We begin our quest for approval early. All you have to do is to watch a child present its latest masterpiece to his or her mom with a beaming smile and asks, “Do you like it? “ We see it see it on a first grader’s face when the first walk into the hallways of their new school – or when a recent college grad first walks into their new office – anxious to know if they will fit; wondering if the others around them will accept them? You see it lived out in the life of an adult man or woman still longing for their parent’s word of blessing or approval. You see it played out in the behavior of those that linger in the shadows of conversation, wanting to engage but feeling like an outsider. You hear it in the broken whispers of someone battered and bruised from a life of trying to fit in.
The quest for approval either drives us to be our best or can break our hearts and shatter our spirits. Some long for the approval of others with such a passion that they seem willing to do almost anything to get it. This is not unique to us or this era. It is a story that is as old as humanity. We see it played out in the story of Cain and Abel, live out in the story of King Saul and the young David, and sung out across the breadth of the Psalms. These stories and Psalms depict the joy of affirmation and the pain of rejection. The quest for acceptance and approval can compel us toward striving to be our very best, but all too often it can lead us toward a path of constant struggle.
This morning we come to this topic and live in the tension between to two passages of Scripture, John 12:42-43 and selected verses found in I Peter. Corey read the I Peter passage earlier in our service. Now listen to our verses from John. John writes; Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. Eugene Peterson offers an earthier take on the passage. Listen to how he portrays this passage in his interpretative translations, The Message; On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.
These two little verses make me stop in my tracks. They are the very picture of the quest for approval gone mad. John paints the picture of vital religious leaders who believed in Jesus, but when confronted with the reality of the price their belief would demand turned away. There is a part of me that wants to shout out loud, “How could you?” But, in the pause before I shout I realize that their story is our story in so many ways. If we are not careful, their story can become our story. In our quest for the approval of others we make choices that push us away from all that God intends for us. We want to fit in. We want people’s approval. We want to live in the right city, in the right neighborhood, wear the right clothes, drive the right car, and have the right job so that when people look at us they see success. We do not want others to doubt our hard work or our worth so we strive and strive and strive to meet some mythical standard in our undaunted quest for approval. Oh, but there are other moments when this quest for approval can lead us into paths of emotional and spiritual brokenness. When someone leaves us and breaks our heart we can find ourselves running from one broken relationship to another hoping that someone somewhere can make us feel valuable again. We life deals us a bitter blow we find ourselves consuming an ever growing array of pills or an ever increasing number of drinks to numb us from the pain, only finding more pain on the other side. If we are not very careful we discover that our measure for success and our sense of approval is based on the worldview of those around us rather than what God intends for us. If we are not careful we discover that no matter what we do, we still have that haunting feeling that somehow we have fallen short and we are on the outside looking in. If we are not careful, the quest for approval becomes a treadmill experience, running as hard as we can but never getting anywhere.
The Bible offers a very different model where we can finally find the sense of approval that we have been seeking – at the feet of the only one whose approval ultimately matters. I Peter 2:4-5 proclaims: As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Peter reminds us that Jesus faced true rejection from those he came to love and tells us that we are being built together by God. That God is up to something special in our lives. In his book Mere Christianly C.S Lewis claims a similar image to talk about God’s work in our lives. He writes; “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Mere Christianity pages 173-174) Did you hear that? You are so important to God that He is building you into a palace fit for the King. Your sense of value is not to be determined by the whims and emotions of those around you, but is instead supposed to be born in the God’s heart and love for you. You are worthy not because others have decided you are worthy – but because God has made you worthy.
Peter continues; But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Peter’s language here is remarkable. You are a chosen people – chosen by God to be the children of God. You are a royal priesthood – ones set aside by God to be His instruments and the means by which he will be revealed to others. You are a holy nation. This is about so much more than a flag and fireworks. It speaks to the reality that your very identity is born your relationship with God. You are God’s special possession. I love this. I really love this. When I hear this image I think about the things that are special to me. They are pictures and objects whose value is not defined by their purchase price but instead because of the memories they stir in my heart. These special possessions are relationally driven and that fill my heart and mind with joy as I remember the who and the where that define them. This is exactly what Peter is describing. You are a special and precious possession of God that is a constant reminder of Jesus’ grand act of love and grace. You are a special and precious possession of God that is a constant reminder of that we once lived in darkness but now live in His wonderful light. You are a special and precious possession of God that is a constant reminder that you were once a person scattered and shattered and are now His child. You are a special and precious possession of God because we were once without hope or mercy and are now defined by God’s hope and mercy. You are a special and precious possession of God! Do not let anyone tell you that you are anything less.
You do not have to chase acceptance and approval any longer because a quest that leads you anywhere short of the feet of God is doomed to fail before it begins. You may never get the blessing you are looking for from your parents, but you have it from God. You may never feel like you are a part of the team with those that you work with our play with, but you count to the one that matters most. You will not find what you are looking for in an endless stream of relationships, in the quick gulp of a pill or at the bottom of a shot glass. The only place where you will find a sustaining and life changing acceptance and approval is when you claim the powerful embrace of the God that loves you and redeems you. So stop. Stop running. Stop chasing. Stop struggling. Stop pushing. Stop striving for anything or anyone that does not lead you to God’s embrace. It is time to let go of the brokenness and to quiet the voices that diminish and demean you. God is ready to catch you when you’re falling. God is ready to be your firm foundation. God is ready for you to find the acceptance and approval you have been longing for at his feet. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. You are God’s!