Our family had moved across the country for my husband to take a pastoral position, and I had thrown myself into commitments and opportunities. I was the new pastor’s wife, and I felt a responsibility to go to the Bible studies and meetings and social gatherings. This is what others expected of me, I assumed. I needed to say yes.
But in my zeal to fit in and make new friends and fulfill the unspoken roles of a pastor’s wife, I had made a glaring mistake: I had made many choices based out of fear, rather than by faith.
I worried that if I didn’t agree to everything, I would miss out on making friends, disappoint congregants, and fail to live up to people’s expectations. So, I signed up for the Bible study, agreed to the dinner party, said yes to helping in the nursery.
The fear of missing out had driven me to agree to way too many commitments. I found myself ill-tempered and anxious. While everything I had said yes to was a good thing in and of itself, I was learning quickly that it wasn’t all good for me in this season. My husband and children felt the consequences of my stress. I felt the constant strain on my body. Why? Because I was afraid to say no.
When We Let Fear Drive Us
Whenever fear drives our choices, we need to acknowledge this as a red flag that we are not walking in step with the Spirit. In John 14, Jesus speaks these profound words to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
When Jesus offers these words to his disciples, he alone knows that they are about to be faced with the most intense choice of their lives. The cross is ahead, and they will have to choose between aligning themselves with Jesus as he is wrongly accused and murdered or aligning themselves with the religious leaders and the mob.
We know how the story goes. Every one of them abandons Jesus. They give in to their fear of the Pharisees and the mob, and when Jesus is arrested, they flee. Peter goes so far as to verbally disown Jesus, swearing that he doesn’t even know the man.
Why Do We Give In?
Why did these disciples — who knew Jesus so intimately — run away from him at the first real sign of persecution?
They were afraid. And fear causes us to make choices that are neither godly nor good. When we are afraid, we operate out of self-preservation and self-protection, rather than from a place of wholehearted trust in God and joy in him. We focus on pleasing people, rather than on pleasing our Lord (John 12:43). And the apostle Paul warns us, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Jesus spoke his precious words about peace to his disciples because he knew that they would be afraid — afraid of what others would think or do as their teacher was taken to trial, beaten, and brutally killed. But Christ also knew that what he had to offer them — his enduring peace — was stronger than that fear. He was asking them to trust him, rather than the fleeting and empty desires of their leaders and the mob.
How to Unhinge Fear
Jesus was asking his disciples to do something difficult, and he asks the same of us today. So, how can we practically do this? How do we unhinge our hearts from the fear that causes us to agree to things that aren’t good or godly for us (either in this season, or ever)? How do we untether ourselves from people-pleasing?
1. Bathe your mind in God’s words.
Jesus is clear about what it means to love and follow him: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:23–24). We have to know the words of Christ in order to know what it means to obey him — to keep his word. We must start there, immersing ourselves in the Bible so that we will be able to discern and approve what is good and pleasing to God, rather than what seems good and pleasing to us or others.
2. Focus on your eternal reward.
While it may seem temporarily beneficial to agree to doing, saying, or engaging in things here on earth for the sake of pleasing others, the truth is that other people have no ultimate power over our lives or our futures. They cannot save us, deliver us, satisfy us, or secure our eternal destiny. Christ alone can do that, and he promises to reward us eternally when we follow and obey him alone (Matthew 25:23; Revelation 2:7).
3. Ask others to help you say no.
We need to ask other believers to help us make the hard and holy choice of saying no when we need to. It is difficult to say no to things when we know we will disappoint others — especially when what they are asking us to do is something inherently good. But we cannot say yes to everything all the time, and we don’t want to operate out of the fear of frustrating others, rather than from the desire to please Christ. Ask your spouse, friends, and pastor to help you respond to opportunities and requests from a place of biblical wisdom and prayer, rather than from a place of fear of disappointing someone else.
What Isn’t Yours to Do
Peace and fear cannot exist in the same heart at the same time. In place of the fear of letting others down, Jesus gives us more of himself. And when we seek Christ and his kingdom through his word — through an eternal perspective and alongside the saints — we can say yes to what God has called us to and no to what isn’t ours to do.
Although we may temporarily disappoint others, we can move forward confidently, knowing that we are ultimately pleasing the Maker and Redeemer of our souls. He will give us his peace here on earth, alongside the promise of eternal reward and delight in him today as we follow and obey his word.