One of the hardest things in life to deal with is disappointment, such as when expectations go unmet or people unexpectedly “throw you under the bus” as the current aphorism goes. When approval, for whatever reason, is withdrawn, it bites deep to our core.
There is something innate in our being that seeks approval. However, where that approval is centered, and for what reasons we seek it, goes a long way in determining its validity. Paul discussed this in Galatians when he said:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
The context is very important. There are times that the approval of man is apropos. Examples include your boss for your work, a teacher for a class, and other circumstances where approval is a value assessment of the quality of what you have done. Without that give and take, there would be no improvement in the quality of what we do. I am sure that Jesus took his woodworking to his father Joseph for his approval. It was part and parcel of his growth as a carpenter.
But, that is not what Paul is talking about. He had just chastised the Galatians for how easily they abandoned the sound teaching they had received from Paul and instead, were embracing the words of those who distorted the Gospel of Christ.
While Paul was there, they sought his approval. Now another is there and they seek the approval of the new teacher, even though the teaching contradicts what they had learned. Then Paul, himself, reminds them that in chastening them and calling them back to what Jude called, “the faith once-delivered”, he is not seeking their approval. Approval seeking can, if not kept in proper context, be very destructive.
The root of this seeking behavior is the universal desire for love and acceptance and approval demonstrate you are not left on the outside. So, when we are rejected or approval is yanked from us, without even the semblance of a soft landing, it can call who we are into question.
That is where Paul’s statement is so significant. Even in proper approval seeking (e.g., classroom, work) we sometimes fail or get rejected (fired). If we do not keep the events in proper context, we can allow that moment to define us, to put us in a downward spiral of approval seeking (someone, somewhere must approve of me…) that does not end well.
Instead, we should never forget that the only approval that relates to who we are comes from God, our Father, in whom we live and move and have our being. The other approvals (or rejections) relate to what we do (a class, a job) and as long as we strive to do the best we can, acting morally and ethically proper, we can let God take the hindmost.
Do you remember Jobs friends? They hammered him with accusations about what they were sure was his moral failure. But Job knew in his heart he had done no wrong. Like Paul, Job trusted in God and he weathered the rejection of his friends. Who Job was before God, was not determined by their approval/disapproval.
If there is one thing that you get out of reading these Lenten devotions, it should be this: God loves you; he accepted you while you were still a sinner and he will never reject the heart that seeks him, no matter how hard it falls. People’s approval comes and goes, but God’s rests in the blood and cross, not your guaranteed lack of perfection.
Remember, you can do all things through him who gives you strength, including, like Job, deal with the day-to-day disapprovals of life. So, get up, brush off your skinned knees, clean the scrapes, apply the necessary bandages, and get on with it. Remember, traditionally Jesus fell three times on the way to Golgotha, but he got up each time. So should you.