When my family first moved to Czech, it was the second country in Europe we served in. The kids were older this time and so leaving friends was hard. We worked on coming up with things we could do as a family to try to encourage them which led us to a house in our village that rented canoes and rafts for the river we lived on. The meeting that day began with what would become our family’s closest friendship.
“Jara” and “Oli” became our closest friends and our proxy “Czech family.” They were like uncles and aunts to our kids, and so were their kids. We attended all holiday and family events like we were truly family.
Also like a family, we helped each other out whenever there was a need. We found ourselves lopsided in neediness, we had to figure so many things out as the sole Americans in the region as our organizations first missionaries. Jara in particular came to my rescue more times than I could even count. As time went on, I had to catch myself not to even mention a need I couldn’t handle because he would be right there to help.
Jara taught me a lot about Czech, friendship, and a lot of things. One experience together was getting help for purchasing good wood for my fireplace. He had a contact and it was extremely reasonable, so he helped me stack it when it came. He suggested I split some of it while we had some time, so I grabbed my rusty axe which clearly hadn’t been used in some time and I began to hack at the logs.
He watched me split half a dozen logs, and in his typical humble fashion, he smiled, said “oh wow,” and motioned for the axe. He then tilted his head to motion me to follow his to his workshop. He proceeded to turn on a machine to sharpen the dull blade of my axe that surely had been used out on the woods of a variety of unintended uses by my precocious son in building things.
After what seemed to be an unnecessarily long period of sharpening, he handed me the axe and motioned to try it again. One swing at a time, I was splitting logs straight through. He smiled as I made light work of a handful of logs, and he reminded me by using the English phrase I had recently taught him, “work smarter, not harder,” followed by “did I use that phrase right?” I smiled and nodded.
If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct. Ecclesiastes 10:10 KJV
It is so easy in our life to become complacent. In fact, the older we get we tend to get into routines and habits, that don’t challenge us. Worse yet, we become belligerent about doing things like we have always done them, even without articulating it.
This is a dangerous pattern for us and one that this passage directly addresses. Similar to the illustration I used, the “iron” described by Solomon was generally thought of as an axe. The axe was designed with a specific purpose in mind, a specific use. Blunt, as he describes it, doesn’t allow the axe to accurately and successfully complete its mission. It has one use, and not kept in the best shape possible, can never reach its potential.
Perhaps it is some sort of Old Testament era phrase, but literally Solomon exhorts the reader to “curse or despise the face of that instrument” in order to make it into an instrument that requires less strength to achieve its purpose. “Sharpening” as I would put it requires time, discipline, flexibility, and hard work. Ironically, each of these are the very things most of us struggle in and yet, Solomon reminds us that the result of not giving this proper attention to the tool, results in even more, harder labor.
Ending the verse with a reference to wisdom, we realize that the axe is really our mind and it’s what needs to be made sharp continually for wisdom so that we may succeed (“direct”).
Ask yourself a question. How much time have you put in lately to really grow in wisdom? What are you doing to fight off the temptation to become complacent in learning new things? When is the last time you really challenged your mind in knowledge and even in your Spiritual development? Maybe you haven’t even noticed it, but is it possible, slowly and subtly your tools have become blunt? It certainly has if you haven’t engaged in the intentional “despising of the face” of that blunt axe and keeping it sharp.
Yes, it’s work. But likely it isn’t any more work than the extra effort you are putting forth to split the logs in your life with a dull axe. Just think of how much more you could accomplish for the Lord when you tend to the sharpening of your mind.
Dr. Ronald J. Barnes Jr.
President / CEO