This is the third of my three-part blog on the top priority of leadership. Every leader who wants to be led by the Spirit will be looking to produce certain effects in the people and in the culture where they are leading—in particular, increased levels of freedom and safety. In the last blog, I explored the nature of biblical freedom. Now I want to dig in to the idea of safety.
It’s obvious that as human beings, we not only need to be safe; we need to feel safe. We need our amygdalas not to be constantly triggered and flooding our bodies with stress hormones and fight-or-flight instinctive reactions. We need the internal world of our thoughts, emotions, and longings not to be in chaos, conflict, and pain. Just to function, let alone thrive, we need to experience some sense of harmony, wholeness, peace, joy, and rest inside. This is the experience of safety.
So where do we find this experience, and how do we know when we are in a “safe place”? When people today hear the phrase “safe place,” I think they typically envision an ideal environment with no external threats and nothing that will make them uncomfortable, a place where they can simply “happen” however they want to. But the truth is that such an environment doesn’t exist—nor does it align with what the Biblical concept of safety. So what should we think of when we hear or say “safe place”?
Two Setups, Two Endgames
Since the beginning of time, there has never been a place where threats did not exist. We see this in the Garden of Eden. God put the first human beings, totally naked and vulnerable, into a spot where there was a really bad choice right in front of them, and the enemy himself was hanging around looking for the opportunity to trick them into making it.
It sounds like a setup—and it was. It was actually two setups. God had an endgame, and so did the enemy. The enemy set up Adam and Eve to create disconnection in their relationship with God, because his endgame was to trap them—and us—in that disconnection permanently by feeding our fear of God. He knew that if he could get us to look at God and think, “You scare me. You’re not safe,” we would do what we always do when we’re scared—create distance. Out of fear, we would perpetuate disconnection with God. And as result, we would perpetuate disconnection in every other relationship—with other people, with ourselves, and with creation.
God, on the other hand, was not being an abusive parent when He decided not to child-proof the Garden. He was setting up Adam and Eve with the necessary conditions to choose connection with Him. His endgame was for us to learn to live in permanent, unbroken connection with Him, and to discover that it is only through this connection that we experience the feeling of safety we need—and overcome any external threats.
We know this because Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, succeeded where Adam and Eve failed. Jesus was born into a world full of threats, yet He never fell for the enemy’s setup. He constantly chose connection with the Father, and through that connection He overcame the threats of sin, the enemy, hell, and death.
Significantly, one of the prophetic names for Jesus is the Prince of Peace, or Prince of Shalom. As I explained in the first blog, the primary meaning of shalom is actually safety. It also means the things that flow from safety, including “peace, wholeness, health, prosperity, and friendship.” However, it’s important to understand that the Jewish concept of shalom is entirely relational. In other words, the context in which shalom exists is healthy relationships—first with God, and then with everyone and everything else.
This is what we see in Genesis. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve were living in shalom. Their connections with God, with one another, and with the created world were in a state of wholeness and harmony. Love without fear was flowing freely back and forth between them. When they violated their connection with God through sin, however, that shalom was shattered. They lost their safe place.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace because His mission is to restore shalom by restoring relationship, first with the Father and then with everyone and everything else. If we want to see what a “safe place” looks like and how to create it, we need to look at who Jesus is, what He does, and what He produces.
I sometimes wonder if the disciples would use “safe” to describe their experience of Jesus. It’s pretty obvious that Jesus wasn’t afraid to make them uncomfortable for the right reasons—whether it was leading them into a problem He wanted them to solve, or confronting them about a heart or character issue. When it came to addressing fear, sin, and disconnection in the people He was leading, Jesus was pretty ruthless. But driving that ruthlessness was the perfect love of the Father to restore His sons and daughters, the passion to bring them back to the place where they could experience true safety in knowing who they were, whose they were, how much they were loved, and how much their Father believed in them.
So what do we mean by a “safe place”? We mean a place that prioritizes connection with the Father. We mean a place where things that threaten disconnection are addressed. We mean a place where people hold each other accountable to cultivate and protect shalom with God and others. At times, this place can feel uncomfortable, because of how it confronts our fears. But as Jesus showed His disciples, as the Holy Spirit shows us, and as we need to show those we are leading, confronting our fears for the sake of connection is what leads us to the only true safe place in the universe—the arms of our Father.
How can you change the way you are leading to better cultivate a safe place?
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