The old man sat in a familiar posture coaxing his trained file across each tooth of the great round saw blade. After each stroke he tapped the file on the metal causing rhythmic tones to fill the little rural sawmill as his grandson and I stood quietly watching and learning.
The first thing I learned is that sharpening takes patience. Often times we are so eager to get started in the activity we don’t take time to properly prepare. Abraham Lincoln said “If I had six hours to chop down a tree I’d spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.“ It seems like my dad spent half his life sharpening things around the farm; the mower bar teeth for the tractor, the old scythe, the teeth on his chainsaw, and quite often the weedeater blades. I assume partial responsibility for some of his extra work because I might have run the chainsaw in the dirt once and created sparks by hitting rocks with the weedeaters more than once. (My wild swinging can light it up like the Fourth of July!)
Another lesson is to STAY sharp so you always have a good cutting edge when you need it. Dad didn’t wait until the day of the need. He always kept things sharp. I liken faith to an axe. Ecclesiastes 10:10 “If the axe is blunt, and one doesn’t sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength…” Life will not require as much stress and struggle if our faith is sharp.
There is an interesting little axe story in 2 Kings 6:1-7. Elisha and his sons were cutting trees to build a house near the Jordan River when a worker’s axe flew off the handle and landed out in the water. Elisha threw a stick in the water near where it had landed and miraculously the heavy axe head floated to the surface and was saved. Sometimes we lose our cutting edge, but nothing is too far gone that God can’t retrieve it.
On a side note to that story, I can imagine my dad shaking his head at the worker’s incompetence at not fixing the loose axe head before it broke. I recall one of his that had a nail hammered in the middle of the wooden handle and then bent over the iron head to prevent separation. Faith, like tools needs ongoing maintenance, and we need to do whatever it takes not to be separated from it.
So in this instance if faith is symbolized by an axe, we need to keep it sharp, not lose it, and actually use it. After all even a sharp axe sitting in its proper spot in the tool shed doesn’t do anyone any good unless it gets into purposeful hands. It’s all in the “Owners Manual“ , but here are some tips on maintenance and use. Show love. Pursue peace. Encourage others. Forgive. Do good. And most importantly, study scripture, pray, and attend church worship because iron sharpens iron.
Even if we accomplish these things, overtime our cutting edge becomes dull because we are striking the dirt. We might listen to worldly things or absorb little bits of false theology. We might cease to meet together or believe we know better than scripture. A good preventative measure is periodically asking ourselves “Am I chopping with a dull edge?” I’m sure my wood chopping community will agree, if our axe is sharp, we can chop wood even when we are up in years like my great aunt Freda in the photograph. May we all have someone in our lives like her, my dad, or the grandpa at the sawmill who teaches us by example how to stay “sharp“. I don’t know about you, but as for me, I’ve got to keep my nose to the grindstone…
Janet Cowger- Fliegel