Keeping Sharp Through Preparation.

If the ax is dull, And one does not sharpen the edge, Then he must use more strength; But wisdom brings success.

Ecclesiastes 10:10 NKJV

Solomon, the wisest man in the Old Covenant, to illustrate the value of wisdom uses the imagery of a man cutting wood. The picture is of a man trying to cut wood with a dull ax. If you have ever tried to cut something with a dull instrument, be it an ax or knife, you know it takes more effort to bring forth the desired result. It can also be dangerous causing injury. Many people who have tried to cut something with a dull knife have ended up cutting themselves because the knife finally cuts through the object when they least expect it and they end up stabbing or cutting themselves in the process. There is also the wear and tear on the body from using dull equipment.  At the very least, it will take more time to produce the desired results.

As we have established, it is both dangerous and time consuming to try to cut wood with a dull ax.  Why, then would anyone do it? Because they do not want to take the time that it takes to sit down and sharpen the ax. They look and their friend is already in the woods cutting trees, so they already feel like they are running behind.

I believe the sharpening of the ax represents preparation.  Many people’s health and productivity is being affected by their lack of preparation. Much like our wood cutting friend, they are so desirous to accomplish their goal, they want to skip the preparation process and get right onto the “good stuff”.

1.    Keeping Sharp Through Preparation for Ministry.

 My spiritual father in the faith Dr. Jefferson Thompson used to tell me when I was just starting out in ministry, “Preparation time is never lost time”.  Of course, that was not what I wanted to hear but it was true nonetheless. The fact is that the greater the calling, the longer the preparation time. Jesus prepared 30 years for 3 years of ministry.  Moses knew he was to be a deliverer of God’s people when he was about 40 years old (Acts 7:23-25).  He tried to fulfill his destiny in the flesh by killing an Egyptian and ended up fleeing for his life. However, after submitting to God’s sharpening (preparation) process, in the spirit he killed a whole Egyptian army who drowned in the Red Sea.

Preparation in ministry is important, first, because you need to know something if you are going to help someone else.

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV

 From this passage, we see that we need to have understanding of the Word and we need to learn to rightly divide the Word. I realize that understanding is a journey and not a destination. Even the Apostle Paul says we know in part. However, we have to stay sharp in our Bible study. One problem for ministers is we can become so topical in our approach to Bible study that our doctrine gets lopsided. We need devotional study of the Bible as well as topical. By “devotional”, I mean reading through the Bible. It is easy to fall in the trap of only reading the highlighted parts of your Bible. First, this leads to pride, because if you only study what you do know you lose sight of how much you do not know.  Secondly, (which leads us to our next point) in reading only your favorite “bread box” scriptures you lose sight of what he was talking about in the context of the chapter and book as well as in the light of the rest of the Bible. We have to learn how to rightly divide the Word of truth. At the time of this writing, the national presidential elections are around the corner. There are many sound bites being aired by various news networks. I have noticed that depending on the networks agenda, the sound bites can be arranged in a certain way to paint their view of a certain candidate. The same is true with those who only study their favorite scripture. They use biblical sound bites to push their spiritual agenda and not God’s. We have to draw out of the Bible what God intended not use the Bible to “proof text” what we wanted to believe to start with. (If you think this does not apply to you because you are not a five-fold minister that is not true. Ephesians 4 says the five-fold ministry is to equip believers for the work of the ministry. Every believer is called to the ministry of reconciliation.) A good example of misusing the scripture is taken from the following scripture.

 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

John 12:32 NKJV

 I have heard it taught, using this passage as a proof-text, to prove that if we lift up Jesus in praise then all peoples will be drawn to Him. Yet, if we read just one verse later we get clarity

This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

John 12:33 NKJV

The “lifting up” spoken of in verse 32 according to verse 33 is His death on the cross. Therefore, when Jesus was lifted up on the cross we were identified with Him in the mind of God and sin’s justices were paid in the high court of heaven.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 NKJV

You see although praise is important, that is not what that passage is talking about.

The second reason preparation in ministry is important, is the development of character. We need to have our character developed so that when we are promoted it blesses us and does not destroy us.  Paul says that maturity is a qualifier for ministry.

not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.

1 Timothy 3:6 NKJV

 How is our character developed for ministry? It is developed through faithfully serving a man of God in the context of the local church.

