I received something of a ‘wake-up call’ early in November 2013.

After assisting with worship in a friend’s church, I listened as he taught about ‘fasting’ (in preparation for an evangelistic initiative in 2014). His words were like a ‘delayed-action grenade’ which exploded in my spirit later, convicting me of slippage in personal spiritual discipline since leaving paid ministry. After considerable reflection, a few days later I decided on a course of action, which I’ve found seriously beneficial – quite simply a substantial reduction in my food ‘intake’. Having maintained this regime for 8 weeks, even over Christmas, I feel sharper mentally & spiritually, and so much healthier physically (having shed over 20 pounds in weight – and taken consistently lower blood pressure readings)

Reflecting on this (particularly the ‘feel sharper mentally & spiritually’ bit) I recently read Ecclesiastes 10:10 which says: “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed”.

Wood-cutting prior to the era of ‘power tools’ was a hugely demanding task at the best of times – making a serious call on the labourer’s physical resources. The skilled hewer not only had to be in shape himself, he also needed a keen eye on the condition of his equipment, along with the good sense to maintain it in tip-top condition. Neglect in doing so inevitably resulted in reduction of effectiveness, required further strenuous effort on his part, and could even prove downright dangerous.

What a metaphor of life and ministry !

How pertinent perhaps to those hard (albeit jaded) workers, who keep slogging away with their increasingly blunt instrument:

– believing wrongly that taking time out to get sharpened is time wasted.

– failing to understand that the exertion of excess energy is both unnecessary and counter-productive.

– inviting the onset of burn-out – sadly a phenomenon all too common among those who fulfil a demanding caring role, whether in society or in church – a long trail of serious casualties tells the sorry tale.

Inadvertently, I may have stumbled on yet another sharpening process, that works for me – an add-on to other rhythms of spirit, mind and body (such as Bible reading, prayer & contemplation, corporate worship, writing & regular walking).

Again, partly with those Ecclesiastes words in mind, I’m taking a 2-day retreat in mid-January at a Franciscan Hermitage in the south of Lincolnshire, allowing space to discover and grow more into the person I’m meant to be. I anticipate this bringing a challenge to my very core.

Never ought I forget, too, that vital ‘honer’ of the human heart, enunciated in a piece of Jewish wisdom: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” – which celebrates the positive outcome of human inter-action. Rather, I shall take deliberate steps to build into my routine quality time with those individuals who resource me, as an ongoing ‘must’ for the New Year – hopefully, a new season of effectively ‘being’.

Yes, in 2014 I’ll not just keep swinging & hoping … but make time to sharpen up my axe-head – bearing in mind those insight-ful words of a former US President: abe-lincoln-sharpening-the-axe- inspirational story -motivational story