Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sharpen the axe

Years ago I read the story of a young lumberman who cut down ten trees on his first day on the job.  The second day he worked just as hard, but he was only able to cut down eight trees.  He decided to start earlier the next day so he could cut down more trees, but on that day he only dropped seven trees. The next day he cut down five trees, and the following day he only managed to cut down three. Early the next morning he was chopping a tree when a man asked him why he didn't stop and sharpen his axe.  The young man responded, "I can't.  I'm too busy cutting down trees."

I tell this story in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.  The point of the story is obvious.  We can work as hard as we possibly can, but if don't pause long enough to sharpen our axes we find our ministries becoming less and less effective.  What does it mean for us to sharpen our axes?  It means that we take the time to renew our spirits, our minds, and our bodies.

Renewing our spirits requires us to spend time in the Scriptures, and not just for sermon or lesson preparation.  We need to read the Bible to allow it to speak to us and feed our spirits.  We need to spend time in prayer, again not just the pastoral praying that we do as part of our pastoral duties.  We need to pray in order to spend time alone with God.  We need to listen to what he might be saying to us.  We need to spend time in worship.

When I was a pastor I needed more than what I experienced in a worship service.  It's not always easy for a pastor to experience worship when he or she is focused on leading worship for other people.  I needed time with God for my own worship.  I needed to listen to Christian music that spoke to my soul.  Sometimes I needed to listen to the sermons of others so that my own soul would be fed.  Each person is different, but anyone in ministry needs to find ways to renew his or her spirit.

We have to renew our minds.  For me that most often involves reading good books.  We need to read not just ministry-related material but read in other areas of interest to help broaden our knowledge of issues and challenges people are facing.  While I read very little fiction, some people find it very helpful in renewing their minds. I prefer to read ministry-related books and books on leadership and small business.

I just finished reading Timothy Keller's book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God which I read as part of my devotional reading.  Other books I'm currently reading are Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition by Robert Cialdini, What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church by Gary McIntosh, and On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision written by William Lane Craig. These books force me to think and help to sharpen my axe.

In addition to reading, I listen to a variety of podcasts when traveling.  Some days I'll spend anywhere from two to six hours on the road.  Much of that time will be spent listening to podcasts I've recorded from Dave Ramsey, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and others.  This is a great time to be exposed to the thinking of Christian leaders who never fail to give me new ideas.

Finally, sharpening our axe requires us to take care of ourselves physically.  This means having times of regular exercise, getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, developing good friendships, and taking time off for vacations and time of relaxation and fun.

Most ministers I know work very hard.  However, like the lumberman, we can work so hard that we allow our axe to dull, and our efforts will produce less results.  Take time to sharpen your axe, and you'll find you will accomplish much more.

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