I remember the summer holiday many years ago when I first read Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As a young husband and father, pastoring a church, I wanted to be as effective as possible. My whole life lay before me and I didn’t want to waste a minute. Serving Jesus was important and I had important work to do.
Each chapter in his book was helpful and offered several important insights…until the last one. The seventh habit in his book is entitled “Sharpening the saw.” The metaphor is simple enough: if you have a saw and plan to cut down a forest of trees, you will need to stop every so often and sharpen the saw – otherwise, your productivity is going to decrease. A saw, like any tool, will grow dull with use. As a kid, I watched my father stop and sharpen our chainsaw when cutting down trees for winter wood. I understood what Covey was saying; I just didn’t understand how to apply it in my life. At that stage, it just didn’t seem necessary – there was so much work to do.
Many of us learn the hard way, and I certainly did. With age, I have grown wiser and become a little more humble. I’ve had to learn to stop and sharpen my saw. Covey says we need to do this across four dimensions in life: physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional.
If we never stop to pay attention to these areas, we grow dull and ineffective. Worse, we can cause hurt to ourselves and others around us. We all need to take time to work on improving these critical parts of life.
Sharpening the saw might mean taking a family vacation, reading a book, going to the gym, having coffee with a friend, taking a course, unplugging the internet, taking a walk or listening to music. Knowing what feeds us and helps us to regain strength and energy is incredibly important.
This summer, I am privileged to be able to take some extra time to sharpen my saw. While I could continue without this break, I know I’m lacking the effectiveness I need for my calling. I’m going to hit the pause button for the next few weeks and listen for the voice of God who renews and refreshes. I hope to return a better husband and father, as well as a better pastor.
“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31)
I trust that you will find time to do some sharpening of your own. The amount of time available isn’t always the most important aspect: often, it’s simply being intentional. I’ve found it is helpful to invite God to assist in this process because he knows just what we need.