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« The Law of the Wineskins | Main | The Irresistible Force vs. the Immovable Object »

Plateau Perils

“Plateauing” entered the language back in frontier days, when wagon trains pushed along mountainous paths for long, grueling months.  Suddenly, the punishing pathway opened up into a high, level plain or plateau, bringing a welcome relief to the climb.  Today, business analysts use the term to describe flat lines in their growth charts.  Plateaus describe times when we’re neither climbing higher nor going downhill.  We’re just taking a break.  Spiritual plateaus do not bode well for believers.  They yield a false sense of security and beguile weary travelers with smug satisfaction.  On a plateau, distant goals lose their luster, the stretch of tomorrows in the trail ahead blurs together with numbing sameness, and the temptation to stop and camp is nearly irresistible.  The following dangerous mindsets signal perilous plateaus: 

  • I have a good understanding about the basics.  (I don’t need to learn anymore.)  Two illusory courses lead to error.  Either you lose interest in the Scripture or you venture off into novel doctrines.  Continually refresh yourself in the basics of the Gospel: salvation, the nature of God, separation from the world, discipleship and the fundamentals of the faith.  Never think you have no need for rehearsing them yet again.  God has packed more treasure in the bedrock foundations of the church than you will deplete in your lifetime. 
  • I have my personal life in order.  (Relax!  I am not going to do something stupid.)  The basics of prayer, church attendance, giving, Bible reading and ministering to others are not little things that will take care of themselves.  You must take care of them.  Otherwise, you will indeed do something stupid if you assume you won’t.  Personal responsibility never stops being important in your heavenward journey.
  • I have achieved a level of respect.  (Everybody thinks I’m okay.)  Reject the elixir of popular opinion. Reputation cannot save you.  Regardless of the favorable opinions others may have of you, your spiritual welfare is between you and God alone.  Please God, period. 
  • I have accomplished something of significance. (I’ve done enough.)  None of us has done enough.  God may have rested on the seventh day, but man still labors on in the sixth.  Your duties may change and your performance may diminish, but you haven’t arrived until the pearly gates click behind you.  Work for God and resist the temptation to look back and admire your accomplishments. 
  • I have nothing to prove.  (The big battles are behind me.)  Satan never gets discouraged and quits, even after years of hassling you unsuccessfully.  He continues to probe for a point of entry.  When major transitions take place in your life such as graduation, marriage, children, new job, pay raise, moving into a new home, death of a loved one, and so on, brand new battles will crop up on your horizon. 
  • I have no pressing spiritual needs.  (No need to pray, fast and study).  Plateaus have no discernible inclines or declines, so you may feel cocooned into security.  But, the danger is not the climb; it’s the respite at the end of the climb.  Just as eating and sleeping are daily needs, so also your spiritual life makes constant demands.  No one matures past his or her spiritual needs.
  • I’m not perfect, but I’m not as bad as others.  (Actually, I kind of like myself.)  This is the favorite refuge of the flesh.  Don’t forget that there are infinite ways to fail, but only one measurable way to succeed.  Peg your progress to Christ, not to the bad guys, or even the good guys around you.  You may be more perfect than others, but the goal is to be remade into the image of Christ.   

One final danger that plateaus represent: loss of spiritual momentum.  Sometimes momentum carries us through a crisis when nothing else can.  The only way to keep up momentum is to keep climbing.  Jesus said, “While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares.”  Matthew 13:25. Stick with the task.  Stay “on message.”  God’s will in your life does not reside in the status quo, but in the unrelenting reach for higher ground.   

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