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Don’t Plant Flowers in the Desert

“If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” – Jesus, Matthew 10:13-14

Note: What I am about to share with you has been, for me, one of the most difficult leadership principles to adopt, but also one that has made the most impact on my ability to influence others. I have a counselor’s and mentor’s heart, and for me the thought of walking away from someone I could potentially help can be almost unbearable. There are, however, times when choosing to walk away, no matter how difficult it may be, is the right thing to do.

A number of years ago a young man came to me for help. “I’m having an affair,” he told me. “I’m not sure what to do. My wife doesn’t know, and honestly, even though I know I should stop, I’m not sure I want to. Can you help me?” As a minister and counselor, my desire is to provide help to everyone who asks me, so I agreed. Initially, he responded well to our time together. He confessed the affair to his wife, and she was willing to try to work to save the marriage. As time went by, however, he continued, counter to all of my pleading, to engage in a relationship with the other woman. So I redoubled my efforts.

Once again he responded to my counsel, and it seemed that this time he was ending the affair once and for all. Except he didn’t.

I remember well the call I made to one of my mentors as I sought to understand why my efforts had been ineffective and what I should do next. “Paul,” my mentor said, “it sounds like you have given him your best effort. Have you considered it may be time to walk away?” In all honesty, walking away had not crossed my mind. By my line of reasoning, as long as this client continued to keep scheduled appointments, there was still a chance I could help him.

Over the years I have come to learn that while it is important to have a heart for helping others, it is also important to know when to draw the line and walk away.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends His twelve disciples out to spend time with the “lost sheep of Israel.” In other words, people who needed help. These were people who needed to hear the Good News of the Kingdom. They needed to see the transforming power of God on display. Jesus sends His disciples out to all the people of Israel, but tells them specifically to be looking for worthy individuals who will welcome them and who show receptivity to their message. If, in one town, they don’t find someone who meets these qualifications, they are to “shake the dust off of their feet,” and walk on to the next. You see, Jesus realized, and we need to as well, that our time on earth is limited.

Every minute you and I choose to invest in one individual is a minute we can not invest in another. Our efforts need to be focused on those who are receptive.

Don’t plant flowers in the desert, is a short phrase I use to remind myself of this reality. The desert is a dry and parched land where plants and trees don’t grow unless an inordinate amount of effort is put into keeping them fed and watered–just spend some time in some of the American West and you will see how true this is. Compare this to the way plants and trees grow when planted in fertile soil, even with little tending, and the truth behind this principle becomes even more evident.

Unfortunately, as the years have gone by, I have spent time with others who don’t really want to change. Fortunately, I have learned that there is a time to walk away. I have learned to recognize the point at which I feel like I am tending a flower in the desert. And even when it breaks my heart, I have learned to stop watering that flower. As was true with Jesus’ disciples, my time is limited, and so is yours.

As we say “yes” to one, the reality is we may be saying “no” to another.

For the sake of my impact as a leader and the influence I hope to have for the sake of Jesus’ Kingdom, this is one lesson, however difficult, I am glad to be learning. For the sake of your influence and impact, I hope you’ll do the same.

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