Have you ever felt "stifled"? You know what I mean - the feeling like every step you want to take is just held back, like every dream is crushed, or there is some force just standing in the way of you moving forward. The feeling might be one of the walls "closing in" around you - like you just can feel the very space you occupy on this earth as getting smaller and smaller! In the most literal sense, being stifled means something similar to being choked out, much like we'd "choke out" a campfire. You smother it with something like dirt long enough and in sufficient quantities until it just has no way of receiving the very thing it needs to continue on - oxygen! As a result, it is "choked out" - smothered or stifled.
For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. (Galations 6:14 MSG)
Did you ever stop to consider the position of being a "people-pleaser"? Whenever we assume the role of trying to live up to some standard set by this or that individual in our lives, we are allowing them to determine what is expected of us, how we should respond, and even what we should feel as a result of our actions. In the end, we are quite miserable - because it is IMPOSSIBLE to please people! Try as we might, the target is a constantly moving, so ever being in a position of really "pleasing" another is quite difficult! I have been trained to hit a moving target - but the ability to hit the moving ones doesn't allow me much accuracy in my shot - it only allows me to "graze" them on occasion! At best, we "graze" the demands of another - never really hitting them "dead on".
It is quite easy to get caught up in the little spinning "hamster wheel" of being a people-pleaser, isn't it? It truly is a "hamster wheel" kind of experience - just spinning endlessly without any real end to the demands. Today we spin a little, thinking we are making real progress, but tomorrow, we realize the wheel is moving, but we are really in the same spot as we were yesterday! Being on the "hamster wheel" in relationships where we become wrapped up in pleasing people is tiring business.
Paul says something quite revealing in our passage. As long as we are on this "hamster wheel" of being "people-pleasers", we aren't keeping the Lord central in our lives. Here is the crux of our decision - do we put Christ first, even in our relationships, or do we continue to allow others to determine our steps? Scripture tells us the steps of a righteous man are "ordered" - they aren't spinning out of control and going nowhere. They are "ordered" - done according to specific principles and well-planned. When we are wrapped into the control of always trying to please this one or that one, we find fulfilling each of their demands begins to violate some principle we know better than to violate. For example, we begin to lose control of our time. We find our time for things which "add to" our character begins to wane - time for meditating on God's Word, time for being quiet before God for a while, etc. The principle of seeking the Kingdom of God FIRST begins to take second place, then third, until one day we find our time for relationship with our Lord in last place!
The cross changed everything in our lives. Nothing remained the same - the patterns we followed changed. I think this is what Paul hoped we see - the hamster wheel is no longer our "place" of operation. We stepped off the wheel the moment we embraced the cross. We exchanged positions - no longer living by the changing rules of those who make demands of us, but living by the unchanging grace of God! Why do we ever drift into the "spinning wheel" of being people-pleasers? Isn't it because we aren't really sure of our identity apart from their approval? Paul wants us to recognize our "identity" and our "approval" are linked to the cross of Christ. We find our true selves at the foot of the cross and we go about living as our true selves by keeping ourselves right there! Move back on the wheel, and our identity becomes governed by the approval of others once again! So, where we chose to "anchor" ourselves makes all the difference!
Pleasing others is really stifling. This requirement added to the next one eventually chokes out the very thing we need for life! Nothing stokes the fire of our hearts better than being close enough to God to actually feel his breath gently nudging fire from the embers of our heart! On the spinning wheel, we only feel the pressure of the wheel. At the cross, we feel the breath of hope, grace, and love. One takes away our breath - the other breathes life back into a tired and worn-out spirit! Which one will you choose?