|My prayer chair in my backyard by the river|
Many years ago, while praying, God told me "John, what others think of you is mostly not important. But what you think of others is very important." And: "What I [God] think of you and others is most important."
Here are three ideas:
- What others think of you is mostly not important.
- What is most important is what God thinks of you and others.
- What you think of others is very important.
Mostly, this is true. When a Jesus-follower is secure in #s 1 and 2, and they love you and are not trying to control of change you, then what they think of you is important. For example, what my wife Linda thinks of me is very important. I pay attention to this. I have some others in my life like this.
My life has too much gone up and down, like a thermometer, reacting to how other people view me. At times I have thought of myself as a chameleon that changes colors depending on others' perceptions of me.
I have been too concerned about being liked and approved by others. I wore clothes that would, hopefully, win others' affirmation; I spoke words that people wanted to hear; and I made decisions that were inauthentic, not true to who I was. My 'yes' was 'no' and my 'no' was 'yes.' I was not secure in my own identity. Out of such insecurity comes the need to please others and be pleasing to them.
Part of my sanctification as a Jesus-follower has been growing out of this insecurity. (Sanctification = ongoing growth in holiness; ongoing "set-apartness" for the Kingdom.) I'm not fully secure yet. But now Linda and I often talk about how we both, as best we can, speak the truth in love to others who seek our counsel even if they do not want to hear it, even if as a result they reject us, and even if they publicly crucify us.
Now I know that unless I am free from the insecurity of people-pleasing I will never be able to love them as I should. Only a free person can really love others. To be free is to have no emotional "strings" that others can pull, to have no "hot buttons" that others can push. We see this fully demonstrated on the cross as Christ said, amazingly in an act of 100% freedom, "Father, forgive them... for they don't know what they do."
At precisely that point we see the "true colors" of Jesus, who was not manipulated by some need to be liked by others. This allowed Him to freely love those who didn't love Him.
How can we grow in such holiness? I have found this freedom as a God-product of my prayer life. As I dwell with Him and hear from Him He will tell me, as needed, that I am secure in His love. The experiential being-loved-by-God is the antidote that heals the chameleon's heart.
What is most important is what God thinks of you and others.
The primordial truth of life is: God loves you. This is elemental and originary. From this everything else in life is derived.
Paling in comparison is: What other people think of you. When that idea becomes axiomatic, then people-pleasing follows inexorably. But from life's true, primordial state of affairs (viz., God loves you) comes security and authenticity. You are inwardly secure in His unfailing love; you are free from trying to be someone or something you are not for the sake of other people's approval. Only God's approval, only His "well done," now matters. You live every moment so as to please your Maker, with all of your life undergirded by His words "I love you."
My experience is that when people have an abiding prayer life, God communicates His love to them. When you abide in Christ like a branch connected to a Vine, expect to hear and experience God's love, since God is love.
This much is certain: God loves you. It will never get any better than this.
Further, God loves more people than just you. God so loved... the world! God loves the few people who think little of you. God loves the few that think much of you. And God loves the overwhelming masses of people who never think of you at all.
Think on this. 99.99999% (ad infinitum) of this world's people do not even know you exist. If the world population is 7,155,986,000 and growing, and you have 500 Facebook "friends," then for all practical purposes you are "friends" with 0% of all existing persons. (Divide 500 by 7.155 billion here and get 0%.
I think it is important to understand this. Think of this while reading Psalm 8:4 -What is man that you are mindful of him?
Though this world knows you not, God does. God is mindful of you. He is also mindful of all others. God has a spacious mental capacity. And, because God is in His essence love, He loves you and the entire world past, present, and future.
God even loves your enemies, few though they be. We even read that while we were God's enemies, God still loved us. (Romans 5) This fact will be important when we look at...
What you think of others is very important.
#3 is not possible without 1 and 2. The more you are concerned about what others think of you, combined with an experiential lack of God's love for you, the less you will be free to love others as Christ did. The person who tries to please others to gain approval would not do so were they secure in God's love for them.
Only a free person can selflessly love others. Love is selfless and other-centered. More strongly, only a free person can love even their enemies. At its highest this includes feeling. Com-passion is "to feel with others." Real love is feeling + action, expressed outwardly. Jesus looked on the people with compassion, as sheep without a shepherd.
This is important because God so loves the world, and the world includes more people than you. If God loves others, then we are to do no less. It is not a God-thing to think little or not at all towards those in your circle of life.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as you do your own self.
That is the heart of true Christianity.