You may know this quote from the movie Braveheart, or, if you have a more refined taste, you may recognize a similar line from “Moment 4 Life” by Nicki Minaj and Drake.
Either way, it’s a great quote. It tells us that we can be physically alive but not really living, which is something I see in the Bible too. Jeremiah 17 paints a picture of two ways we can live our lives; one is empty and dry, while the other is lush and thriving. What’s at the root of these two very different experiences? One is preoccupied with people, while the other is deeply rooted in God.
This is what the LORD says: “A curse is placed on those who trust other people, who depend on humans for strength, who have stopped trusting the LORD. They are like a bush in a desert that grows in a land where no one lives, a hot and dry land with bad soil. They don’t know about the good things God can give. But the person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed. The LORD will show him that he can be trusted. He will be strong, like a tree planted near water that sends its roots by a stream. It is not afraid when the days are hot; its leaves are always green. It does not worry in a year when no rain comes; it always produces fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 NCV
God wants to give us satisfying lives that are full of meaning and purpose (see John 10:10 and Jeremiah 29:11-13). When we rely on God, we are strong, not easily shaken, and able to enjoy life even when times are hard. However, when we replace God with people (which includes ourselves), we live lonely and empty lives, never fully seeing the good things God can give.
It takes intentional spiritual effort to keep him at the center of our lives. People’s opinions and emotions surround us physically all the time. They even pop up on our screens when we’re alone. It’s hard not to let their voices crowd God out of our heads and control our decisions.
In this devotional, we’ll learn how to silence the crowd by letting go of our people-pleasing, people-focused, and people-driven tendencies. Then we’ll learn to fix our minds on Jesus so we can find the powerful, purposeful, and personal vision he has for our lives.
Are people more powerful than Jesus in your life?
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground.
Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened.
Luke 24:1-9 NLT
The women in this passage went to find Jesus in a tomb, thinking he was dead. But he wasn’t there. He was just as alive as they were. Realizing this changed the women’s lives forever. No longer afraid, they rushed out and told everyone about Jesus.
Just like these women, we need to understand that Jesus is alive and present in our lives.
One of the reasons we can’t see, understand, or connect with Jesus and his plans for us is that we think people – parents, bosses, political figures, professors, friends – are more powerful and active in our lives than he is. We live as though Jesus is dead, but in truth, he has resurrected. From birth, to adolescence, to adulthood, Jesus’ destiny was to die on a cross, be buried in a tomb, be raised from the dead, secure our forgiveness, and provide us with the power to overcome in this life. When we see Jesus as living, it transforms our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and our souls. When we see Jesus as alive, we’ll begin to truly live too.
I can’t count how many times I’ve been so preoccupied with people that they’ve controlled my decisions. I’ve gone through phases of saying I liked certain songs and movies just to fit in, and then saying I didn’t like popular songs or movies just to be cool. In middle school and high school, I would avoid certain people who were my friends just because other people said they were weird.
I’ve stayed silent in school or in jobs because I was afraid of looking dumb. I have a very specific memory in middle school of an older kid making fun of me for tying my sweatshirts around my waist. From then on, I always carried my coats even when my hands were full, and to this day I feel a slight anxiety rise up when I tie a jacket around my waist.
I’m sure you have plenty of your own examples of ways you’ve let people run your life, whether they were a little silly like tying a sweatshirt around your waist, or more significant like deciding on a career path. We do stuff like this when we believe people have power over what happens to us; if we believe a person has the power to make us feel miserable, alone, or rejected, we’ll want to do everything we can to protect ourselves from that.
That’s why our faith in Jesus is one of the best antidotes to our preoccupation with people. If we believe Jesus is just as alive as the people around us, and even more powerful than they are, our consumption with people will dissolve.
Let’s look at how we can calm our people-pleasing, quiet our people-focus, and silence our drive to rely on ourselves so we can find Jesus’ purpose for our lives.
How to calm our fear of people
People-pleasing traps us in fear
Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety.
Proverbs 29:25 NLT
Fear and intimidation is a trap that holds you back. But when you place your confidence in the Lord, you will be seated in the high place.
Proverbs 29:25 TPT
I can’t say how many times my fear of people has held me back from happiness, closeness, and moving forward in life. People-pleasing also makes me do things I don’t feel comfortable with just because I want to please someone. Sometimes I even run myself into the ground just to make everyone happy.
However it comes out, it can be exhausting to live a people-pleasing life.
Think through your decisions from the past week. How many were centered around what other people thought?
Here are a few tell-tale signs you might be building your life on pleasing people:
You’re a busybody who often gets burned out. You work hard to make sure everyone is taken care of and happy, but you tend to get angry or bitter because you feel like other people don’t work as hard as you do.
As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42 NLT
You’re really good at making people think you’re better than you are. You are a master of curating a perfect image for others to see.
“Be [very] careful not to do your good deeds publicly, to be seen by men; otherwise you will have no reward [prepared and awaiting you] with your Father who is in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor and do acts of kindness, do not blow a trumpet before you [to advertise it], as the hypocrites do [like actors acting out a role] in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored and recognized and praised by men. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full.”
