The Word: Time to sharpen my axe

Published 3:37 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” — Abraham Lincoln

President Lincoln is also credited with the same quote but times were different as there is also record of him saying if given six hours he’d spend the first four sharpening. The point is clear either way: Take time to sharpen. I learned quickly growing up and watching my dad that it was extremely wise to pause and sharpen. It baffled me why he’d cut a while then stop and sharpen then cut then sharpen all day long. It seemed to me that it would be so much faster if he’d just keep cutting the blame tree instead of stopping every so often to sharpen.

I’d watch him skillfully and patiently stop, drop the tailgate of his truck, take his file and slowly and carefully slide that file ever so gently through each tooth of his old chainsaw. Dad wasn’t known for patience…but by golly the man was slow and steady with that saw. Once completed he’d go back to cutting the trees up like butter with a hot knife. It was irritating because here my brother and I were sweating to death and working nonstop while he’d get breaks. Then I became older and it was my turn. I tried and worked and rushed and struggled. Dad made that mess look easy! What was I doing wrong?! Ah…I wasn’t taking the time to sharpen my tools.

I remember my freshman year in college going to do hurricane relief. When asked who could operate a chainsaw I was one of the few who could. I made sure to go slow and steady while pausing to sharpen my chain. An old farmer in north east North Carolina smiled when a friend asked why I kept stopping to sharpen. The old man took the opportunity to teach a biblical lesson: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”- Proverbs 27:17, NIV.

He told our small group of six folks that it was extremely smart to keep that blade sharp or you’d beat yourself up, get hung up more easily, and work yourself to death. He then added that it was even more needed to sharpen each other, to share the workload, then help out when needed to keep each other as sharp as we could.

So…whom are you sharpening? And, with whom are you staying connected to sharpen yourself? Instead of trying to rush through and force the blades of life and working yourself to death… stop. Wipe your brow. Drink some water. Sharpen up. Get back at it with ease.

Rev. J. Cameron Bailey is pastor of Kenbridge Christian Church. He can be reached at