, ‘What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.’ 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.
23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,
‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’
27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.’ 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Bold words added for emphasis)
John and Peter performed the amazing miracle of healing a man lame from birth, but they don’t take the credit. Instead, they use this moment as an opportunity to share Christ with all the Jews who are in awe of them. How many of us would have dismissed the adoration of these people? These Apostles teach us that Christ gets all the glory all of the time. Then the religious leaders hear about what’s happened. That’s right, the religious leaders are upset that these men are teaching about Jesus (keep in mind that the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection). Even though John and Peter were put in prison, about five thousand men had already believed their testimony about Christ. The following day a number of the religious “big wigs” were present to question these followers of Jesus, and again, Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit, shared the message of Christ (just like Jesus said they would; Matt. 10:16-20). What is notable to me is that this Council, which is supposed to represent the experts of the Scriptures, cannot deny that a miracle has taken place, but they don’t want people following Jesus, the true Messiah. They tell John and Peter to no longer teach about Jesus. These Apostles could have listened to these authoritative men, but instead, they appealed to a higher authority, God Himself. They not only stood firm in their beliefs and convictions, but they questioned the Council’s own godliness, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19). I think another way of conveying the same message is “If you think we should accept your approval above God’s, you be the judge.” These men knew what they were called to do. They knew the cost and chose Christ. They stood their ground with God backing them up, and the Council could do nothing to them because all of the people were glorifying God. If they turned against these Apostles, the people would turn on them. After all these things, the Apostles returned to their companions, and they gave all the glory to God. And when they asked the Lord for confidence and boldness, He gave it to them.
What a powerful story! It’s one that I try to remember every time I get discouraged about people’s attitudes and responses when I know I’m following God’s will. I try to remember it when I begin to doubt myself and focus on negative things. Living the Christian life is not about me or about other people’s approval. It’s about God. If I lose sight of that, it’s all for naught.
Acts 5:12-42 is another great passage about denying approval (right after God strikes down Ananias and Sapphira…yikes!):
“12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.
17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 ‘Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.’ 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, ‘We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.’ 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, ‘The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’ 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.’
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, ‘Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.’
40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Bold print added for emphasis)
This story is very similar to the previous one, but this time it involves all of the Apostles. They’re performing miracles and teaching about Jesus as before, but this time we get some new information. The high priest and the Sadducees act out of jealousy. These followers of Jesus are doing what they cannot. More people are following the Apostles each day. So once again, they are thrown in jail. But God releases them with the command to continue teaching in the temple. And once again, while the Apostles could have acted out of fear of men, they feared God more and began to teach. The entire Council convenes to question these men and remind them that they have already been told to no longer teach in the name of Jesus. All of the Apostles respond: “We must obey God rather than men.” This could also read, “We seek God’s approval rather than man’s approval.” The Apostles then tell them about Christ…again. Do you realize how many chances these religious men have had to repent? How much patience God has with them? Even before Jesus’ death they are given plenty of opportunities to follow Christ. They’ve seen an abundance of miracles that demonstrate God’s power, and still they don’t give heed to the truth. While the Council is ready to kill the Apostles, Gamaliel, a Pharisee, appeases them with some wise advice. (It is important to note that this is the same Gamaliel who is believed to be Paul’s former teacher; Acts 22:3). He understands from history and reminds the Council that if plans are from men, they fail. But if they are from God, they cannot be overthrown. Even more seriously, those who fight against godly men may be found fighting against God Himself. While the high priest and the Sadducees only seem to adhere to their own authority, Gamaliel demonstrates his piety by not wanting to go against God’s will. In the end, the Apostles rejoice in their suffering for Christ’s sake and continue to do what the religious authorities told them not to.
I read these stories, and I have to ask myself a few questions: Am I as committed to Christ as the Apostles were? Am I willing to deny the approval of men when God tells me to do something? Instead of worrying, do I trust the Lord to give me the right words to say when I stand accused? Am I humble enough to give all the glory to God? Insert your own questions here.
My hope should be in Christ. My confidence should be in Him. My trust should be in the Lord who gives boldness when His children ask for it.
In Psalm 27, David’s beautiful writing shares these same thoughts:
“:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
2 When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though a host encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.
4 One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.
5 For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock.
6 And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me,
And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,
And be gracious to me and answer me.
8 When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You,
‘Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.’
9 Do not hide Your face from me,
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not abandon me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a level path
Because of my foes.
12 Do not deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries,
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
13 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.”
All Scriptural passages are from the NASB.
© Lauren Heiligenthal