Matthew 6:1-2 AMP
You’re terrified of being truly known. You conceal the sin, guilt, and parts of yourself that you feel ashamed of. You keep people and God at a distance and dodge any sort of depth in relationships because you dread the potential contempt and judgment of others.
if I have concealed my sin as people do, by hiding my guilt in my heart because I so feared the crowd and so dreaded the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside—
Job 31:33-34 NIV
These are just a few signs that people-pleasing might be running our lives. When we get caught up in this mindset, we stop ourselves from not only building a close relationship with God but also being close to people around us.
Pause and reflect
Which of the three signs of people-pleasing do you relate to the most?
How has the fear of and trying to please people held you back in your relationships?
To break out of the trap of our fear of people, we need to shift our attention to what makes God happy. To do so, we need to look to the Bible for what those things are.
So what makes God happy?
The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.
Psalm 37:23 NLT
Since you are so much more precious to God than a thousand flocks of sparrows, and since God knows you in every detail-down to the number of hairs on your head at this moment-you can be secure and unafraid of any person, and you have nothing to fear from God either.
Luke 12:7 Voice
According to these scriptures, you do! God delights in knowing and loving you. He doesn’t wish you were someone else; he isn’t shocked or disappointed in who you are. He knows you, and he loves you. Like the classic Mr. Rogers song – God likes you as you are.
When we believe this about God, we won’t be so preoccupied with pleasing people. We’ll feel secure and satisfied, not needing everyone to like us.
What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me.
The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
Galatians 2:19-21 MSG
As Paul says in Galatians 2, Christ’s life shows us how and enables us to let go of our fear of people. The more we align our lives and identities with him, the more freed up we are to love others the way God loves us. We’ll care more about loving others than about pleasing them.
How have you observed God’s love in your life? How can you observe Jesus’ love in the scriptures? This will help you get out of your own head to love others, too.
People-pleasing isn’t the only sign we have become preoccupied with people. As much as we might hate to admit it, getting easily angry with and blaming people around us is also a sign that we are preoccupied with them. Being people-focused just means we are letting people have the power to affect our lives more than God does. This could lead to people-pleasing, but it could also show itself in resentment, rebellion, and bitterness toward them.
I fall into this trap too often. I become so worried about not wanting people to affect me that I become consumed with them. Rather than just being myself and trusting that God is in control, I live on the defense, constantly trying to protect myself and prove my worth by competing with others.
When I get stuck here, my growth becomes stunted because I have no purpose driving me forward; all of my actions and decisions are based on other people.
The Bible calls giving power to anything or anyone other than God “idolatry.”
But whoever does make an idol is not improved or enriched. On the contrary, their passing fancies contribute nothing of value or purpose. Those who look on at such misplaced attention don’t understand what they’re seeing, and the idol-makers will end up embarrassed at best.
Isaiah 44:9 The Voice
Isaiah 44 paints a good picture of what idolatry does to us: we stop improving or growing, and we feel purposeless and valueless. We focus our attention on all the wrong things, and we can’t seem to figure out why we do what we do.
Here are some other signs that we might be more people-focused than God-focused:
We constantly compare ourselves to others. A lot of our time and attention is directed toward what other people have that we don’t—whether it’s talent, achievement, or what we perceive as a happy life. We end up thinking life is unfair and can’t see any good in our own lives.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
Psalm 73:2-5,13 NLT
We get bitter often. People aren’t able to meet all our needs the way God can. When we expect them to, they will always fall short, because they’re human. The people-focused don’t get satisfaction from God’s love and want others to help them feel satisfied, then get angry when those people can’t follow through. When we’re people-focused, we become convinced that if those people just changed, we’d finally be happy. But it’s never enough. As the verse below tells us, turning our hearts away from God will produce bitter poison in our relationships.
Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.
Deuteronomy 29:18 NIV
We resist being influenced by others. This one can be deceiving, because we might pride ourselves in not being people-pleasers or letting people affect our decisions. But when we’re people-focused, our true motive for resisting other people’s influence is gaining control. We don’t really trust that God is in control and bigger than any potential bad advice we might get from a person, so we resist opening up our minds and hearts to other people. We become proud, insisting that our way is right, and we won’t open our ears to hear what God might be telling us through our spiritual friends.
Pride causes arguments, but those who listen to others are wise.
Proverbs 13:10 ERV
Wisdom opens your heart to receive wise counsel, but pride closes your ears to advice and gives birth to only quarrels and strife.
Proverbs 13:10 TPT
Pause and reflect
Can you see any of these three forms of people-focus in your life? Which ones? How do you think they have been affecting your spiritual growth?
God-focus makes us secure
Rather than giving people so much power over our lives, we need to shift our focus to be conscious of God and his power. The prophet Elisha was aware of this, and it made him calm where others would have been afraid.
When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.
2 Kings 6:15-17 NLT
When we look at life through a spiritual lens, everything changes. We will see our circumstances, our hardships, our relationships, and ourselves from God’s point of view. But like Elisha’s servant, our eyes need to be opened to see God. This means clearing out anything that might cloud our vision from seeing the world through God’s eyes.
“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!”
