Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on anxiety. Each of our experiences with anxiety is very different based upon who we are as a person and the circumstances that we find ourselves in. We are writing about the experience of anxiety from many different angles so you may not find every article as helpful to you as another one that better describes your experience. The good news is that the Bible isn’t a one-size-fits-all guide to life, but be confident that the answers found in the Bible can help you. God does understand what you are going through, and He will guide you.
Fear of man. That’s me. I grew up in a home where mom and dad did not parent well. My brother, sister, and I experienced little affirmation of worth, almost no approval of good behavior, but plenty of disapproval for bad behavior. I adapted to this childhood experience by seeking the approval of others to rationalize self-worth. I desperately wanted my mother’s approval. What I feared the most from anyone, especially those that I valued the most, was disapproval. I worked hard to please people, to make them laugh, to make them like me. This fear of disapproval and desire for approval carried over into my early adult years. It became my prison.
I pastored my first church when I was attending seminary. I had a year left to graduate. A small church called me as their pastor. They knew I was young and that this was my first pastorate. They were patient with me when I make mistakes and encouraging to me as I developed skills as a preacher and teacher. This church, with God leading, made me a success as a pastor. But my experience with pastoring was different. I could not accept my success. I had a hard time believing I was doing anything right. Even with the church affirming that I was doing well I did not believe I was. I sought approval from seminary professors, other pastors, directors of missions, and any authority figure I valued as important. In these early years of pastoring, I was miserable.
The Deceptive Promise of the Fear of Man
What I wanted the most was self-worth and the feeling of importance. What I feared the most was people’s disapproval. If anyone thought ill of me, I was devastated. And when anyone thought well of me I did not believe it. I didn’t trust their approval. I was trapped in the fear of losing or not obtaining something I desired. Self-worth. Father God rescued me for this trap. He was a parent that I could always trust. He was present, faithful, and helping.
God never stopped working with me and helping me. Early on, I was not aware of much of that divine help. He finally got my attention while in another pastor role at a different church. I was working through Henry Blackaby’s course on Experiencing God and I was beginning to understand God’s love. My Heavenly Father allowed many things to occur in my life, some good and some bad, but He never stopped loving me. In fact, everything He allowed for me He did so because he loved me. The same is true for all of us as we wait for Christ’s return. We live in a lost world. Our Heavenly Father allows this on purpose, and good and bad things happen. He uses these experiences to teach us about Himself, to reveal our sin, and to mature our faith. His goal is that we come into His glory without the blemish of sin.
The Best Answer to the Fear of Man
God used this truth to heal me and lead me to the transfer of my fear of man (fear of other’s opinions, fear of not measuring up), to the fear of God, who was sufficient for all my self-esteem needs. God has designed us to fear something, to place supreme value on something that we believe we need. This reveals what our heart loves most and what we fear most. (Matt. 6:21). Equally true: We obey the one we fear. We fear God or we fear some surrogate god(s). Surrogate gods can be people whom we seek approval and fear disapproval. Wanting others’ approval is normal but desiring approval so much that it enslaves us is idolatry.
We live in a lost, broken world because of human sin. We will always struggle with things that try us and push us to some resolution. That resolution need not become our prison. God is faithful and can always be trusted. What’s more, he will not hand us anything too much for us. He is present and faithful to help us. Not only that, he will show us the way out of such situations (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Scriptures give guidance to all life situations. As God leads us to Biblical truth, we must choose to act on what we know to be true. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Let go of the fear of what others think. Believe God’s word and act on it. As you do you have God’s approval.