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Breaking through Plateaus

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Breaking through Plateaus’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 6/7/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

What is a Plateau?

This morning, we’re talking about effortless breakthrough. Specifically, we’re talking about how to deal with plateaus. A plateau is a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress. [1] They can be extremely frustrating, and they seem to come along at the worst possible times. Just when your life is chugging along the way you want it to…BAM. You encounter resistance.

Plateaus can be ferocious tests to our faith: are we actually willing to lay our lives down and contend for the fullness of God’s promises over our lives? Plateaus can come along because we’re tired, or because we get bored. They can also materialize when we need to develop and grow.

We all encounter plateaus in various spheres of life. Plateaus can be physical. If you’re a runner, you’re probably familiar with them. You make great initial gains, and your times and distances improve. But then you hit a ceiling. You can’t break through that time you really want to beat, and you don’t know why.

Weightlifters experience it too. You start to build muscle quickly, but then all of a sudden the rapid growth stops. You can’t increase your bench press, and the thought of churning out another rep makes you sick. All of a sudden, you can’t gain muscle, no matter what you do.

Plateaus can also happen in our careers. Maybe you worked your butt off to get where you are. You are the perfect employee, and you honor your boss in every way possible. You’re the first one in the office, and the last one to leave. That big promotion is right around the corner…but then your boss gives the job to someone else. All of a sudden, the doors to promotion close. So what do you do?

Plateaus can happen in relationships. You meet the man or woman of your dreams, and sparks fly. The first date is amazing, and you can’t wait to dream about the future. But after a few months, reality kicks in. “Does this person really want the same things as me? Why isn’t our relationship as exciting as it used to be?” When the doubts come, breakthrough seems impossible. So how do you respond?

Perhaps most importantly, plateaus can be spiritual. I remember when I first became a Christian. I prayed for healing, and I was healed. I prayed for financial breakthrough, and God added a zero to my bank account. No matter what I prayed for, God delivered. But then I hit a wall. The hard work was beginning. I had a choice: would I give up, and convince myself that religion wasn’t for me? Or would I invite God into my situation, and ask Him to take control?

The worst possible response we can have to the emergence of a plateau is to give up completely. Sometimes we respond inappropriately, saying things like, “God, I’ve done everything You’ve asked me to do, and it’s gotten me nowhere.” And then we quit. We stop going to the gym, or we quit our job. We break off that relationship, or we stop praying and studying God’s word every day. We give up on our dreams, and forget about everything God has promised us.

Or, we take matters into our own hands. We forget that He is in charge, and we try and take matters into our own hands to get back on the road to progress. And the advice we get from professional experts can sometimes do more harm than good!

The Traditional Approach

The world is full of opinions on how to break out from plateaus. The vast majority of the time, the advice we hear from experts is: do something new.

If your plateau is physical, shock your system. Try a new exercise, or add weight and force your body to adjust. If your plateau is career-related, take a risk. Ask for a meeting with your manager, and request a raise. Start a second career and pursue the fulfillment you’re missing in your job. If you need relationship breakthrough, take a trip! Take your sweetie somewhere you’ve never been before. Spiritual problems? Find a new church, or a good conference to go to. Do something new!

The problem with ‘traditional’ approaches to breaking through plateaus is that new things take a lot of effort. Shocking the system and taking a risk can be exhausting. At a certain point, we reach the point of diminishing returns: putting in even more effort results in even less change. We try to find our own breakthrough by waking up earlier, working harder, and pushing the envelope. And that’s how we end up tired, frustrated, and burned out.

The Kingdom Approach

There is a better way. God invites us to deal with plateaus in a different fashion. He asks us to let Him do the heavy lifting. He promises that when we take the back seat and let Him drive, our breakthrough is right around the corner.

David was a man who knew how to effectively break through plateaus. After he was anointed king of Israel, he went to war with the Philistines:

Now when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. And David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. The Philistines also went and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. So David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.”

