This week’s chapters deal with two more barriers that can prevent us from being willing to surrender everything to God: people-pleasing and entitlement.
Jennie Allen writes, “I loved God, but I loved un-invisible people more…Was I the only one torn like this? In love with God and yet eagerly serving everybody but him?”
She is certainly not the only one. People-pleasing has been a long-term issue for me. It was a skill I learned at an early age, as a means of gaining some degree of control (or at least the feeling of control). It is also an incredibly stressful way to live because people have conflicting demands and pleasing everyone is impossible- but believe me, I tried.
Over the last few years I have definitely improved in this area. As I have grown in confidence and in security in Christ, I have learned to say no and begun to say what I think, rather than only what I think people want to hear, and the results have been better than I expected.
I am not completely free of the people-pleasing disease though, as I realised a few weeks ago. God had asked me to do something for someone else and the first time I refused. I obeyed the second time, but as I was reflecting on it I realised I would have done it the first time if the person had asked me.
That hit me hard.
I would have done it if a person (who I don’t even know very well) had asked me, but I would not do it when God (who I claim to love and serve) asked me.
When it’s put like that it sounds ridiculous. As ridiculous as the people of Israel constantly chasing other gods and worshipping idols instead of being faithful to God. God sent a prophet, Hosea, to illustrate exactly how painful that unfaithfulness is to him. Israel’s unfaithfulness, my unfaithfulness (because people-pleasing is idolatry), is like a woman selling herself as a prostitute to other men when she has a husband who is completely loving and faithful.
And yet sometimes people’s opinions can seem so important. Jennie Allen writes, “People had to shrink for me before God had me completely… but how?”
Hosea provides the answer. It is not so much about our view of people becoming smaller, but about our view of God becoming bigger because, despite our unfaithfulness, we have a God who pursues us, who comes after us to bring us back to him.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14)
We might expect God to come to judge us but instead he comes to allure us. I feel that this is what God is doing, even in the fact that I am reading this book and focusing on the word “surrender” this year, and in the desire I have to deal with these barriers so that I can put him first and truly surrender to him.
The other barrier in these chapters- entitlement- is similar in that it comes from focusing on the seen rather than the unseen. Our hearts become entitled when we feel that we deserve certain things- a nice house, a husband, children, material security… These things are blessings from God, but if we are not careful they can begin to feel like rights. They can become the focus of our lives and we can start seeking God’s gifts, rather than God himself.
It can be easy to get caught up in the standards and expectations of the world around us, to feel that we should have the things that everyone else does, but Jennie reminds us that following Jesus is meant to be costly and that “God often seems unconcerned with helping us maintain sane, simple lives where everything fits and works.”
Just as the rich young ruler was challenged to surrender the thing that mattered most to him in order to follow Jesus, we are asked to do the same. God wants to be first in our hearts- to matter more to us than people’s opinions or material security.
And it begins by getting the right focus, following Paul’s example: “We fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
This verse from the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” sums up for me the challenge of these chapters:
“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.”