Once upon a time there were two men who lived in the same forest and decided to have a contest chopping wood. The first man was in good physical shape and very muscular. The second man was in good shape but smaller in statute and wiry. They would chop wood all day and at the end of the day compare to see who had chopped the most wood. The first man laughed to himself that there was no way this wiry little man would beat him. Early one morning the began the contest. Every 45 minutes the second smaller man would take a break and wander off. The first man laughed again to himself and said “Yep there’s no way this wiry little man is going to beat me.” This happened several times during the day. At the end of the day the two men compared their piles of chopped wood and unbelievably enough the wiry little man has chopped twice as much wood as the more physically fit man. He exclaimed with anger, “I don’t understand. First I’m twice your size and twice your strength! On top of that every 45 minutes you rolled off and took a break or a nap or something. You must have cheated!” The smaller man replied, “I don’t cheat. It was easy to beat you because every 45 minutes when you thought I was taking a break, I was out back sharpening my ax.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if you have already heard that story. It’s over 3000 years old. It comes from a short little verse in the Old Testament written by Solomon.
If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success. Ecclesiastes 10:10
Wood cutting is a simple job. It’s you, a piece of wood and an axe, plus a lot of effort. In the 1800’s when America was being settled this was the way of life for many men. It was back breaking and dangerous work done only by the most courageous men. That’s why they called them Lumber-Jacks. (That joke always kills when I give this message in church)
Any good lumberjack knows that there is more to the job than a man or a woman, a piece of wood and an axe. A good lumberjack knows it’s a man or a woman, a piece of wood, an axe and a file. With a file more work can be done with less effort. That doesn’t just apply to the work of the lumberjack. It goes for us too.
What if I told you that job your swinging away at could be done in less time?
What if I told you that business that you want to get going could be done with less effort and more effectively?
What if I told you that those kids that you are trying to raise could be raised with less effort yet more success?
If that was true I’d have your attention, wouldn’t I? This is what Solomon is telling us in this verse. Sharpen your axe. Work on your skill. That job you are doing could be done more effectively and efficiently. There are two reasons why the smaller lumberjack out worked the larger lumberjack.
He took a break
He gave himself time to rest. This is a principle that is not new to this story. God came up with it. During the creation story Genesis 2:2 says this about God.
On the seventh day he rested from all his work. Genesis 2:2
Do you think the creator of the universe actually needed a nap? I don’t think so, but he did rest. Why? It serves an example to us. We aren’t any good when we are working so hard that we are wearing ourselves out.
I do have some experience in the area of wood chopping. When I worked at a camp there were fallen trees all around the campus and the maintenance crew would offer us the opportunity to cut fire wood. At the time my wife and I lived in a cabin in the woods and we had this little potbelly stove that would heat the entire house. My wife loves the sound of a crackling fire and I liked the idea of cutting my heating bill so one day I asked for a tree and a chainsaw and the camp obliged. I spent the entire day cutting firewood until the moment when I realized it was time to rest. I looked down and realized that I had just cut the laces off the top of my boot.
There are times in life when we have to get to the place where we realize we cannot continue at our current pace. It will not be healthy. We need to rest.
The first reason the smaller lumberjack succeeded was because he rested, but there was another.
He sharpened his axe
As the verse says, skill will bring success. The sharper you are the better you are. Let me give you a few ways to do that.
1. Read a book about your area of greatest concern.
2. Pick up a new hobby.
3. Study something new.
4. Have a daily exercise routine or take part in some competition.
5. Admit to a friend or a counselor what’s going on in your life.
6. Ask for feedback from people you trust.
7. Set up a lunch with someone who’s doing what your doing
When we keep our minds active and constantly learning we stay sharp. It may seem like guitar lessons will not help you to be a better accountant, but stretching your mind brings growth in all areas of our life.
Wouldn’t you hate to think that you spent your life swinging a dull blade? Working long and hard hours at your work. Working tirelessly as a parent. Trying to succeed at your career but finding slow going. Perhaps it’s time to take a break and sharpen your axe.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln