Sharpening the Ax

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

This quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Whether he actually said this or not is immaterial, the concept is sound. If you are given a task, using the best tools you can to do the job helps you to perform the task more efficiently and effectively. A dull ax will take longer and require more strength.

Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed. — Ecclesiastes 10:10

Over the years, I’ve often questioned what my true mission is. I’ve received revelation from God over that time, yet I still question and wonder if I’m following the right path. Is my ax sharp enough to do the task that God has put before me?

Before heading out on mission from God, sharpen your own ax by getting yourself straight with God, praying and reading the Bible.

I find that often I’m looking for how to best serve God and I realize that I don’t take time to read the Bible. I find that I struggle to start the day with prayer and I’m too tired at night to end the day with prayer. Throughout the day, I’m way too busy with too many things on my mind, that taking the time for even a short prayer in the midst of my busy day is beyond my thoughts.

Martin Luther is rumored to have once commented, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend the three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.

Are we so busy that we can’t take the time to pray? How much time do we spend on needless things? Could we cut out an hour of television? God wants us to enjoy life,

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. -James 5:16

How can we be the most effective tool for God, if we don’t allow Him to sharpen us? God sharpens us through the reading of his word. We find out his mission for us through reading and prayer. God has given us the tools to do the job he set out for us wherever we are, whether on the mission field or at work.

God has given all of us the tools, but so many of us (myself included) don’t bother to pick the best tool for the job. We choose a dull ax to chop down the tree. We strain ourselves to do the job God has put before us. We work so hard at His mission for us, that we fail to sharpen our tools.

Prayer and reading of His word will sharpen us. If we spend the time sharpening our tools, we will be able to do His work so much more efficiently and effectively.

 

We Must Decrease

So a while back I wrote a post entitled “Increase Don’t Decrease.”  Today I’m writing one called “We must decrease”. So what gives, that seems like a contradiction. Well to quickly review my previous post, we talked how we should live consistent, quiet, committed faith driven lives to provide an example of God’s fruits. Let me repeat one of my favorite quotes;

The only Bible that the unsaved are bothering to read, is the bible that is characterized by our lives. If our unsaved friends and neighbors do not see Jesus Christ in us, they may never see Him at all.

When we set that godly example of living and our lives reflect the love of Christ we naturally increase. Not ourselves, but Christ’s presence in our communities or work places. Christians living out the Christian life can become a transforming presence in their areas of influence.

We run the risk at times, though to increase not just the influence of Christ, but if we’re not careful, we can increase ourselves to the point where we overshadow Christ.

John the Baptist says it best,

He must become greater; I must become less – John 3:30

John was sent ahead of Christ and when Christ arrived, John faded into the background because he realized that by making himself less, he focused the attention on Jesus where it should be.

Looking in our own daily lives we can see plenty of examples of this. I love American football and Friday night football doesn’t get much better. However, one thing I see that I struggle with is those parents (mostly us dads) who become loud and obnoxious at the games. Their voices are heard above all others as they yell at the referees or coaches or perhaps even their own child. Sometimes they are throwing out advice or strongly worded suggestions, other times its just criticism. But in all cases the attention is drawn to them and away from their child or the team.

Or there are those that aren’t loud, but get involved in everything. And this is a bit more tricky to see where the problem may come into play. See these parents are helpful, they do a lot of the work that needs done, that others won’t do. But they run the risk of mostly unconsciously being “look at me and how much I volunteer and help” which again, takes away from the child or the cause they are trying to help. I coach and I volunteer for our school football programs. Right now I don’t have a son playing, but I have to be careful that it truly stays about the players and the program and not about Jason. I may or may not succeed at that. I also coach baseball. Again, I try to make it about the players and the team and not about me. How do I do? Well probably with varying degrees of success and different people will have different opinions on that.

When it becomes more about me than it does the team (or my children) then it’s time to call it a day. I must decrease so the program or my child can increase. When the time is done for my involvement in the coaching or volunteering, my success will be defined on if I made the program or my child better for my time and involvement.

Increase Christ

So apply this to our faith. Do we find that we volunteer or help others in the name of Christ? When it becomes more about us than it does Christ, then we are running into dangerous territory. John could have kept on doing what he was doing, rode the coattails of Christ and became just as famous. But instead he faded into the background so that the one who deserves to be in the spotlight, was.

God is on mission around us and calls us to be on mission with Him. But, he doesn’t need us he just wants us to join with him. When we are on mission in our lives, it should be about Christ, not us.

