What is Your Nectar?

For Jack Miller, it was the fear-inducing, soul-killing idol of human approval. Thankfully, there is hope for those of us who can identify.

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He Couldn’t Deny It

I first heard the phrase used by Jack Miller in one of his Sonship lectures. After observing his people-pleasing ways, a friend confronted him with a dose of truth in love. "Jack, you are an approval suck." 

He couldn't deny it. Like a mosquito feeds on human blood, he fed on human approval for a sense of value and self-worth. Essentially, the praise and affirmation of peers became Jack's righteousness. His identity had become tied to and dependent upon human approval.  

I can relate to Jack’s condition. I, too, am an approval suck. So was the apostle Paul. When he writes to the churches he started in Galatia, he confesses his former ways, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Am I still trying to win the approval of people? That “still” represents his former life. Paul had been driven in his life as a Pharisee to seek out and savor the esteem he so desperately craved. Jesus identified the approval suck-ness of the Pharisees as a deep need for “the praise of men.”

It is this suckness sickness that Jack confessed. I am equally afflicted. Maybe you are, too. 

Using People vs Loving Them

What I have realized in reflecting on my own “approval suck” tendencies is that if I am trying to weave righteousness with human praise, I will use people rather than love them. Like a parasite, I will suck them dry. And when there is no approval left to drain, I will move on to the next victim. 

On the other hand, if they refuse to give up their blood, I may not move on. Rather, I might try harder. Doing anything they demand. If they will just love me. Or, I could get angry, blaming them for being critical, judgmental, and lacking grace. Oh, how it makes me feel ill to see that in myself.

I wonder if we do this in relationships. By using a friend or spouse for affirmation to fill my need for a sense of righteousness, I prevent them from being able to speak truth with love into my life. In the process, I suppress honesty and trust begins to wither.

What if identifying areas of the flesh that are causing harm to myself or others is a form of love (which it is)? If living on affirmation as my righteousness and refusing to listen to any challenge becomes my relational default, it is very possible that I will blame the host for running dry and move on to suck on someone else. If the host has been a spouse, well, it doesn’t take much to see where that leads.

I wonder if we do this to coaches. We suck them dry for wins and championships because being number one is our righteousness. When the coach runs dry of producing the righteousness we crave, we trade him in for a new one.

I wonder if some pastors, like myself, are such approval sucks that we move from church to church, sucking on congregations for life, then blaming them for not stroking our need for admiration and appreciation. Eventually, we sense a “call” somewhere else when in reality it may just be that I’ve drained people and need a new congregation to make me their hero. 

This certainly is not true in all pastoral transitions. There are very legitimate reasons for pastors to move from one church to another. In fact, to look at it from the opposite perspective, sometimes congregations treat their pastor like a coach and suck him dry. There is a reason why there are entire ministries devoted to helping burned out pastors recover. 

What is the Cure?

What is the cure for approval sucks like Paul, Jack, and me? Surprisingly, the remedy is not to stop sucking for approval. It simply is to find a host who lives to provide perfect righteousness from an unlimited reservoir to anyone who needs it. 

Of course, that host is Jesus, the Savior who invites us to find our approval before God and the world by sucking our righteousness from him. One of the images he has given us in the Lord’s Supper is the drinking of his blood, represented by the cup of communion. Upon a cross, he drank the cup of wrath for my unrighteousness so that I can drink the cup of mercy unto perfect righteousness. 

The gospel welcomes me to cover my sin by faith with his blood and to find my identity in union with Christ as a fully forgiven, perfectly accepted, and dearly loved child of God.  For those who will abide in the righteousness of Jesus, we are like a branch attached to a living vine—a branch that lives by drawing approval from the one who lives to make us beautiful in the Father’s eyes.

When I consciously believe I am approved by God, well-loved, treasured, and beautiful in his eyes—all by grace—I no longer need to use people. The fear of man begins to dissipate and people-pleasing no longer drives me. Being clothed in Jesus’ gift-righteousness sets me free to be honest about my sin and weakness. I can exercise gifts without turning them into idols that need stroking. Hearing truth in love no longer sounds offensive and speaking truth in love no longer feels awkward. 

From this perspective, a better image than a mosquito sucking blood may be a butterfly drawing nectar. While blood is a distinctively biblical image for what we need to cover us moment by moment, there is something uniquely sweet about the sap of the Spirit that flows from the vine into the branch, whereby I am convinced of the Father’s love and reminded that Jesus is interceding for me because he is for me. I can’t imagine a better gospel straw from which to savor the sweetness of God’s immeasurable grace.

I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave comments or get a conversation going below.

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