Wineskins Archive

December 9, 2013

Right Ladder, Wrong Wall? (May 2012)

Filed under: — @ 1:14 pm and

By Al Maxey

There is a wise old saying I learned many years ago that offers some food for thought: “Some people reach the top of the ladder only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall.” Some are so intent upon climbing the ladder of success that they take no note of where it leads. As a result, many succeed only to fail. In defense of such persons, however, let it be said that many honestly believed that their ladder was leaning against the right wall; that when they had successfully climbed each rung and arrived at the pinnacle, they would achieve what they had genuinely set out to realize. Thus, not only sadness, but oftentimes shock, awaits them at the top. I have known people, for example, who devoted years of their life to becoming school teachers, only to learn, when they had arrived at their goal, that teaching school was not for them. They had climbed their ladder successfully, but it was against the wrong wall.

This happens with respect to our educational goals, career choices, personal relationships, financial goals, and, yes, even in our spiritual quests. In life, some of our ladders are already placed against certain walls from the moment of our first breath. I was raised up in the Churches of Christ, for example, because that was the group with which my parents were affiliated. I climbed the ladder against that wall without question for many years. There came a point in my life, however, when I questioned whether I wanted my spiritual ladder against that particular wall. Perhaps there were other walls more suited to my own spiritual journey. To make a long quest brief, my ladder is still against that wall, but it is there now by my own choice.

I should also point out that along the way, in my journey through life, I have come to some rather significant spiritual perceptions about the nature of the ladder I climb and the wall against which it leans, perhaps the greatest of which is that my life and my personal worth are really not all about either of these two. One of the greatest dangers in life, and in our quest for eternal life, is that we can become so obsessed with the rungs of our own ladder, and so enamored by the wall right before our faces, that we lose sight of what truly constitutes our identity. It is not the ladder nor the wall, but He who stands above both with outstretched arms to welcome us. I am of worth because I am His, not because my ladder is better than someone else’s, or that I am higher on mine than they are on theirs, or that my wall is the “right” one and theirs is not.

All of this can be especially troubling to a disciple of Christ Jesus when it begins to become apparent that perhaps they have had their ladder placed against a wall that simply was not right for them. Each of us, as we grow and mature in Him, continually assess our goals, our efforts, our focus, our associations and our priorities. We make adjustments where needed; we change when necessary. When our sincere evaluation leads us to the determination that a major shift or transformation of life is required, this can be one of life’s most traumatic moments of decision. It can also prove to be one of the most costly. In spite of all the talk about freedom and grace and love, the sad reality is that few look favorably upon those persons who choose to relocate their ladder! Even the apostle John, the disciple of love (as he is often characterized), sought to hinder another disciple simply because that man’s ladder was propped against a different wall [Mark 9:38; Luke 9:49]. Let’s face it, the power of “brand loyalty” is great … even in religion. One questions and challenges it at one’s own personal risk. Moving one’s ladder to another wall will bring a flood of response, and some of it will not be positive. Those who are contemplating change must be prepared to pay the price that accompanies their choice, and, sadly, many are not. As a result, they continue their climb up a wall they now know leads nowhere, and their frustration grows as they step up each new rung.

At some point in life, most all of us reach that critical point in our climb when we halt for a moment and reassess where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. Before we take that next step, we must come to a personal decision regarding the remainder of our journey. Some disciples come to this point sooner than others; some make their choice more easily than others; but, unless we’re content to be blind followers, most do arrive at this moment of decision. Our own families, friends, traditions and faith-heritage play fairly significant roles in how easy or difficult this choice becomes for us, as do our own personal expectations, aspirations, perceptions and purposes in life. When this point of decision comes with respect to our spiritual journey and those with whom we choose to associate during that quest, it can be painful indeed.

As a minister and elder, for example, I have had to make the difficult decision several times over the past 36 years as to when it was time for me to advance to the next phase of my work for the Lord. I have been richly blessed during this journey in that I have never been asked to leave by a congregation; the choice was always made because I felt God had new challenges ahead for me, and for my family, and I always moved on to the next work under very favorable and supportive circumstances. Nevertheless, these were still painful decisions, as the people we were leaving behind were dearly loved by us (and still are). In Hawaii, for example (where I served for 6 years as minister of the Honolulu Church of Christ), a great many of the members came to the airport with us and loaded us down with flower leis as we boarded the jet for the mainland. There were many hugs and tears as my family and I transitioned to the next phase of our service to the Lord and His people. Yes, change has its price, even under favorable circumstances.