Our role in the mission is not our reward. Jesus is our reward. Roles begin and then they end. When our role ends, has Jesus increased? If so, then our role in the mission has ended well.

First Needs

250px-Christus_Bartimaeus_Johann_Heinrich_Stoever_Erbach_RheingauDown the street lives a man with his family. Nice people, but I’ve not talked with them much as our schedules and patterns of life just don’t match up. But when we do, I’ve always found him to be a pleasant person, one who is considerate of others and genuinely cares about his neighbors. The one time the topic of Christ came up, I could sense that while he knew about Christ, he didn’t know him personally. But he also wasn’t ready to start that relationship yet.

Fast forward a few months and I start to see him around the house more often. At first I thought he was just taking a vacation, but after two weeks, I realized that he’s not going back. I see him fuss around the yard, but often just sitting under the tree in his backyard as if deep in thought. Opportunity eventually presented itself to talk with him and conversation seemed normal as any other time I’ve talked with him, however I found out that he had lost his job, but he didn’t seem to concerned about it so I didn’t bring it up.

Forward another month and I notice he’s still puttering around the house so I go over and talk with him one afternoon and find out despite searching, he’s struggling to find a job and they are close to losing their house. After talking with him for a while, I ask if I can pray for him and his family. He looks at me quietly for a moment and then says “Thanks, I probably do need Jesus, but right now I need a job!”

While fictional, this example illustrates a point that needs making. We are all fallen humans, we may see the need for Jesus, but until our “first needs” are met, we have trouble seeing Jesus. These base things are what keeps our minds focused on the here and now and we miss Jesus and the hope for the future that he brings.

So the question becomes: How can we help God meet the first needs of those he puts in our paths?  Can we see the needs that people have?  Can we recognize that by helping meet those needs we can bring the light of Jesus to them?

Blind Bartimaeus

In the book of Mark, there is a great story of a blind man name Bartimaeus. The story starts with Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho.

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Mark 10: 46,47

Here the blind man, who has great need, cries out to Jesus. But others rebuked him;

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Mark 10:48

See others, wanted him to stay on the sidelines and not bother someone as important as Jesus…they figured, Jesus wouldn’t want to take the time to talk to someone as low as the blind beggar. But look at this:

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” – Mark 10:49

Nothing could stop the savior. Not the storms, not the open sea, not Satan himself, nor death; nothing could stop Jesus. But a single lone beggar did.

“What do you want me to do for you?”, Jesus asked him. – Mark 10:51

Jesus asks the beggar what he can do for him. The savior asked him, how can I serve you?

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” — Mark 10:51

The blind man had a simple yet impossible request. He just wanted to see. But who could do that? Well he had faith that Jesus could or we he wouldn’t have raised the ruckus that he did. He believed that Jesus could heal him. He had a great need, a “first need” that only Jesus could fulfill.

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. – Mark 10:52

Jesus heals him, but then comes the important part. Once he was healed, he followed Jesus. His first need was met, then once that hurdle was met, he was able to follow Jesus.

Meet the first need

With Christ, a person’s salvation usually came as a result of His having first met that person’s “first need.”

There are so many examples in the Bible of Jesus meeting a need before the person follows him. A great article I came across in researching this post, is a portion of a sermon from Dick Innes (http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jesus-communicator.php) In this sermon, he gives many examples of how Jesus met the needs of a person and then afterward was able to realistically say, “Go and don’t commit these sins anymore.”

God is interested not just in a person’s spiritual life, but in the total person.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. – James 2: 14-17

Often the way to reach the real needs, those spiritual needs of a personal salvation through Christ, is through the “first needs” of that person. If we bypass those first needs to try to reach the spiritual needs first will almost guarantee a closed mind that will remain closed to our message.

Let me close this by quoting from the above mentioned article;

Love, understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness. That’s the message of Christ. It’s the greatest healing power in the world. It’s the message that our broken world so desperately needs. And that’s the message every effective Christian communicator will always strive to communicate.

As we have already noted, Christianity is much more than a creed. And witnessing for Christ is much more than sharing the plan of salvation (as important as that is at the appropriate time). Being a Christian and being an effective witness for Christ is to experience God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness, and to communicate this to every life we touch.

“Do this,” I can almost hear Christ saying, “and you will be one of my witnesses indeed.”

Read more: http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jesus-communicator.php#ixzz4HyZKqdOm