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Grace-land or Poison-ville



I wonder where you live.


I’m not referring to your postcode. I’m talking about your internal life, the territory where your thoughts and preoccupations roam free.

Years ago, I spent most of my time—my speaking, my writing—in grace-land. It was a delightful place to inhabit. What is better than speaking and writing about the wonder of God’s love and grace? However, in recent times, my work has taken me into a murkier environment. I’ve been giving attention to the issue of when leadership goes wrong. And that is poisonous territory.


That is poison-ville.


IT MATTERS WHERE YOU DWELL


Where we dwell makes a big difference. Recently, I've had a sense of the Lord saying to me that I need to remove myself from poison-ville and return to grace-land. The following verses from the psalms have spoken very clearly to me.


Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong . . . Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Ps 37.1,3


The word ‘fret’ communicates the idea that we are going round and round in our heads, reheating our fears and worries, nursing our resentments, letting toxins incrementally build up in our hearts. By contrast, ‘enjoy safe pasture’ is a phrase to do with shepherding and security. The rest of the psalm tells us how to do that, but David's first injunction is this one:

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart

Ps 37.4


Instead of fixating on things that are poisonous to our souls, we should nurture our security by delighting ourselves in the Lord. The psalmist will go on to urge his readers to ‘hope in the Lord’, ‘be still before the Lord’, and ‘wait patiently for him.’


Trusting, delighting, and hoping in the Lord are the things that place boundaries on the toxicity. In fact, they protect us from the harm that comes from a poisonous environment. The truth is, a poison can spread in the soul, but grace is the great antidote. Indeed, it is the anti-virus that has the power to eliminate the toxins.


But it is a battle.


Every day, we have a choice to make—whether to live in grace-land or remain in poison-ville.


Which is getting the upper hand in your heart at the moment?


In pastoral ministry there is no avoiding toxicity. We spend lots of time with people who face many struggles and suffer on a daily basis. Not only this, but we spend far more time with people in pain than most are aware of. And, unlike other caring professions, many of us do so without the kind of pastoral supervision that would help us to detox. By my calculations, after about fifteen years in ministry, most leaders’ toxic waste bucket is full to the brim.


Little wonder that so many leave after roughly fifteen years.


TOWARDS A SOLUTION


Isn’t exposure to this kind of toxicity simply inevitable in pastoral ministry? Yes . . . and no. Certainly, a calling to lead the people of God entails exposure to painful and challenging issues. Marriage breakdown and family strife among church members, teams falling apart, empire building, silo mentality, financial stress, you name it, leaders will encounter most of these eventually.


But this isn’t where we should live.


We want to live in grace-land! This is where we thrive.


For sure, we need to put on our hazmat suits (AKA the whole armour of God) and go out to serve in poison-ville, but we mustn't live there. Sooner or later, it will contaminate us if we do not protect ourselves. We are no good to anyone if we’re covered in the filth and grime of exhaustion and cynicism. Either the fretfulness of Psalm 37 will seep into our souls and destroy us or we will choose a different path.


That path is marked by grace and an unwavering confidence in God. It is chosen by those who saturate themselves in God’s righteousness, goodness, and love. For only when we allow grace-land to become the environment in which we live can we flourish in our leadership roles.


IMBIBING THE SCRIPTURES


We are always being formed by what we give our attention to. So for me personally, I am finding my way out of poison-ville by meditating on certain passages of Scripture. Right now, I'm reading very slowly through Romans 5-8, and it is like a refreshing tonic. Can I encourage you to do the same? Its emphasis on God’s grace is life-giving; the prominence Paul gives to the gospel’s power over sin and death never ceases to amaze me.


These eternal truths blow my mind and explode my heart.


Furthermore, they cleanse me from the effects of poison-ville.


God’s grace detoxifies me, makes me whole and clean again.


GRACE LEADS TO WORSHIP


When we learn to take in the wonder of God’s grace, it can only send us in one direction.


To our knees in worship.


This is the destination towards which we are all headed. It is the goal of all the redeemed to live lives of worship, to devote ourselves to becoming worshippers who are pleasing to God. As Jesus declares in John’s gospel;


Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.

John 4.23


We must make it our goal to resist the work of Satan, who likes nothing better than to discourage us and destroy our worship-filled lives. So we must resist the cynicism and despondency of poison-ville.


If this post resonates with you, it's time to return to the healthy country.


To grace-land.


It’s time to make sure you are meditating on—indeed soaking yourself in—God’s grace. Ensure that grace has a more prominent place in your heart and life than the poison. It can be hard to do this alone, so you might need some help from others. Feel free to contact us.


But make a decision today to set up home in grace-land.


If you have left it, then return there, and never leave grace-land again.

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