Recently, I was renovating a bathroom. This meant a lot of demolition, including removing tiles from the walls and floor—tiles that I am sure were fastened with a view to eternity. They just didn’t want to come off! My patience was tested (I’m not sure I scored very high), my body was exhausted, and my left hand was bruised and battered as I managed to strike it with the hammer as often as I hit the chisel. Nevertheless, it was a teaching moment—one that continues to instruct me at present.
After a day of frustrating and not very fruitful labour, I realised that my chisel was quite dull. This affected my ability to dislodge the tiles from the wall.
I remembered that I have a grinding wheel that I have used over the years to sharpen my axe. I got it out of the shed and began to use it every now and then to sharpen the wide blade of the chisel. It took time to do this, but the result was worth it. With the sharpened blade, the tiles came off much easier and the work of renovation proceeded more happily. It was a good life lesson.
Sometimes we need to take the time to re-sharpen if we will more efficiently live our lives to the glory of God. Perhaps you have heard of the lumberjack who spent a good amount of time sharpening his axe, which resulted in him more quickly and efficiently felling the trees. Same principle here.
Sometimes down-time seems like such a waste of time, particularly in our frenetically paced society. But if we don’t take a break to recoup or to resharpen, we may pay a price in the long run. I’ve been reminded of this as I recover from laryngitis.
A couple of weeks ago my throat was so sore on a Sunday night that I could barely swallow. A good friend, who happens to be an ear, nose and throat specialist, kindly saw me in his rooms. As he examined my throat, I knew I was in trouble when he said something like, “Woah!”
He showed me visuals confirming that I had a large ulcer on one of my vocal chords. He gave me a script, booked me off work for a couple of days, and instructed me not to preach the following week. He said that, if I’m not careful, I could be out of the pulpit for six months. Since then, he has cautioned that I should stay out of the pulpit another week or two. I must confess, this has not been easy. But, with the psalmist, I can affirm that this affliction has been good for me (see Psalm 119:67, 71, 75, 107). I hope it will prove good for our congregation. I trust that these weeks of forced sabbatical from preaching will be a means towards sharpening my chisel for when I am back to my regular ministry.
Without the pressures related to sermon prep (pressures which, by the way, I enjoy), I’ve been able to pursue some other studies, to engage in other needful ministry in the church, and to spend more time in prayer. (I will say more on this in weeks to come.) The Lord has laid me aside for what I hope will prove to be a spiritually profitable time of growth and preparation for a more fruitful season of ministry. In other words, even though right now I am “speechless,” I am praying that I will be sharpened through the grinding wheel of affliction. And, like the wise lumberjack, I hope the result will be a more efficient workman in the forest of God’s kingdom.
The knowledge that I might lose my voice for six months has made it much easier to rest my voice for the time-being. Long-term benefit is worth the short-term restriction. And how I need to learn this lesson! Perhaps you do as well.
Think about your average week. You awake each day facing a tireless task of “renovating” your world. This involves managing a household, and/or working a job. It involves school or university classes and projects. It may include meetings to minister to others. You face the seeming endless daily grind of this-and-that responsibility. Life can be exhausting. And, if we are not careful, the busyness of life can dull the blade of our soul, resulting in what seems to be a frustrating, fruitless and even futile existence. Therefore, we need daily down-time in the word and prayer before facing the pressures awaiting us. If we don’t take the time to sharpen our soul, we (and those we love) could, in the long, run pay a heavy price.
While renovating my bathroom, I found it interesting that, once my chisel was sharpened, I hit my hand less than when the blade was dull. There was far less pain because of a break now and then to sharpen the blade. If we will take the time to spiritually prepare, then perhaps there will be less unnecessary pain. If we learn to take the time to prepare and to guard our hearts, this will often result in less mistreatment of others thus reducing their pain, as well as our own pain of a guilty conscience.
We should also consider another means to sharpening the blade of our life: God’s gift of a weekly sabbatical. The Lord’s Day, the first day of the week—Sunday—is God’s weekly means to make us more effective in the week ahead. We neglect this privilege to our peril.
Sadly, many if not most Christians keep chiselling away at life on Sundays and so the rest of the week is far more restless—and more fruitless—than it needs to be. If, however, the Christian guards this day, calling it a delight (Isaiah 58:13), she will find herself sharpened for the work of the week ahead. Again, if we don’t take a break, then, in the long run, we will find ourselves unnecessarily fatigued in our spirit (and our body), and this means that we might find ourselves speechless when otherwise we could be declaring the goodness of the Lord.
I’m learning that being speechless is sometimes a gracious means to be being sharpened, for the good of others, for my own personal growth, and for the glory of God. And though you may not have laryngitis, you too need a break. Take one. Sharpen the chisel of your life. Then, let’s work together to “renovate” our world by the gospel of the grace of God, for his glory.