I have recently been trudging through Wesley's 59 page pamphlet of 1743 "An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion." Yeah, I know I am a dork. Anyhow, in talking smack about his opponents in the Church of England Wesley wrote, "You looked at men more than God" and this little phrase reminded me about a prayer I often pray that I came across before. My prayer asks God to fill me with grace that I seek not the approbation (approval) of man but of God in what I say and do.
God has been working on me about this one for some time. I think most of us, if we are honest, do to one degree or another seek the approval of man over God. This is especially true for clergy who are people pleasers. However, it goes for all people. We seek to please, win the approval of, impress, show how much we know to supervisors, co-workers, friends, and others in the hope that this will somehow gain us favor, make us feel better about ourselves and make us a person of worth. We do not always do this consciously. It seems it part of how we are wired as fallen people in whom God's image has been shattered. Many of us do this even though we know our identity and worth comes not from other people or even what we "do" for God but because of what God has done for us in Christ.
Perhaps our best example of seeking to please God over man is in Jesus who never really gave a crap about what other people thought. He was not afraid to offend the religious elite, speak difficult words into the lives of his parioshioners (disciples) for fear they might leave, or even to the governmental authorities who could have set him free. Through it all, he was confident of who he was and what he was to do and sought to be obedient to God's call and please God.
Oddly enough, such reliance on God and not the approval of man brings the most freedom. I think part of what it means when Jesus promises to set us free is it is a promise to be free from seeking the approval of man. I think this is an ongoing process and part of our journey of faith (sanctification for you theology nerds). I for one will continue to pray "let me not so much seek the approbation of man, but to please you O God."