THREE WAYS TO COUNTER A SPIRITUAL PLATEAU
Plateau is a geographic term used to describe an area of relatively level high ground. However, this term is also used as a verb, defined as reaching, “a state of little or no change after a time of activity or progress.”1 For example, suppose a man is on a weight loss program, and he is able to drop thirty pounds in a few weeks. At that time, the weight loss levels out and he suddenly finds it difficult to shed even a couple of pounds. It can be said of this man that his weight loss has plateaued. The progress that he was experiencing has come to a halt.
We can easily experience the same progression in our spiritual lives if we are not diligent to maintain a hunger for the things of God. In my own life, I find it increasingly challenging to maintain my hunger for the Lord in the current spiritual climate in which we live. There are so many forces all around us clamoring for our attention. The world is filling our schedules with activities and our minds with distractions. We are constantly being bombarded with a myriad of interruptions and the busyness of life has increased at a dizzying rate. We have careers to maintain, marriages that need our attention, children to take care of, ministries to serve in and many other important obligations. We exert all our energy trying to keep each of the proverbial plates spinning. And when we must let one of the plates fall, too often it is the plate of spiritual hunger that hits the floor first.
Have you ever visited a beach when there are large waves breaking on the shore? If you go out into the water where your feet can barely touch the bottom, and one of those waves hits you, you are submerged under the water for a moment, and then you struggle to the top to get a breath. Before you know it, another wave comes crashing in. It can be dangerous if you are unable to get your footing and make your way back to the shore. Even if you are a strong swimmer and you know you are safe, it can leave you feeling panicked when you cannot catch a full breath before the next wave overtakes you.
I feel like this experience often describes my spiritual life. I find myself trying to stay full of passion for the Lord. But it seems like there are waves of distractions, and waves of resistance that try to choke that spiritual life out. It can feel like, just when I get my head above the surface to breathe in a fresh breath of spiritual life, another wave pulls me under the surface again.I find myself more than ever realizing a believer’s great need to intentionally chase after the Lord. Click To Tweet
I find myself more than ever realizing a believer’s great need to intentionally chase after the Lord. The temptation is to stop swimming and just go along with the current of culture. My flesh wants to just put my spiritual life on “cruise control.” Yet doing so will inevitably lead to a spiritual plateau. Here are three practical things that you can do when you feel yourself getting to that place in your spiritual life:
1. Go Back to the First Things
In the book of Revelation, Jesus gives specific messages to seven churches in Asia Minor. To the church in Ephesus, he says:
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:2-5)
Jesus praises the Ephesian church for their hard work, their fight for truth and their endurance. However, He looks into their hearts and sees something is missing: their first love. He is speaking here about the intimacy that we experience in our relationship with Christ when we are born again. Can you remember a season in your life when your heart was so full of love for Jesus, it was like He was the only thing you could think about?
The issue is that we often get to a place where we allow that love to cool off. Our pursuit of the Lord grows less intense and before we know it, we plateau spiritually. Jesus gives us a simple two-step formula for what to do to reignite that love. First, He tells us to repent. It is not God’s will for us to stay in that condition. We are to turn away from the things that have gotten in the way and turn our hearts back toward Him. Second, He says to do the things we did at first. A couple of other versions say it this way:
Repent and live as you lived at first. (PHP)
Turn back! Recover your dear early love. (MSG)
Repent, and do the first works (KJV)
What is Jesus telling us to do in this verse? Think back to a time that you were really close to the Lord. Perhaps it was just after you were born again. Maybe it is another season in life when you found His presence near and sweet. Chances are, there were things that you were doing then that you are no longer doing now. In my own life, the times when I am experiencing greater intimacy with the Lord are times when I have set aside more time to pray and seek His face, sometimes late into the night. For you, it may be some other spiritual activity that caused you to connect with Him on a deeper level. Jesus says, “Go back and do those things again.”
