Keep a close watch on what you do and think. – 1 Timothy 4:16
Every workman knows that the tool in disrepair is worth little. A dull knife in the kitchen leads to more cut fingers than chopped carrots. The uncharged computer leaves us trapped with no ability to prepare for the upcoming meeting, even in the aisle seat. Few things can increase my frustration quicker than when my grill is out of propane as the dinner guests arrive. Every garden sheer, axe and lawnmower must be sharpened at regular intervals to keep our yards at their best.
Being unprepared costs us — and it’s not always just a small cut or inconvenience. I learned long ago as a fire-fighter that you prepare your hoses, gear and air-packs as if your life depends on them, because it does–and your buddy’s life does, too. A dirty weapon can jam at the height of battle, no matter the heroic heart of the soldier. You get my point: poor tools do little or no good work, and sometimes that costs us a lot.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The great pastor and speaker of the last century, C. H. Spurgeon, wisely expands this axiom to include people. He writes:
“We are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order.”
“First be trimmed thyself, and then adorn your brother,” say the ancient rabbis. A mentor used to repeat to me, “Preach first to yourself, or skip the pulpit.” Leadership trainer Stephen Covey says it this way: “You must sharpen your own saw first.”
Powerfully, Spurgeon goes on, “I can only use my own voice; therefore I must train my vocal powers. I can only think with my own brains, and feel with my own heart, and therefore I must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties. I can only weep and agonize for people in my own renewed nature; therefore I must watchfully maintain the tenderness which was in Jesus. It will be vain for me to stock my own library or organize societies or project plans if I neglect the culture of myself–for books and agencies and systems are only remote agencies of my holy calling. My own spirit, soul, and body are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle-axe and weapons of war.”
Rest, exercise, an apple, a good book, time with friends, a walk in the garden, music, laughter, prayer, worship, and a kind deed done for another. These are the kind of things which keep us sharp, and ready for the special tasks God has planned for us.
Honestly, how are you doing keeping your own tool in order? We are only as effective as we are sharp. Perhaps you need a few hours to sharpen your axe. So be wise and find the time. Really.