Side Effects of Approval?

Pastor James
October 5, 2023

Who doesn’t want approval? At times, we feel uncertain about ourselves and our abilities. In such moments, we feel so alone, and the world feels so dark and cold. We find ourselves on the brink of giving up. Then, comes along someone, who gives us unexpected, heartfelt words of approbation. Those precious words have the power to break through the dark clouds of self-doubt and lift us out of the mire of discouragement. You must have seen those contestants on shows like AGT, who cannot contain their overwhelming joy as the audience gives their approval with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

But approval may be a rose with thorns. It feels great. But does that sense of elation last? Sadly, a greater sense of insecurity follows, even paralysis. How so?

Think about winning a contest. It feels great to win. All the hard work you have put in finally paid off! But every win casts a long shadow of expectation. Competing as an underdog is much easier than as a former champion, feeling the weight of everyone’s expectations. So many actors’/actresses’ careers were ruined after winning an Oscar.

This is why the experts tell parents to praise their children, not for their achievements but for their efforts. When children hear their parents praise them for getting good grades or winning a competition, they translate that into, “Mom and Dad love me only when I do well.” It is easy to see how damaging such thinking can be. But when the children are praised for their efforts, they are encouraged to do their best rather than produce certain results. What a relief that is!

But can we be content when our best efforts fail? It’s hard to feel confident and assured when we keep failing, and our failures lead to unpleasant and disastrous consequences. Moreover, the world is not such a kind place. Students don’t get an A just for their efforts. Employees don’t get to keep their jobs just for trying. Our society demands results, not just efforts.

Producing results is important. How will people get fed and have things working properly? But despite our competency and best efforts, we can still fail miserably. While many businesses fail because of bad ideas and products, even companies with great ideas and products fail due to bad timing or unexpected events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Such setbacks make us cry out, “It’s not fair!” We long for a world in which people will be judged by their efforts and respective abilities, not in competition against everyone else. That doesn’t seem possible in this world of limited resources.

But there is Someone who can do such a thing—God!—because He doesn’t need anything from us. He judges us according to our abilities and efforts regardless of the results. He can also use our efforts and even failures to accomplish His will. Not only that, He determines the results: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). We cannot boast about our success.

What do you think your grade will be before God? Do you think you can get an A for effort? Can you say you have given your best in everything? God’s verdict on all humanity is clear: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23, 6:23). But there is One who earned God’s approval through His perfect obedience to God’s will—Jesus Christ: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus did this so He can share His approval with those who believe in Him: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). What good news! If God should approve us, who can bring any charge against us and condemn us (Rom. 8:33-34)? We hope and pray that you will put your trust in Jesus Christ today and make this security yours forever.