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  • Writer's pictureKrista Bjork

The People Pleaser’s Psalm

*Diane sat in my office and described to me all the issues she was having with her teenaged daughter.  As we talked about what she should do, she was quick to admit that she struggled to parent her daughter because “I’m afraid she won’t like me.”  *Laura couldn’t be honest with her husband because “He always gets so angry at me when I tell him how I feel.” *Carli, a twenty-something living at home, struggles in her relationship with her Mom because “she makes me feel guilty when I don’t do things her way.”  All of these represent what we might call “people-pleasing.” These people know what they need to do, what ultimately may even be the most loving thing to do, but they don’t do it because they fear the responses of other people. The Bible calls this fear of man, a descriptor I love because it helps me define it as more than a personality type or coping mechanism, but as a way of living in relationships that can often be opposed to fear of the Lord.  

I’ve loved Psalm 139 for as long as I can remember. It has reminded me when I feel lonely that God is with me. Often in ministry, I have thought of it as “go-to” Scripture passage to encourage people-pleasers with. It speaks of how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and how God had a purpose for us before we were even born. It reminds us that we have value and that it is in God rather than the opinions, behaviors, and attitudes of others.

But then there’s this weird part. Right in the middle, David goes on a rant about his enemies:

O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers! They blaspheme you; your enemies misuse your name. O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you? Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for your enemies are my enemies.

For me, it’s always felt out of place to the rest of the Psalm with all its warm fuzzies, except for the transition to the last verse:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

He started out in verse 1 stating, “You have searched me Lord, and you know me.” He has all these amazing thoughts about God, then this diversion to frustration about his enemies, and ends by asking God to search him. I’ve always considered this conclusion as David examining whether his heart was right or not- should I hate them? Should your enemies be my enemies, Lord? And I do think that’s part of it.

But as I hone in more, I ponder this idea of God searching us. I wonder if David has that rant in the middle because he, too, was struggling with fear of man? We know he has these issues with Saul; sometimes his friend, sometimes his enemy. He deals with a variety of military, political, and family situations. I mean, his dad doesn’t even think about him when Samuel comes to anoint the next king. Carry that all the way to rebellious sons trying to usurp his throne. Without doubt, his relationships were imperfect.

When we are caught in people-pleasing, aren’t we letting others search us? Are we saying, “Search me, teenager! Tell me how to parent. I’ll do what makes you feel happy with me, even if it’s not really what is best for you.” “Search me, oh husband. Tell me my emotions aren’t okay for me to feel. I know you get so angry. You’ve pointed out what in me offends you, so I won’t hold you responsible for your anger or encourage you in how to give it to the Lord, I’ll just change me.” “Search me, Mom. I know I should grow up and be an adult, but you obviously know so much better than I ever will how I should live, so rather than being accountable to God, I’ll just keep being accountable only to you. Honoring you honors Him, right? So He’ll be okay with that. And it’s totally okay that every time you tell me how right you are you remind me how wrong I am- guilt is such a great motivator for me!” Obviously, I exaggerate, but you see my point.

David asks GOD to be the one who searches him, who shows him where his life is offensive or not lining up with His statutes, the one who leads him. When we give in to fear of man, we are giving control of our hearts and actions to others. We may tell ourselves we are loving them well, but are we really, or are we just avoiding conflict? By avoiding conflict, are we avoiding living in real, intimate, God-honoring relationships?

I will grant you, speaking the truth IN LOVE (Eph. 4:25) is hard. It takes wisdom and grace. It takes courage to speak the truth, and it takes humility and removing of the plank from my own eye to speak it in love. Seeing that plank in order to remove it absolutely requires an examination of my own offensive ways. But the only One qualified for such examination is the One who alone is without sin; the One who alone knows our hearts.

Fellow people-pleasers, let us commit not only to the warm-fuzzy, feel-good parts of this Psalm, but to the prayer David prayed:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

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