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Ending the Game of Ladders

There is a game the enemy of our souls loves to play that I can only call “the game of ladders.” The unspoken goal of his game is to convince you that you must escape the bottom and get to the top. But there's a problem. When you live on a ladder, the enemy of your soul will constantly shame you. Highlighting every weakness, every flaw, and every shortcoming, the accuser will tell you every reason you don't deserve to be at the top of the ladder. The tool that he loves the most is comparison. He would delight in nothing more than to get you to spend every waking hour obsessing about where you are on the ladder by assessing where everyone else is. Stop and read that again. That’s the start of the game. That’s the scheme.

Wherever you need to assess, it won’t be long until you obsess.

Every social media post of another person’s successful life; every job promotion they celebrate; every story about someone’s highly achieving kid; every dream vacation slideshow you only wish you could afford; every post that gets liked and shared way more than yours...every image of the world’s airbrushed best becomes about YOU and everywhere you’ve yet failed to climb. Here are some common questions that get asked in the game of ladders:

  • Where am I at in comparison to this person or group? Am I lower or higher in standing?

  • Am I seen?

  • Am I received?

  • Am I valuable?

  • Is what I'm bringing here enough?

  • Am I popular?

  • Am I beautiful?

  • Am I strong?

With each of these vital questions about our worth, we look to the wrong sources for status and solace. And inevitably, one of two things begins to happen. Either we will live lives of quiet desperation, wanting to be enough but feeling inadequate and invisible; or we will begin to look for people who we deem “lower” on the ladder than us. This is where our Accuser plays the second game: we move from sulking in shame to searching for it in our brother or sister.

The higher you seem to rise in your view of your place on the ladder, the more shame turns to entitlement. The poisonous voice of the enemy still shouts, but now the voice has moved from simply shaming you (which he will keep doing, by the way) to recruiting you in his system of shaming others.

You begin to compare. You find fault. You cancel. You develop opinions and complaints about everything: how that person drives, how she raises her kids, how he does his job. And how you’d do it all better if you were in their shoes.

We rarely say any of these things out loud. Instead, they happen in a thousand silent snap judgments throughout our day, each one revealing we believe we’ve ascended to a place on life’s ladder where we have the right to evaluate how everyone else is climbing. The game is to get you to pronounce judgment on people’s thoughts, actions, and motives, while simultaneously coming to expect the entire world to see you, understand you, respect you, promote you, and fulfill you.

If you are a Christian, this is the place in the game where you may come to believe you’ve become so good at being good that life should work like a FastPass at an amusement park. It is clear by many people’s resentment at God and others that many of us believe our status as a “good Christian” qualifies us to bypass the lines of misunderstandings, unanswered prayers, suffering, and waiting. We have come to believe that we deserve blessing, comfort, and promotion on the terms we expect...and when we don’t get it, you had better believe that God, our family, our co-worker, that Facebook commenter, or the customer service representative on the other side of the line is going to hear from us! Any time you and I live in such scarcity, believing the only way we can climb higher is to somehow push others lower, we won’t add value to our fellow man. We’ll take it. What on earth are we doing?

Meanwhile, people who live under shame will continue to act out in shameful ways because “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” In doing so, they will inevitably make their lives nothing more than self- fulfilled prophecies. As their actions mimic every curse the world has spoken over them, it merely gives the entitled more fuel to feel justified in their judgment. Wherever we fail to see this, we play the game. And every time we play this game, we are the ones who get played.

But there is hope. Far before there was any game, you were already given a name. Here’s what I mean. We’ve heard all about our fall in the Garden of Eden and humanity’s so-called ‘original sin,’ but sin isn’t what was original to us. Before sin, we were created in glory by a Father who assigned us a destiny and gave us a name. When we fell down, He chose to join us in our descent, coming low to bear a cross so the power of sin would be broken and we could be restored to our created namesake. And long after He parts the clouds and comes back to finally vanquish the presence of sin altogether, we will radiate under the presence of a name that only He and we know (see Revelation 2:17).

God’s name for you is far greater than any game set against you.

We win “the game of ladders” by refusing to play it. And we can refuse to play because the game was already won on our behalf 2,000 years ago.


Adapted from the Upcoming Release, “En(d)titlement,” by Chuck Ammons. En(d)titlement releases February 2023.

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