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry,

1 Timothy 1:12 NKJV

 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:2 NKJV

Many young ministers are trying to “break into” the ministry. The key to promotion and enabling in ministry is faithfully serving in the local church.  Faithfulness is key to promotion and greater anointing. Elisha served Elijah and received an impartation. Timothy served Paul. Joshua served Moses. Philip, in the Book of Acts, started out as a deacon waiting tables and was promoted to being an evangelist mightily used by God. Now, you cannot be an evangelist just because you serve, you have to be called. However, to be released in your calling you have to be faithful. The greater your calling, the greater the amount of character development needed through preparation and service.

This has been a challenge for me over the years.  I have been much like our wood cutting friend who saw his friend chopping down trees while he was still sharpening his ax. I have seen people in ministry a shorter amount of time than myself pastoring churches and doing other things that makes it seem like I am being passed up, especially when they make their verbal jabs at you to make them feel superior. However, I know I am being prepared and cannot compare myself to others and I must run the race set before me.

For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

2 Corinthians 10:12 NKJV

 All they are doing, of course, is to measure themselves by their own standards or by comparisons within their own circle, and that doesn’t make for accurate estimation, you may be sure.

2 Corinthians 10:12 J. B. Phillips

 But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point.

2 Corinthians 10:12 Message

 Our destiny comes in seed form. Although it starts small, as we are faithful it will grow to fruition.

Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings? They'll change their tune when they see Zerubbabel setting the last stone (of the temple) in place!"

Zechariah 4:10 Message

2.    Love Prepares.

As our main text illustrates, wisdom and preparation are inseparably linked. Too many Christians are reactive rather than proactive. If you move with God, you will always be ahead of the enemy and circumstances of life. There is much teaching (as there should be) on healthy marriage relationships. However it amazes me how little emphasis there has been in the preparation phases leading up to marriage. So we with a “dull ax” are trying to cut back opposition and hold together marriages that if there had been proper preparation would have cost a lot less time, energy and pain.

 It is the nature of unrenewed man to worship the creation more than the creator and by doing so we exchange the truth of God for a lie.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 1:25 NIV

Does Paul mean we tell a lie? No. In my opinion, it means we believe a lie. For example, we are created social creatures so much so that losing your right to fellowship was a means of correction in the New Testament church. However, in some circles, the creation (social need) gets elevated above God and the purpose for which He created it and things get out of whack. The purpose for fellowship in the context of the local church should be to strengthen our relationship for the purpose of bringing unity and harmony that will in return strengthen our prayer and worship. Also, we are to come together to glean understanding from each other. You will never live long enough to learn everything on your own. That is why we are the Body of Christ. However, in some church circles the social has rose to preeminence to the point of carnality. If my flesh likes your flesh we have a basis for fellowship, if it does not I reject you. I am not talking about in a sexual context, but rather the basis for fellowship being carnal fleshly interest that may not be bad within themselves rather than a spiritual connection. The Word of God is also never mentioned in these carnal relationships, because if I listen to someone else it might imply they know something I do not (Newsflash, they probably do). In so doing we believe that we are doing what the Bible says and having unity. It is, however, a counterfeit unity and therefore you believe a lie to be true.

The same is true in relationships. The following example is some of the most ignored wisdom of God in the Bible.

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:14 NKJV

 God instituted marriage and said it was good. However, some have elevated and worshipped being married above God the creator of marriage and it results in shipwreck. God said do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Yet week after week in our churches across America another young man or woman brings some unsaved person of the opposite sex into the church with them and sit on the back row because they do not understand what is going on (of course they don’t they are lost).  If that person is a coworker that you brought to church then that is wonderful. These people however are bringing them as a potential mate! They believe the lie (remember Paul said that is what we do when we worship the creation more than the creator) that they can change that person. The truth is, however, the person they are before you marry them is the best they will ever be. If you feel like someone who is not saved is to be your mate then wait and pray for him or her. However, you should not go into a rebellious relationship with them cutting them and you off from the very grace of God to move in their life.  Much like our wood cutting friend they see friends of theirs getting married and their life seems to be blissful. In addition, they have aunt Nellie asking them at every family function when they are going to get married.  So they succumb to the pressure, reject the Word, marry the person, and spend years in counseling that could have been spared through the preparation of doing the Word in the first place.

Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, Because he willingly walked by human precept (rules of action or conduct).

Hosea 5:11 NKJV

 Brutal Ephraim is himself brutalized— a taste of his own medicine!
He was so determined to do it his own worthless way.

Hosea 5:11 Message

 I also believe that “unequally yoked” extends beyond saved and unsaved. If you believe speaking in tongues is a valid New Testament experience and you marry someone who believes they are of the devil, then you are unequally yoked.  Unbelief comes in many forms. If you do not believe in divine healing you are an unbeliever on that level whether or not you are saved. Remember that when you choose a mate you are also choosing a parent for your children. If they come from a denomination that rejects the biblical truth of divine healing and health then who will agree with you when your children are sick?

“Woe (great sorrow and distress) to the rebellious children,” says the LORD “Who take counsel, but not of Me, 
 And who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, That they may add sin to sin; 

 Who walk to go down to Egypt (who is a type of the world system), And have not asked My advice, To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, And to trust in the shadow of Egypt! 

  Therefore the strength of Pharaoh 
Shall be your shame, 
And trust in the shadow of Egypt 
Shall be your humiliation.

Isaiah 30:1-3 NKJV

 Therefore shall the strength and protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the refuge in the shadow of Egypt be to your humiliation and confusion.

Isaiah 30:3 Amplified

 In addition, on a more practical level, if a man says that he loves a woman then he prepares.

I (Jesus) go to prepare a place for you.

 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:2-4 NKJV

 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,

Ephesians 5:25 NKJV

 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:2 NKJV

 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

2 Corinthians 11:2 NIV

 For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:2 NLT

 When we harmonize these passages, we realize that Christ love for us is the pattern of true love that should exist between a man and a wife. Jesus said He goes to prepare a place for us. I am amazed at how many boys (the omission of the word “men” here was deliberate) will ask a girl to marry them without a home, job, or ambition to get either. That is not love. If you are in love, you will give yourself for her. Love will not take a girl out of a home where she is cared and provided for without providing for her. He is actually lusting her. Lust desires to get at the expense of others. Love, on the other hand, desires to give at the expense of self. So ladies if that dude loves you he will have a j-o-b.  Before God gave Adam a wife, He gave him a job. When he did not cover and take care of his wife, he then lost his job.

In addition, if a guy walks in love he will establish himself by getting an education before getting into a relationship to start with. Much like the man with the dull ax, relationships struggle and have to put forth more effort because of a lack of preparation (sharpening your ax).

3.    Keeping Sharp Through 
Spiritual Preparation.

 As I said earlier, many Christians are reactive rather than proactive. They react to problems as they arise rather than preparing ahead of time. The same people who will not drive across town to go to a church to teach them how to walk in divine health will drive a hundred miles to get treatment once they get sick. Some will refuse to give God ten percent and yet will give the credit card company fifteen percent to catch up their finances because they are laboring under a curse from robbing God.

  “ Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me!  But you say, ‘ In what way have we robbed You?’  In tithes and offerings.

  You are cursed with a curse,  For you have robbed Me,  Even this whole nation.

  Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,  That there may be food in My house,  And try Me now in this,”   Says the LORD of hosts,  “ If I will not open for you the windows of heaven  And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.

   “ And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,”  Says the LORD of hosts;

   And all nations will call you blessed, For you will be a delightful land,”  Says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi 3:8-10 NKJV

 They say they have no time to read the Word of God and yet they can tell you a blow-by-blow account of the entire career of their favorite sports star or who was voted off the Island last week. I am not criticizing sports or entertainment but they had better not be your top priority. The amount of time spent in church three times a week is not as big of an investment as dying early.

With long life I will satisfy him, And show him My salvation.”

Psalm 91:16 NKJV

 Be proactive and not reactive. Seek the Lord and He will tell you what preparations you need to make to stay sharp and to be ahead of any problems that may arise.

-- Rev. Travis Johnson was born again and Spirit filled in May of 1994. He accepted God's call to ministry in 1996. He graduated from Faith Bible Institute in 1997. He is recognized as an anointed Bible Teacher. His desire is to, along with other ministers of the Body of Christ, empower believers to interpret the Bible for themselves and make the Word of God applicable to be successful in day to day life. Travis currently lives in Arkansas with his wife and daughter.

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