Pursuit of Approval
“When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
When it comes to looking at healthy family relationships, I don’t think we can do better than to look at the mystical union that exists within the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With our finite understanding we can never perhaps begin to comprehend the union and unity that exists among the three distinct Persons of the Godhead, but what we can trace throughout scripture is the love and honor which God the Father and Jesus demonstrated toward one another during Christ’s earthly ministry. Jesus constantly gave honor to the Father, always crediting Him with His very words and works, always seeking to please Him and do His will. On more than one occasion the Father Himself spoke audibly from Heaven to honor the Son, Who submitted Himself so completely to the Father’s will.
While it is safe to say that Jesus did not suffer from insecurity, He did know what it was to feel the Father’s rejection, as He became sin’s sacrifice on the cross. There He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). He was not rejected for His own deeds, but suffered shame and isolation from the Father on our behalf, that we might be reconciled unto God. Also, I think it significant that the very first temptation with which we see the devil approach Christ in the wilderness attempted to cast the shadow of doubt regarding the Son’s relationship with his Father. “Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (Matthew 4:3). Such a wonderful source of strength was the Son’s awareness of His Father’s approval that the devil sought, however he might, to undermine Christ’s sense of it, all to no avail.
Christ’s confidence and boldness came not only from knowing Who He was, but also from knowing that He was always operating within the perimeters of His Father’s approval. I think we can see something of a pattern of God’s intent here, that Christ’s public ministry began with this very public demonstration of His Father’s approval. In fact, save for that moment on the cross, there was never a time when was not keenly aware of His Father’s regard, unlike many in the world today who have never felt such approval from their own fathers, despite their best efforts to impress. Millions today suffer from the severe affliction of simply never feeling that they had the love, support, and approval from a father or a mother.
In fact, I believe the pursuit of approval is one the man’s most pervasive pursuits. It is a north star by which many, if not most, unwittingly steer their life, seeking from someone, anyone, the approval that God initially intended us to experience in the comfort and security of parental delight, and ultimately from Him, as we find unconditional love and acceptance through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Regardless of what men may say, we all, to one degree or another, pursue the approval of someone. The celebrity seeks it from his adoring fans, while the sports hero finds it in the adulation of the roaring crowd. The ambitious son endeavors to outstrip his successful father, while every little boy who plays in little league looks to see the expression on his parents’ face, whether he hits a home run or drops the fly ball in center field.
Sometimes the drive to find acceptance fuels a manic energy that keeps one ever moving, every climbing, desirous to succeed in the eyes of whoever’s praise it is they feel defines acceptance. As children we have our heroes whom we see as deserving of praise and think that if we could ever be like them we would have the love and adoration we so desperately seek. Sometimes this drive for approval is expressed in contrary ways, like in the runaway teen that continues to get into trouble with the authorities, a not-so-silent cry for someone to take notice and intervene, to tell them that they are loved, valued, and significant.
We all want to feel it, that sense of worth, and many have dashed themselves against the ruined rocks of addiction and hopeless frustration in their vain pursuit for it. The broken cisterns from which desperate men seek to slake their thirst multiply in our society as they move from one vise to the next, looking for anything that will fit and fill the aching void inside. We want to feel singularly significant to someone, yet all the while the failed nature of mankind has taught us that we are expendable rather than valuable, even to the people who are supposed to matter most. Marriages fail, trust between child and parent is broken, and the best of friends betray us with a kiss, leveraging their connection with us merely to advance their own ends. Where in this world can we find that one who will love us for ourselves alone?
Such a love is not to be found in this world. Rather, it is offered to the entire world by the God who created us and put His claim upon us long ago. Before the foundations of the world He decided our purchase price was greater than all the gold and silver in all the coffers of all the kingdoms of this world. He set the price of our redemption at the high cost of His only begotten Son, Who willing laid down His life for us, the innocent for the guilty, the lovely for the unlovely. What makes this love special is that it is guileless and true, not based on a false sense of who we are, but with perfect understanding of our faults and foibles. He took us as we are because He determined our value to be great. He saw past the trash to the treasure. Though we were sinners, He made a way to bridge the gap and close the distance between us so that we would not be standing outside the gates of His grace like beggars, but welcomed into His house as sons and daughters.
This is favor too great to earn, too costly to merit. It can only be received by grace. One must simply do honor to the Giver of gifts and receive by faith the proffered prize of acceptance in the beloved. This is a gift purchased by wealth too great for this world, but extended to us all that we might be lifted up and seated at the Father’s table. Nor is this newfound belonging to God’s family only for the life that is to come. Your new identity in Him will give you a welcomed place among His family here as well, for as the psalmist says, “God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy” (Psalm 68:6).
If you are lonely and tired of the chase for belonging; if you are exhausted by the pursuit of an elusive approval that is always just out of reach, then look no further than the cross. It was there that Christ died to make you accepted and give you new life. However, you must respond to this love. You must receive this gift of forgiveness and acceptance by faith, surrendering your old life for the new one He desires to give you. It is a life of love, belonging, and significance. Your search is over, and your safe harbor is in the love of a Father who knows your name and even numbers the very hairs on your head. Christ is your new north star Who will bring you into the favor of the Father and His family. Welcome home.