Matthew 6:22-23 MSG
“The only source of light for the body is the eye. If you look at people and want to help them, you will be full of light. But if you look at people in a selfish way, you will be full of darkness. And if the only light you have is really darkness, you have the worst kind of darkness.”
Matthew 6:22-23 ERV
When we look at people in a distrustful or selfish way, thinking they are out to get us, wishing we had what they have, or wanting to get something from them, this is a sign that we need to clean out our hearts.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart— put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”
Matthew 5:8 MSG
Being honest about our inside world – the thoughts, sins, and even emotions that fill our minds – starts us on the path of being freed up to see God rather than people.
Pause and reflect
Do you look at God and people in a selfish/distrustful way, or a loving and godly way?
What would it look like for you to put your inside world into the light today?
Pick one or two friends to talk to about what’s in your heart so that you can start seeing God instead of people.
Sometimes, being preoccupied with people means overly focusing on one specific person: yourself. Being “people-driven” means we rely on human skill, ideas, emotions, and opinions to drive us. The Bible tells us that relying on human strength (even our own) will never give us what we’re looking for.
People cannot really help. You cannot depend on them. Compared to God, they are nothing— no more than a gentle puff of air!  Don’t trust in your power to take things by force. Don’t think you will gain anything by stealing. And if you become wealthy, don’t put your trust in riches.  God says there is one thing you can really depend on, and I believe it: “Strength comes from God!”
Psalm 62:9-11 ERV
I am a self-reliant person. I pride myself in being able to do everything alone, and not needing anyone else. I like feeling reliable and being someone that people don’t have to worry about. I protect myself through my self-reliance too, thinking that if someone hurt or rejected me, I wouldn’t be bothered because I didn’t really need them in the first place.
This way of living can only last so long. In my desire to prove myself, I end up lonely and I crack under the pressure I’ve put on myself (because, as it turns out, I actually can’t do everything alone).
When the pandemic was at its worst I was very stressed and anxious about getting sick. Some of my close friends were considered high risk, and I was very afraid I would accidentally expose them to Covid-19. I kept psyching myself out, imagining I was congested when I wasn’t or had a sore throat when I didn’t.
I wanted to protect my friends from not only getting sick but also being burdened by my fears and anxieties. So I carried everything myself, constantly afraid and worried that something bad would happen. As you can imagine, I eventually broke. One night I had a sort of anxiety or panic attack, which had never happened to me before. I had difficulty breathing and got light headed.
Thankfully, my friends helped calm me down, but I don’t think my stress would have reached that level in the first place if I had been more honest with God and my friends earlier. The source of anxiety may not have gone away, but I would have been able to handle it differently by trusting God to be in control.
When we give ourselves too much power, we never get the chance to truly live the way God wants us to, because we’re so caught up in trying to protect ourselves.
Here are a few more signs we might be living a lonely, self-reliant life:
We hate admitting we are wrong. Our goal in life isn’t to be close, content, and growing, but to be right in everything we do. We have to prove our abilities to ourselves and other people, so we resist seeing any weaknesses. This can lead to distance in relationships and defensiveness in conversations; we tend to make others feel inferior or insecure and eventually fall flat on our faces because no person is right all the time.
When you act with presumption, convinced that you’re right, don’t be surprised if you fall flat on your face! But walking in humility helps you to make wise decisions.
Proverbs 11:2 TPT
We don’t have much room for God or others. Being self-reliant requires a lot of pride; we have to believe in our ability to do things without help to keep our self-reliance alive. But in our attempts to only rely on ourselves, we end up only thinking about ourselves.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
Psalm 10:4 NIV
We settle for what we are capable of rather than what God is capable of. Without God’s power, there’s only so much we as humans can do. When we only rely on ourselves, we will settle for what we can see: things that provide only temporary pleasure, and we miss out on the incredible experience letting God use our lives for purposes we never thought possible.
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With people [as far as it depends on them] it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:26 AMP
“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”
1 John 2:15-17 NLT
Then Jesus said to all the people: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me.  If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will save it.  What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself or waste your life?
Luke 9:23-25 CEV
To follow Jesus and his purpose for our lives, we have to forget about ourselves. That means forgetting about our self-reliance too, and learning to rely on God.
Pause and reflect
What does it look like when you get self-reliant?
In what ways has your self-reliance affected your happiness, confidence, and closeness in relationships?
Being God-driven makes life exciting and fulfilling
I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called-his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 1:18-20 NLT
The power that we have access to is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. That’s crazy! It’s definitely not something that crosses my mind on a day-to-day basis. When I lose sight of God’s power in my life, I stop praying for the impossible, looking for purpose, or taking action on faith. It’s in constant conversation with God that I see that the impossible can happen. This takes me humbling myself by deciding that I won’t rely on myself anymore and I will trust that God’s way is better.
So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!  This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”
Romans 8:12-15 MSG
When we let go of our pride and self-reliance, we open ourselves up to an exciting and fulfilling life. Rather than be held back by human limits, we are free to see God make the impossible possible.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:26 NIV
Pause and reflect
What purpose is God calling you toward?
What “impossible prayer” could you start talking to God about?