Sadly, not every transition is as positive as that described above. For some disciples, leaving a congregation of believers with whom they may have associated for a number of years becomes a bitter, heart-wrenching experience. Perhaps they no longer share the same vision as their brethren in that location. Perhaps turmoil and conflict have arisen between them and their fellow disciples, with relationships growing increasingly distant and cold. Thus, a point will come, unless one is some sort of masochist, when a serious, reflective reassessment of one’s associates on this journey of life will need to be made. In determining one’s course for the immediate future, one will ask a series of pointed questions of oneself, chief among them being: Do I shake off the dust and leave, or do I stay and fight on for change? In other words, one must weigh in the balance: what is best for me and what is best for them? Is the choice wholly black and white, or are there acceptable shades of gray where the good of both may be achieved? How one answers will determine one’s course of action, and, indeed, one’s future.

There are real people out there hurting because of all the politics and power struggles being waged within their congregations and movements. This is a pathetic state of affairs, and it is proving costly. Disciples are moving their ladders; they are finding new walls. And, frankly, can you blame them?! Many faithful, grace-centered, Christ-focused brethren are growing increasingly frustrated by the legalism they perceive within their groups. Although they’ve sought to facilitate change in these areas, they are met by overwhelming opposition and castigation. At some point these disheartened disciples must make a decision: Do I stay and fight on for change, or do I depart? A growing number are understandably choosing the latter.

My heart truly goes out to those faced with this choice. Increasingly, they observe the encroaching darkness of legalism, and it finally becomes more than they can bear. For their own spiritual survival, and that of their families, they make the decision to leave so as to find a more grace-centered fellowship. This exodus from religious rigidity is occurring more and more throughout Christendom, and it is my fervent prayer that with each passing day the universal Family of God (His One Body) will see an increasing number of liberated disciples: men, women and young people who have fled their bondage to enjoy freedom in Christ. Those of us who are already free in Him may hold high the beacon that lights the way out of the darkness, but it is truly almost impossible to force one to live free. That can only come when they themselves choose to be free. On September 22, 1936, in a speech delivered on the 74th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” In other words, those in bondage must come to that point of decision previously discussed; they must make the conscious commitment: “I will be free, regardless of the cost.” Only then will they have found the strength of conviction to move their ladder to a different wall. Our task is to light the way, lend a helping hand, and embrace them in love as they turn to the Light.

To those who have recently left their bondage, and who are now experiencing the outpouring of hatred from those religionists they have left behind, I extend a sincere prayer to the Father that He will now pour out upon them an abundance of His richest blessings. May they be comforted and encouraged in the journey ahead; may He lead them to a warm, loving, accepting fellowship of believers who will truly assist them in their journey to our eternal home. I am confident that at some point in the future, when the hurt has subsided, they will look back upon this decision to depart the darkness as one of the best they ever made. I pray that neither guilt nor doubt will hold them back, or cause them to hesitate. May they step boldly into the glorious future our Father has in store for them. Brethren, we are free … let us live it. And let us share it with others. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” [Galatians 5:1].

Although many disciples choose to leave congregations where law reigns supreme rather than the Lord (and I certainly applaud those who make this decision for their spiritual well-being), nevertheless there are others who choose to remain among these misguided disciples in the hope of helping them to perceive the way of the Lord more perfectly. This ministry is not for everyone; it takes a very special person to remain where darkness reigns and proclaim the way to Light. It is dangerous work and can prove personally costly. These men and women will sacrifice much for the sake of their beloved brethren in bondage. The disappointments will be many and the victories few, but they are more than aware that each soul is precious, and if they are able to lead only a few to safety, these few rescued souls are people who would likely have remained in bondage had not these brave liberators devoted themselves to staying among them. I firmly believe God has a special reward for such persons who stay behind to point the way forward. These are the special forces in the army of the Lord. They are heroes!

Some of these heroes are battle-scarred; they bear the wounds of their spiritual conflict. After detailing the nature of the battle against legalism, and his tireless battle for freedom, Paul ends the book of Galatians with this observation: “I bear on my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” [Galatians 6:17]. Paul wore these battle scars proudly, for they were acquired in service to his Lord.

Brethren, each day you and I face countless challenges to our commitment. Each day we face new moments of decision as to what our attitudes and actions will be. With each new day comes new choices. Do I remain or do I leave? Do I press the battle to the enemy or do I fall back and regroup? There is no answer that can easily be applied to all people and all circumstances uniformly. We must each assess the situation on its own merits, and then, with the aid of the Spirit who indwells us, make the decision that accomplishes the most good for the most concerned. At times this will mean moving on; at times it will mean fighting on. It will always mean relying on the strength and wisdom of the Lord. He will never desert you. Never fear the pathway that lies ahead, no matter how fearsome that pathway may appear. He has walked it ahead of you, and He will bring you safely through. May each of you be richly blessed in your spiritual climb toward the pinnacle where Father and Son await to embrace each Spirit-filled, Spirit-led disciple.

See you at the top!

1 Comment »

  1.   barbara holcomb — May 23, 2017 @ 6:58 am    Reply

    enjoyed this and need more inspiration in all things.

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