Getting Off a Plateau
What a potter does to make a clay pot is the same as what God does to bring us into His anointing and presence. A plateau is being at the same level today that you were at yesterday; we must crucify and totally eradicate the sin that keeps us there.
Do you feel like you are on a plateau right now—that you’ve hit a particular level and you’re kind of stuck there? By plateau, I mean you are either in a place where you are very actively growing, excited about that…feeling the changes take place in your life…bearing more and more fruit because you are seeing and knowing God better and you are learning more of His ways and becoming more obedient—a very active thing, or you are in a state of hibernation or relative inactivity. You may be doing things, you may be busy, but the stuff in your heart isn’t changing. You are not driving forward towards the lofty goal of the character of Jesus the way that you know in your heart you could be and should be. To further define a plateau, it means that you are basically at the same level spiritually that you were yesterday. That’s a plateau. Are you at the same level you were yesterday? Are you on a plateau now? You can’t be at the same place you were yesterday. If you are satisfied with that, you are in a lot of trouble, because you are not striving and driving towards the full measure of the stature of Christ. If you are satisfied with comparison of the way you were last year or the way your roommate is now…if you are satisfied with some other standard than the character, the Fruitfulness and the persecution of the Person Jesus of Nazareth…if you are satisfied with where you are spiritually, then that’s yet another sin added to the list of things. Call it complacency; call it a false standard; call it having another god before Him. Regardless, what I have found is that I’m on a plateau when I’m there. Just to redefine the goal, if my personality is not the same as His…if the way I spend my time or energy or money is not the same way He would…if my priorities are different…if the amount of fruit that I am bearing is somewhat less than His…if the amount of persecution I’m receiving is somewhat less than His (because I’m not threatening the enemy so satan is not threatening me)…if any of those areas fall short, then it’s Jesus’ desire and passion to drive me to the next place, from one degree of glory to another.
God will often set us up. He doesn’t desire that we would stay on any plateau. That’s never been His heart. Most people have died on the very lowest of plateaus because the tools weren’t available and they missed opportunities to grow. One of the Jobs that we have with each other is to help each other not miss those opportunities. If we were by ourselves someplace just wandering around, popping in and out, we would have had those opportunities had we seen them. But in a situation like this, one of our primary Jobs is to help each other see the opportunity, get it into perspective, apply God’s Word to it and go forward obediently even when we don’t want to or don’t feel as if we have the strength to do so. We can’t really make each other grow, but we can help each other see the opportunity and encourage each other to apply the Word of God from the heart and go on obediently. The nature of the skandalon is that when you face your scandal, your stumbling stone, as rational and as spiritual as you were when someone else was in theirs, the answers don’t seem to apply. The perfect answer yesterday for someone else becomes rather elusive when it is your thing today. That’s one of the reasons that we really, really need each other.
There is a reason why you are on that plateau, and it’s because of something in your heart that you have not let go of. It’s some particular area of my life that I have not entirely crucified. I’ve not eradicated it. I’ve maybe not even addressed it properly, because I’ve covered over it or minimized the significance of that particular area. I’ve accepted some particular thing in my life, some attitude, something in my heart, something out of my mouth, some personal way of approaching life or habits or time or money or some other thing.
One thing that I have discovered as I have found myself on a plateau and have begged God at various times in my life to help me to get off of that plateau is that He will often set us up. James says that God never tempts anyone, and that is absolutely true. (Jesus did teach us to pray to the Father, “Lead us not into temptation,” so there is some sort of mystery in that.) But whatever may be true about the semantics, I know for sure that God does allow us to fall into situations at times that reveal our weaknesses. When there is some sin that God really needs to shake me from, I have found God to answer that prayer to take me from one degree of glory to another degree of glory, to get me off the plateau I’m on, to drive me forward towards His goal for my life. That goal is for me to be as loving, as fruitful, as wise, as compassionate, as righteous, as holy as Jesus of Nazareth. If we fall short in any of those things, then we’ve missed the mark. “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” Only God is good, and there is nothing good except the character and Person of Jesus. As I turn to Him and look at Him and say, “Jesus, I want to be like You. Maybe I don’t even see the ways that I’m not yet like You. Maybe I’m comparing myself to the wrong ‘standard.’” If I beg Him to show me those things and to help change me, one of the ways He does that is He takes the area that I’m weakest in or an area that He most needs to change in me and allows me to be tempted in that area beyond anything I’ve previously been tempted, and He allows the hedges to go down.
Remember with Job? Some of you are very familiar with this whole understanding of God’s hedges. Satan referred to the hedges in Job when discussing these things with God. He said, “You’ve built a hedge around him, I can’t get through, I can’t tempt him, I can’t affect his life.” And God said, “Well, then, I will lower the hedges.” Satan has only as much ability to tempt us or challenge us as God allows him. Job had a particular area in his life that God wanted to draw him up higher into, and so God allowed the hedges to be lowered. He did this, not only for a testimony to the principalities and powers, but also for Job’s additional growth. He lowered the hedges and allowed satan to bash into Job in particular areas of his life involving his family, his health, etc. We know that Paul was in a similar situation and that God allowed the messenger from satan to buffet Paul. Paul didn’t say, “I rebuke you satan, get out of here.” He said, “God, please, will You remove this thorn in the flesh?” He turned to God and asked that he not be buffeted or pounded by the fiery darts of the enemy. And God said, “No, there is something I am trying to teach you here. I’ve given you surpassing great revelation and I don’t want you to become conceited. It’s necessary that you endure this battering, and so I’m allowing this. My grace is sufficient for you.” So Paul prayed three times but not a fourth, because he came to understand that what was happening was from God.
