Ladders and Trees

Why Self-Development Won't Get You Nearer to God

By Stephanie Ismer

This is the age of self-development. If you listen, you can almost hear the sound of our collective heartbeat, like the hammer of the ancient people who came together to build a tower to heaven. We are working, working, working to build ourselves up with achievement, success, money, and fame.

God's work is different. God's work is a slow, quiet, unstoppable force. It is seen in the march of time, the deep roots of truth, the immutable inevitability of prophecy. Man built a tower to outsmart God. But God took on flesh to save mankind.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8
Even our efforts for God are like buildings; square, modern, cumbersome, unyielding. But the things He does through us are organic. We've set up factories to pump out good works, but He compares His work through us to a fruit-bearing vine.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.John 15:4
When we abide in Him, He produces fruit in our lives. What is abiding? Staying near Him, and listening to Him. Where is He speaking? His Word. Once we're there at his feet, it just happens naturally. Love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest. You don't even have to work for it.
Blessed is the man...his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither Psalm 1:1, 2-3
I don't believe God gives a fig about our self-development, or about how successful we are in this world, or how good we are at balancing the books or cooking for twelve. None of that will get us closer to Him. Listen: God is not waiting for you to get up higher on the ladder so He can use you. Second Timothy 2 says that the useful vessel is the one that has purified itself. Where does purity come from? God. How do we become pure? By watching Him and loving Him, we'll start to be like Him.

Ultimately, He just wants us to watch Him work, and marvel, and ask for more. He wants us to be less like construction workers building an office complex, and more like a grove of citrus trees, basking in the sunshine.

Look at your church, your culture, and yourself. Have you noticed all the man-made structures? Marketing schemes and music industries, systematic theologies and seminaries, programs and politics. We're so busy asking God to dwell in what we've built, and to bless our endeavors, that we've forgotten that we are supposed to be the dwelling. We are supposed to be the structure, built by Him.
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
That ladder of success is very tall, and very steep, and many of us are weak in the knees. In this world, failure is embarrassing, and weakness isn't welcome. But God doesn't mind it — in fact, it's exactly what He wants from us.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Image Credit: jessamyn west; "is this what self help means?"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life

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Published 4-28-11; Revised on 6-15-15