Let me tell you about a very successful man. As a child, his name was on the lips of kings. No doubt his greatness was partially due to a gifting beyond words. After all, he taught himself to play the piano at age three. He was composing music for orchestras at the age of five, and he performed internationally at six.

But there was something more, something different about this man—even as a boy. His hunger for music was insatiable.

His father was a famous and very accomplished musician in his own right. When the boy expressed this deep interest, his father refused him, not wanting to start him too soon. The boy’s own initiative overcame that obstacle, and consequently he was encouraged by his father and the touring began. Thus, too, began a lifestyle. And this lifestyle started him on a climb up a very tall but promising ladder.

Climbing rung after rung, he submerged himself in his music nearly all of his waking hours. As an adult, he wrote or performed an average of 20 hours per day. He ate at his piano and slept at his writing table. In his lifetime, he wrote more than four times the amount of Beethoven in nearly half the time, completing nearly 626 pieces of music.

Finally, at the young age of 35, the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died of multiple diseases, most of which were ultimately caused by exhaustion. He died a pauper. And he left behind a wife and two children whom he barely knew.

Does the world remember his investment? Yes. Did climbing his ladder make a difference in the world of music? Yes. But it didn’t come cheap. In the end, how he invested his life brought devastating returns.

As men, we climb all kinds of ladders in our desire to be successful. Much like Mozart, we are rabid climbers, willing to move up with vigor. But in the end, whether we realize it or not, we find that we’ve chosen the wrong one … or that we never looked at where the ladder was leading. We are often forced to pay the price and deal with the consequences, which can be very costly.

The sign at the bottom

At the bottom of each of these ladders, there is a sign that makes us a promise. Each is worded slightly different, but the promise for each is basically the same: “Climb this ladder, and all your desires will be fulfilled.” It promises us what we really want. All we have to do is climb. And, after all, the ladder doesn’t look all that dangerous from the ground. So, with no test or investigation, we climb.

These signs remind me of a conversation recorded a long time ago. Knowing the heart’s desire to be in charge of our own lives—to be like God—a cunning serpent flashed a sign in front of a vulnerable woman. The sign promised that she would be like God, if only she’d eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. “Being like God is a good thing, isn’t it?” she wondered. So she climbed. All because of the promise on the sign.

We’ve got to realize that these ladders have been strategically placed there by our enemy to draw our attention away from the right ladder. And, because they are from our enemy, the promises made by the signs at the bottom are nothing but empty deceit. We’ve got to admit that we have climbed some of these ladders, that we are climbing them, and that we’ve fallen victim to the enemy’s schemes. And, we’ve got to accept the consequences, no matter how big and frightening they are, to get away from them and start climbing the right one.

The Ladder of Lust: The sign at the bottom of this ladder promises control and intimacy. And so, we climb. We do it with a few different mindsets:

“A woman is to be studied and conquered.”

“When I’m with my wife there are too many variables. With pornography, I can be in control.” 

I have an emptiness that will get filled if I can have her/it.”

And, one rung at a time, we climb the ladder. Yet, as we climb, we find we have less control, not more. As we climb, we find the emptiness growing inside of us, not being filled.

The Ladder of Work: The sign at the bottom of this ladder promises significance. That is the main identity of men in this culture. When a man hears the phrase, “Tell me about yourself,” his employment is almost always the first thing he mentions.

And so we climb, looking for significance, and what do we find the higher we climb? We find extra-marital affairs, divorce, heart disease, and regret. We spend our lives building something that we will ultimately leave behind. At the same time, we fail to build into the only thing we get to take with us into eternity—our families.

The Ladder of Pastimes: The sign at the bottom of this ladder promises an escape. If it gets too tough at home, at least we have the driving range, or the golf course, or the project in the garage, or a sports team to follow. And so, we climb.

What happens as we climb higher? We come to know more about the dead quarterbacks of our favorite football team than we do about our children’s schooling. We strive harder to achieve a lower golf score than we do to capture our wives’ hearts. There is an inescapable reality about this ladder that we ignore and resent—real life is always waiting for us when we get home. We think it will alleviate some of the pressure; all it does is intensify it.

The Ladder of Television: This specific ladder could be included in the Ladder of Pastimes, but it warrants a separate listing. The sign at the bottom of this ladder promises the additional blessings for you and your children of enjoyment and entertainment. And we find those.

What we need, though, is a chance to discover the real condition of our relationships in our homes. Yet television has so infiltrated the American mind that we don’t see the damage. It works like a painkiller in our lives. But it doesn’t fix anything.

The Goal at the Top: Though the signs at the bottom promise different things, the goal at the top of each of these ladders is the same. Take a close look. On each ladder we are trying to attain a good thing through our own efforts … in our own way. We are trying to fill our needs for intimacy, for significance, for escape all by ourselves. We are trying to give to ourselves what only God can give. In reality, we are trying to be God (or Lord) of our own lives.

The results of our climbing prove this out. We climb apart from God and we suffer. God chooses not to bless our efforts for one main reason: these needs that we try to fill were given to us to draw us to God. By avoiding Him in fulfilling them, we are avoiding their very purpose. We’ve got to be willing to admit this and accept it.

The Right Ladder—Discipleship: The sign at the bottom of this ladder promises peace, rest, contentment, wholeness, joy. When we climb the Ladder of Discipleship, we never have to wonder where it leads. Jesus is not only climbing this ladder along with us, but He is also at the top, cheering us on.

Discipleship is simply laying down all of the distractions in your life and following Jesus alone. It is knowing you fall short of perfection, but desiring to live more for Him. It is loving God, hating sin, and following Jesus each step of the way.

As you climb the Ladder of Discipleship, something amazing happens to you. You start to become more like Christ. Those motivations that caused you to climb the other ladders start to drift away. We gain the intimacy we wanted when we climbed Lust. We gain the significance we wanted when we climbed Work. And we gain the peace we wanted when we climbed the Ladders of Pastimes and Television.

The Ladder of Discipleship was placed there by our Savior. The sign at the bottom made promises that the ladder and the wall can actually keep.

When we climb the right ladder, we get to take our family with us because they can climb the right ladder, too. Remember Christ’s words in Matthew 16:24-26:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'”

We’ve got to heed those words and take seriously this issue of what we’re climbing after. We’ve got to get serious and acknowledge the schemes set to ensnare us. And we’ve got to identify them and abandon them. And when we do that, something remarkable happens: Our sex, our work, and our pastimes will honor God. They will not be distractions keeping us from what God wants us to be. They will be rungs and blessings along the climb to what God wants us to be.

There is another way and there is another ladder. Ask God to drive these wrong ladders from your life and join Him on the right one. The task seems daunting at the onset. But remember, “If God is for you, who then is against you?” No opposition can stand when you are walking with Christ. Whatever the cost, abandoning these fruitless ladders is worth it. You cannot imagine the blessings that you’ll miss if you reject this opportunity.

Do it. Step up and watch God work.

Copyright © 2006 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.