“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
An old fable recounts two men who are hired as lumberjacks in the dense northern forest. Only one would keep his job at the end of the week, whomever could cut down more trees than the other. The first man was young, strong and full of boundless energy. The second man was older, a grizzled and experienced man of the woods. On the first day, the younger man took off on a torrid pace, swinging his axe twice as hard and twice as fast as the older man. After day one, the young man had doubled the output of the veteran lumberjack and was quite confident that the job would be his by the end of the week. On the second day, the younger man came out swinging with the same vigor and drive as he had on day one, but the trees felt stronger and the work was less productive. The older man kept a consistent and deliberate pace and by the end of day two had gained a little ground on his younger counterpart. On day three and four the tide turned considerably and now the younger man was feeling exhausted and bewildered by how the older man had been able to maintain his production falling trees that seemed to have become so dense that they took five times the effort to cut down then the trees on the first day. After the fifth and final day, the young man knew he had been beaten and in humility, he took off his gloves and shook the hand of the man who had bested him. “I don’t understand,” the young man admitted, “I was working much harder and faster than you, yet your work remained consistent, but mine only continued to drop off.” The older man smiled, reached into his bag and handed the young man a coarse rock. “Take this,” the older man said, “it’s a whetstone.” The younger man looked confused, so the older man continued, “you never took time to sharpen your axe.”
If you want to be effective for the long haul, you must take time, everyday, to “sharpen your axe.” Many men today live dull, ineffective and powerless lives. They are working hard, relentlessly swinging the axe of career, accomplishment and other pursuits, but feeling as if their outcome is not in keeping with their output. More importantly, while they may be achieving success and making progress at work, their spiritual lives and the relationships that matter most are mostly bland, colorless and diminished by a lack of sharpness that gives them an edge in their relationship with God.
Often when men reach a certain point in their lives, family and career, they eschew intentional and purposeful friendships with other men as this priority gives way to more pressing and urgent demands. In this way, overlooking the value of deliberate friendships is much like forgetting to sharpen one’s axe. It may seem like an unnecessary activity; gathering together regularly with other men for personal and spiritual encouragement, but neglecting to do so will only multiply the effort necessary as a man’s faith and family effectiveness dulls.
These wise words from the past remind us that having other men in our lives to challenge us, encourage us and hold us accountable is like “iron sharpening iron.” When men discuss faith, marriage and family with one other, they get sharpened. When men ask each other hard questions, they get sharpened. When men read and memorize scripture together, they get sharpened. The sharper our faith, marriage and family, the more effective we are in impacting the relationships that matter most in positive and lasting ways. Hard work is great, but if you are not regularly meeting with other men to stay sharp, you may be working twice as hard and still be only half as effective.
Take time to sharpen your axe!