In 1994, the editor at Reuter’s news desk in Sofia said he didn’t think I was a particularly good writer. Although I had won awards for journalism in college, I was stuck pulling stories off a news wire rather than writing real articles. Crushed by his assessment, it was another 10 years before I would write again. Even today, my confidence is fed by the praise (and Twitter-follows) of better-known authors. In What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?, Dr. Ed Welch informs me that I’m looking for “living water” in the wrong place – the eyes of others.
Reminiscent of Welch’s earlier When People Are Big and God is Small, What Do You Think of Me? is a concise, hand-on approach to insecurity geared towards teenagers and young adults. Welch identifies the dilemma we all face: “You can easily be controlled by the opinions of others. Why? You want them to fill you with something. They have something you feel you need” (p. 38). We all try to obtain that “something” – acceptance, respect, or love – from other people. When this desire becomes a “need,” it controls us – an idol in the making.
Welch identifies the problem (we become controlled by others and their acceptance becomes our idol); then, like any good biblical counselor, gives hope from Scripture. Abraham, Isaac, and Peter were dominated by the fear of others, but were transformed.
How we respond to the basic questions of life – Who is God? Who am I? Who are others? – will determine how we respond to peer pressure, criticism, and rejection. At heart, we are all worshippers: “The thing or person you trust in is actually the object of your worship. Look carefully and you will see that what started off as a small concern about the opinions of other people has been supersized” (p. 39).
Welch discusses how good, loving relationships can go bad by comparing the God-given human desire for love to a 500-lb. gorilla demanding to be fed (p. 51). Welch demonstrates how everyday desires for approval and love can become things we desire inordinately – and lead to broken fellowship with God.
The Tao Versus Fear of the Lord
Dr. Welch is hardly the first to spot the problem arising from what the Bible calls “fear of man.” Lao Tzu said, “Care about what other people think, and you will always be their prisoner.”
Christianity, however, offers something much greater than simply absence of suffering or a vague “harmony with the universe” sought by Taoists. We are invited to know the Creator intimately as Father; be awed by His majesty; and love others freely without thought of reciprocation. God’s way out is to know Him, as He is revealed in Jesus, in such a way that other people will seem less awesome in comparison. Being overwhelmed with Christ’s beauty breaks the “slavery” of being controlled by others.
While Welch writes primarily about being influenced by the negative opinions or expectations of others, a believer should also be on guard against seeking edification from others more than God.
I was reminded of this recently while talking with a friend. As believers, we are called to encourage and build one another up. Few things bring greater joy. “I am so happy and blessed to have people to comfort and encourage me,” Juxhin said. “But,” he pointed out, “What comforts and encourages me the most is, of course, God himself.”
This confidence is what Welch calls “living in the throneroom of the King.” Realizing the magnitude of the Creator’s power and holiness diminishes the importance of others’ opinions – even good ones. Encouragement is nice. Comfort is welcome. But when other people fail to provide them, a high view of God’s holiness and personal knowledge of His grace meets all of our needs (Philippians 4:19).
“I’m with Him”
At times, some modern Reformed writing focuses so extensively on the glory of God, with lesser attention given to the more subjective or emotional side of man. This can leave an immature believer with the impression that he or she doesn’t matter to a God so unapproachable and holy.
Without a personal understanding of faith, God will seem distant to the teenager trying to “fit in,” or any other individual who craves His presence. Welch is a master at introducing the God Who pursues; Who cares; and Who comforts – personally and tenderly. He describes redemption as a gift so extravagant that it leads naturally to thankfulness and change. The answer to the question “Who Am I?” is one of allegiances. Identifying with Jesus, Welch says, is declaring “I’m with Him.”
Remembering that we were created to live for God (not ourselves) clarifies our mission – to love other people; not seek love and acceptance for ourselves. Acknowledging that rejection still hurts, Welch notes that it no longer controls us. “There is only one way you could want to love others more than they love you: realizing that you have been loved more than you could ever love in return” (p. 116).
Our Position and Identity in Christ
What does realizing our position in Christ have to do with being vulnerable? It frees us. The fact that we are fully known and deeply loved by the King dispels the paralyzing fear of being hurt by those we choose to love. It negates the need for reciprocation. It restores our joy. It makes intercessory prayer seem like a privilege, not a “to-do” list.
Drawing close leaves one vulnerable; it gives the other person power. But the security offered by being in relationship with the One Who loved us when we were His enemies makes others’ reactions incidental. We are free to love, simply and purely, because we have been pursued and loved first.
One strength of Welch is that although he is both a psychologist and a theologian, he sounds like neither when he writes to young Christians. He explains key biblical concepts (fear of the Lord; Federal Headship) in plain language a fourth-grader can understand. What Do You Think of Me? does not read like a commentary, but rather like an e-mail sent to encourage a friend.
He skewers the psycho-babble of “self-esteem” theory and “leaky love-cup” models, showing why such imagery is unbiblical (and ineffective). Welch maintains that the deepest human needs are seen in the prayers of Scripture, which begin and end by glorifying God (not exalting “self”). By pointing back to the God of all comfort and His Word, Welch helps readers shed self-consciousness and insecurity resulting from preoccupation with others’ opinions. What Do You Think of Me? is an insightful book sure to help believers experience a deeper walk with Christ.