So, You Want To Get To The Next Level?

That’s a GREAT idea! In fact, anyone who doesn’t, there is something wrong. We were created to always be growing, and in God’s Word, He promises to join us in that effort and be “perfecting us” throughout our lives. So, you are starting off with a good Partner! The question is, “how?

When I think of getting to the next level, whether that mean in a relationship, or finding a relationship, or in a career, or in our spiritual lives, or even our health and well-being, I begin by remembering there are only two systems known to humans as to how to make it happen. But there is a big difference in the two. One of them always fails, and the other one is the one that works.     

The first one is the natural one that all of us do. We see an area of life that is not where we would like it to be, we choose the standard of what we would like for it to be, and we try to reach it. Think New Year’s resolutions. At the end of the year, about now, we notice that there is something we want to change, and we say, “Next year, I am going to change this,” Then we resolve to change it. We begin with high hopes, and set out working on it, trying to be better. Shortly thereafter, we fall short in some way. We do not make it to our goal. And when that happens, we feel “bad.” We judge ourselves, feel guilty, inadequate, and the like. Then, when we feel bad about it, we get re-committed and “try harder.” Then, the same thing happens all over again. That is normal, and that is human. And it is also the reason that most people feel stuck, ultimately giving into hopelessness and never changing that area of life.

If you think about it, this is what the Bible calls the “Law.” It is having a commandment or a standard, and then trying to reach it. And it also says that system was “powerless” to change us. Standard, trying, failing, feeling condemned, starting over, and cycling downward. So, begin with repenting from that system, as it never works.

Fortunately, there is another system that God gives us that does work. In every area of life. It goes like this:

•  First, admit that you are unable to change. Just admit it….you have not been able to do it so far…on your own.
•  Second, stop feeling condemned. Embrace His forgiveness and acceptance to be who you are, loved as you are right now, before you even change one bit. You are loved and accepted already. If you want to read about this, read Romans chapter 7, where Paul goes through the exact cycle I mentioned above. “The good that I want to do I do not do. Instead I do exactly the opposite! Wretched person am I!” But then, in Chapter 8, after turning to Jesus, he proclaims “There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And, at that point, he was no better. Not one pound! But he had taken the first step: acceptance just like he was, based on God’s love.
•  Third, reach out! The reason we have never been able to change that part of our lives is that we have been trying to do it on our own, with our own willpower and effort. But, we are no different, just because the calendar says January 1, or any other new day. We are the same person that we were the day or year before when we were stuck. We are stuck in a closed system, just ourselves. It would be like telling a car that is out of gas to go get some self-gas. We cannot change alone.

The Bible and everything we know from science, research and psychology tells us that we need two things in order to change, and both of them come from outside ourselves. We need new sources of energy, new strength to change and persevere, and we need new intelligence, or new ways of doing whatever we are needing to change. And the Bible is clear that the new energy comes from two places: God, and other people. He gives us His strength as we ask Him and lean on Him, and He tells us very clearly to lean on others and draw strength from them. We are to support one another, strengthen one another, help one another, and on and on. Do not try to change any area of your life alone, or just alone with God. He tells us that as we are connected to each other, and each one of us doing our part to help each other, we will be healed and grow. (Eph. 4:16)

The second thing we need to change is new intelligence or wisdom and knowledge about whatever it is we are dealing with. Again, we get this from two places, God and other people. He gives us wisdom in His Word, and by His Spirit talking to us, and he also gives it to us through others and the knowledge they bring to us about whatever we are dealing with. The kicker here is that you must be getting input from others who actually are bringing some knowledge to the party! If you are depressed, maybe the friend you are talking to is supportive, but has never had experience treating hundreds of people who were depressed, like an experienced counselor or psychologist has done. Or, maybe the people you have been talking to about your career have never coached people in your career on how to get to the next level. In short, find real wisdom! Proverbs says to “buy wisdom.” (Prov. 23:23) Even if you have to pay for the expertise you need, go see someone who knows how to help you.

Third, surround yourself with people who are growing and getting there. If you want to get healthy, or advance your career, or whatever area you are thinking about, get in a good community of people who are headed in that direction. I love the saying, “Show me who you hang with and I will show you who you are.” Hebrews 10:23,24 tells us to push each other on to getting better in both our relationships and good deeds. Make sure you are surrounding yourself with those who are on a path upward in your area of growth.

Fourth, don’t quit! You will have setbacks, but perseverance is the only way to get there. And think of this….you will not be persevering by yourself with willpower. You will be traveling together with good people who can pick you up when you fall, teach you how do it differently next time, and show you how. Hard work, but very possible, even when we fail. We can all fail, ask for help, take in good support and advice, and try again.

This Holiday season, I hope things are going great for you. But if there is an area where you are discouraged, don’t stay stuck in the old system of self-help…the closed system. Join the path of what actually works: Open system change. Get out of the self-condemnation, reach out to God and wise people, and start not again, but anew!

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Dr. Henry Cloud

Dr. Cloud is an acclaimed leadership expert, psychologist, and best-selling author. He draws on his extensive experience in business, leadership consulting, and clinical psychology, to impart practical and effective advice for improving leadership skills and business performance. Dr. Cloud is a New York Times bestselling author, and his books have sold over 10 million copies.


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