If you find your spiritual life plateauing, take some time to examine your life and go back to doing the things that you did when you were passionately seeking the Lord.
2. Find Hunger-Creators
As you walk with Christ and grow in your relationship with Him, you learn which activities in your life create hunger…and also which activities diminish that hunger. Knowing these two categories and the activities that fall into each column is crucial to maintaining hunger and avoiding plateau.
Because we are all wired differently, we each respond in unique ways spiritually. For one person, a certain kind of worship music may create a deep hunger to seek the Lord and the same music might do nothing in the heart of another believer. The issue is not the object or activity itself but what it does in your spiritual life. Only you can determine those things that really drive you into a place of greater hunger.
One of the tried and true hunger-creators in my own life is reading classic biographies of great men and women of God. When I see how the Lord has moved in the lives of other people, it creates a godly jealousy in me to have a deeper walk with the Lord. When I am dry spiritually, I know that if I pick up one of these stories, it will always create a deeper hunger in my life for spiritual things.
There are also hunger-diminishers in our lives. These are the activities that suck the spiritual life out of us. They may be things that cause us to compromise, or they may just be distractions that pull our attention to the world around us. It is important that we analyze our lifestyles and determine if there is any way that we can minimize the things that diminish our spiritual hunger.It is important that we analyze our lifestyles and determine if there is any way that we can minimize the things that diminish our spiritual hunger. Click To Tweet
Write a list right now. Make two columns and over the first column write, “Hunger-Creators” and over the second column write, “Hunger-Diminishers.” Now prayerfully consider the most influential activities in your life and write each of them down in one column or the other. If you want to get out of just going through the motions spiritually, make intentional time for the things that create hunger in your life, and you are sure to see a change.
3. Take Time to Fast
One of the many benefits of fasting is the way that it can foster spiritual hunger in our lives. God designed our human bodies to require sustenance in order for us to survive. The nutrients that we receive from consuming food are essential to life. In order to keep us eating, the Lord gave us a hunger drive. This kicks into action when we need to eat as an alarm system of the body to let us know that we need nutrients.
When we abstain from food through fasting, our bodies try to signal to our brains that we need food through hunger pains. However—due to the fast—these hunger pains will not be satisfied in the usual way. It causes us to be in a continual state of hunger, and the only thing that we can do is go to the Lord and ask Him to fill that place. And He does! It is as if our natural hunger becomes spiritual hunger. It helps us learn to be satisfied in Him alone. And even after breaking a fast, the effect of increased spiritual hunger can have a residual effect if we continue to feed it.
I cannot prove it, but I have a theory that the Sons of Korah wrote some of their psalms during fasts. I love how they describe their great hunger for the presence of God:
Psalm 84:2– My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Psalm 42:1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
These are not the words of men in a spiritual plateau. Instead, they are the desperate cries of hungry hearts longing for more of the Lord. Do these words describe your current hunger for the Lord? If you want to put yourself in a position to increase spiritual hunger, consider going on a fast. (For some practical tips on fasting, see this article.)
If you feel like you are in a place where you are spiritually plateauing, and your hunger and passion for the Lord has dwindled, consider going back to the first things, finding your hunger-creators and taking time to fast. Perhaps it would be a great time to pray a prayer like this:
“Lord, when I look at my current spiritual condition, I see a lack. I do not want to go through the motions of Christianity; I want to have a greater passion for you. Help me to repent and turn my heart back to you. I want to hunger for you in a greater way than ever before. Thank you for stirring my heart. Lead me back into a place of greater spiritual hunger. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
DUSTIN RENZ is the President of Make Way Ministries, a non-profit organization that exists to see the world changed one Christian at a time. He has a passion to see the Body of Christ find rich intimacy in their relationship with Jesus and step out in faith to share the Gospel with the world around them. He is the author of Pile of Masks: Exposing Christian Hypocrisy and Something Better. He resides in Dayton, Ohio with his wife and three daughters.