Sharpen Your Axe
Truth be told, many of us are discipling our teenagers with unsharpened axes. We’re dull inside, because we’ve refused to take a break and invest in our long-term relationship with Jesus. We just keep swinging, through season after season in ministry, surprised that our work seems harder and harder.
When my dad said, “C’mon boy,” and jerked his head toward the woods behind our cabin, I had no idea where we were going or what we were about to do—I just knew that when my dad said “C’mon,” you moved. I grew up in the woods, and that’s not hyperbole. I literally grew up in the woods. My dad cleared trees and brush to create a road (I use the term loosely) to a barely perceptible clearing in the forest near a bluff overlooking a river.
We grew our own vegetables, killed our own meat, and hung our clean clothes outside to dry. We probably would have milled our own toilet paper if someone had shown my parents how to do it. I grew up in the 80’s—but it’s hard to believe it wasn’t the 1880’s!
Our cute little “cabin in the woods” had electricity and indoor plumbing, but not central air or heat. In the summer, we cooled our house with a giant ceiling fan that sounded like a jet engine. Winter required cord after cord of wood for our fireplace. On many winter nights we’d drag heavy blankets into the living room where the fireplace was and sleep near it—and each other—to stay warm.
On this summer day, we stopped by the tool shed to grab our axes—it was time to start chopping wood for the winter. I simultaneously hated and loved that interminable chore. The sight of a huge stack of cut wood, ready for winter, felt like winning the Pulitzer Prize to me!
“Take a break, kid.” We’d been chopping all morning. My sweat was superglue, catching and holding bits of bark to my skin. We’d felled a small section of dense growth on our property, but it seemed like half the forest. I pulled out my canteen (true story, we used canteens) and gulped down some water. My dad had one, too, but I’m pretty sure his wasn’t filled with water—the more he drank, the more he talked.
We sat silently, giving time for our bodies recover. I knew it was time to get back to work when my dad stood up to sharpen his axe. I grabbed mine and headed toward a pile of logs. I just wanted to finish. I was tired. It was hot. And I was sick of living like Grizzly Adams.
“Better sharpen that thing, boy. We’ve been workin’ the bit all morning. It’s gonna be dull.”
“What difference does it make, Dad? We’re gonna be chopping all day. I’ll get a few more swings in and then I’ll sharpen it. I just wanna get this done.”
“Darren. Sharpen the axe. Dull axes are dangerous and more work.”
“There is no discipleship as important as your own. No relationship with Jesus matters more than yours does.”
My dad understood something I didn’t—stopping every few hours to sharpen my axe would yield far more wood for the winter than trying to muscle my way through a hard job. And, truth be told, many of us are discipling our teenagers with unsharpened axes. We’re dull inside, because we’ve refused to take a break and invest in our long-term relationship with Jesus. We just keep swinging, through season after season in ministry, surprised that our work seems harder and harder. We push through because the need seems urgent, and we’re getting so tired. In reality, we could chop a lot more wood if we simply took the time to sharpen our blade.
There is no discipleship as important as your own. No relationship with Jesus matters more than yours does. And many, many fewer trees are felled when your primary tool—your own soul—is improperly maintained.
Who is pouring Jesus into you as you pour him into others?
by Darren Sutton
Darren is an Illinois youth pastor who just moved from Arizona—he’s a leader on our “In the Trenches” team, and he’s author of Everybody’s Called to Youth Ministry (Leaader Treks)…
Darren has been in student ministry nearly 30 years…which generally just confirms to him how much he still doesn’t know. Some days he’s the pizza-eating, over-responding, teaching-on-the-fly, desperate-for-volunteers, frustrated-with-co-workers youth leader that we all are. And sometimes…he knocks it out of the park. He’s everywhere on social media that you are!