– 2 Sam 5:17-19

David had gone into battle countless times before. He expected complete deliverance from his enemies, because He had seen God deliver him time and again.

David had the very healthy habit of always asking God to give him the green light to go into battle. If God said no, David wouldn’t go. David waited to hear from God before moving. At first, it seemed as if everything was proceeding according to plan:

So David went to Baal Perazim, and David defeated them there; and he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me, like a breakthrough of water.” Therefore he called the name of that place Baal Perazim (Master of Breakthroughs). And they left their images there, and David and his men carried them away. – 2 Sam 5:20-21

But this time would be different. David experienced initial victory. But then the Philistines did something they had never done before. Instead of backing off, they doubled down:

Then the Philistines went up once again and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. – 2 Sam 5:22

The Philistines refused to roll over and play dead. Every other enemy David had encountered as a general had waved the white flag. Israel had defeated all her enemies, and forced opposing peoples to pay tribute. But this time would be different.

David hit a plateau. This enemy wouldn’t die. David has experienced some victory, but not the full manifestation of victory. The same things he had always tried no longer gave him the prize. So what did he do?

Therefore David inquired of the Lord, and He said, “You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.” And David did so, as the Lord commanded him; and he drove back the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer. – 2 Sam 5:23-25

David submitted to God. God called David to do something completely brand new, and David said yes. God called David to take a step back, and let Him take control. God showed him a new route to victory that he never would have considered. Instead of facing his enemy with the same old strategy, God gave him a new angle. David would circle around his enemies instead of facing them head on; and by the time he got there, God’s angelic armies would already be forcing his enemies into defeat!

The world proposes solutions to breakthrough that require intense effort; but God proposes solutions that require intense trust. When we encounter intense resistance, the best thing we can ever do is seek God. He will ask us to do a new thing. He will encourage us to trust Him, and try a brand new approach. And when we get out of the way, He will do the hard work on our behalf!

Breaking Formulas

God is not formulaic. He does not respond to formulas. That is why, when Jesus told His disciples how to pray, He showed them a new thing. He encouraged them not to pray like the Pharisees, who repeated vain and formulaic prayers. Instead, He asked them to pray directly and succinctly (see Matt 6:5-13), trusting that God would make heavenly resources available.

As soon as something becomes formulaic, we should change it. That goes for our prayer life. It also goes for every single thing we do. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have our simple disciplines. We should meditate on God’s word day and night (Ps 1:2). We should pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). But when we need breakthrough, we should be ready to ask God to lead us into something new!

God does not respond to repetitious, lifeless prayers. He does not respond to formulaic actions. If your prayer doesn’t move you, it’s not going to move God! So why do we keep on doing the same things if we know they don’t work? Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.[2] Are you praying the same prayers, and doing the same things, every single day and expecting God to do something unexpected?

Let God win your victory for you. Ask Him to show you something new. When David needed victory over the Philistines, God gave him a new approach. God sent the personnel from Heaven to win David’s Kingdom victory for him. If David did it, so can you. Let God win your victory instead of taking matters into your own hands!

David knew that God sometimes has an ‘unconventional’ approach. He knew that God’s methods are not our methods. God does not need the same tools and weapons we do; He can win a victory however He pleases:

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.” 1 Sam 17:45-47

God does not win with worldly weapons. Your level of education doesn’t matter; if God wants you t have the job, you will. Your credit doesn’t matter; if God wants you to have the perfect apartment, you will!

God does not respond to formula; He responds to obedience. Formulaic action means we think we’re in control: if we do something specific, God will respond according to our expectations. But obedience means we know we’re not in control. Obedience means we’ve agreed to let God steer the ship!

Give It Up

Give your situation up to God. Invite the Holy Spirit to speak into your life, and propose a new course of action: one where God does all the work for you. You’re not at a plateau because the resistance is greater than it has ever been; you’re at a plateau because your confidence in yourself is greater than it has ever been.

On your own, you can do nothing; but through you, God can do whatever He pleases!

– by Pastor Mike White

© Michael D. White, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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