The same was true with David as the man Shimei stood up on the hillside and threw rocks and insults and reproach at David. David’s response to that was, “No, I don’t want you to lop his head off. Let him go. If God wants this for my humility, if this is what I need in order to be taught a lesson about how poorly I’ve raised my son Absalom and how I’ve misled my family and my people, if I need this discipline to grow into the likeness of God, then we will allow this to happen. ‘Vengeance is mine,’ saith the Lord. Let God handle this and sort it all out. I probably need this.” That same attitude will go a long way in helping us to grow from one degree of glory to another. When we ask God to take us to the next level, one of the ways He does that is He allows us to be battered. He puts a Shimei right in our path. He allows the fiery darts to buffet us in very specific areas. Not beyond what we can bear, but in very specific areas to show us what our need for Him is, and to show us where our weaknesses are when we become complacent.
At times, I’ve found in my own life that God will do this even to bring me to a place of being humiliated by my own failures in areas that I never thought that I could have failed in. He does this in order that I would realize how much I need Him, and that I could grow more dependent and more aware of my need for my brothers and sisters. All of those things work together for the good.
In summary, I find that if I am on a plateau, a lot of times it takes a very major jolt in my life (oftentimes by way of a failure) to awaken me to an area of complacency that had been holding me back. I’m not advocating failure. I’m not recommending you go out and try to find a way to fail. But, I am saying that if you are on a plateau, if you are sort of leveled out, feeling kind of stale, maybe you are satisfied with where you are or maybe you’re not, just watch and see how God will sovereignly lower hedges in an area and allow things to come up in your life that have to do with health, finances, relationships, your job or some other sort of temptation or trial in order to show you how much you need Him.
To my shame, the best seasons of prayer in my life have been the times when I’ve been the weakest—the times when I’ve come face to face with my own failures and my own need for Him. As we think about the potter and the pot, the vessel, understand that the fire is not just a hypothetical feeling of some sort of hot flame. It has to do with real things in your life. It may have to do with school, it may have to do with your job, it may have to do with family, relationships, finances, health, children, or some other sort of thing in our lives. But God means it for our good, just like Joseph in prison. This disaster was meant for his growth, that he wouldn’t boast in his dream, but he would humbly walk it out and realize that it was only grace in the first place, not anything to flaunt in front of his brothers.
I don’t know if I’ve made that clear enough for you. I will say just this one thing to help settle the point in your mind that when you need to go to a new degree of glory, a new level of relationship with God, a new level of fruitfulness in the body of Christ and in the world, probably it is sin that is holding you back. More than likely it is an area of your life that you have clung to, or you have kept hidden away secret and it’s never been challenged. You’ve allowed an attitude to sit there that is ungodly to the core, but somehow you’ve managed to keep it in the background. Because it’s not an issue, it’s not readily seen, but you’ve clung onto it. In your heart you know you have, and certainly in Jesus’ heart He knows that you have held onto that, and He is going to directly address that issue with you. He is going to bring it to the foreground. He is going to crank up the heat, allow that thing to come out for all its insanity and all of its foolishness, allow it to be manifested in a way that is visible and ugly to the core, so that it can be cropped off and dealt with. So we can see whether our faith is in Him or our own righteous acts and deeds and behavior. To see if, after hearing the rooster crow, we will weep bitterly, but then immediately go back to our brothers and back to Jesus’ side, as Peter did.
Be watching. If you’ve ever been on a plateau, or ever shall be on a plateau (and I think that pretty well covers everyone), be watching for God to draw on an area of your life that needs to be dealt with in a very severe way. Watch Him put a spotlight on that thing that has kept you from growing into the full measure and stature and the fruitfulness of Jesus Christ. Again, the goal is nothing less than the holiness of Jesus, the love and tenderness of Jesus, the wisdom of Jesus Christ, the fruitfulness and the persecution that Jesus received, because no man is above his teacher. That’s the goal. If you really want to get there, be prepared for a stumbling stone—a skandalon. Be prepared to have something brought to the surface in a way that humiliates you and forces you to decide whether you are going to live for Jesus or self-preservation. Whether you are going to humble yourself after the rooster crows and go out and embrace your brothers and live for Jesus, or if you are going to go out and hang yourself like Judas did. Is it about you or about Jesus? If you love Him more than you love yourself, then when that skandalon comes…when that offense comes…when the spotlight is turned on…when the walls are lowered and that thing comes right out into the open to be dealt with, you will go running into His arms. He will draw you out of His mercy, and those that are forgiven much will love much. In your weakness, you will be that much closer to the character and, ultimately, the fruitfulness of Jesus because you are a purer vessel for Him to work through.