Life is moving quickly, too fast sometimes, around me. I never thought I’d admit that, but somehow living in the 5th decade of life changes things. I thrive on challenges and activity. Today I was wide awake at 4:30 AM, looking forward to getting into the work of the day. But, I wonder if I’m staying sharp, keeping the edge that is necessary for effectiveness? The Bible reminds us – “Since a dull ax requires great strength, sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.” (Ecclesiastes 10:10, NLT) Am I working hard and wisely, or am I just working hard?
More than a few times, I’ve observed people who create quite a cloud of dust around themselves. They charge at this and that, taking on a new project, starting another ministry, trying a new experience. Their lives are a blur, but when you blow away the dust, clearing the air, you don’t find much of substance. They’re hard working, but not wise. By contrast, I see others who seem to be moving effortlessly through life, while leaving finished projects and improved lives in their wake. Something is happening that is out of sight, under the surface, that makes them truly effective. They are sharp, with a edge of effectiveness.
So, how can we keep that edge?
Stephen Covey, who teaches leadership and life skills, observes that we need to practice renewal in four dimensions: the physical, the spiritual, the mental, and the social.
We need to take care of these physical bodies that serve as our earthly houses. The decline of strength with age is inevitable, but too often we hasten the process by foolishly ignoring the simplest tasks of maintenance. (Yes, I know I need to work at this! I probably take better care of my car than my body! Shame on me.) Because God has made our bodies so wonderfully, with amazing recuperative powers, we can go a long, long time eating junk and without regular exercise before we experience a breakdown. However, it is a proven fact that a person who eats a healthy diet and gets regular exercise can expect better health for a longer period of time. We don’t have become neurotic about food or exercise to just have good health practices that help us keep the edge.
The spiritual part of us is the core of our being! Yet, so many of us drop ‘soul maintenance’ low on the list. There are the obvious choices that we make in staying sharp spiritually, things like regularly worshipping with others, practicing spiritual disciplines of prayer and Scripture intake, serving God and others regularly. But there are the less obvious choices that are critically important, too. Living with a forgiving attitude that refuses to drag around resentment and/or bitterness is one of them. Almost nothing saps spiritual vitality from a person like simmering resentment of another person. Jesus urges us to forgive quickly, because He knows it is our choice to do so and that we need to do it. Living with in a generous and loving way is another one of those daily choices that helps to keep the edge. If we remind ourselves of God’s love, accept it for ourselves, we will love others. “First we were loved, now we love. God loved us first.” (1 John 4:19, The Message) When we tend our spiritual dimension, we keep our spiritual hearing acute, our vision sharp. Don’t neglect this dimension of your life.
A mind is an amazing thing. From the mysteries of our brains flow creativity, artistry, problem-solving, – all the creative gifts of God. A mind terrible thing to waste, but it happens so easily. In the evening, the TV beckons us to become passive. I’ve watched two hours of TV more than once and the next morning couldn’t even remember what I saw. My brain simply switched off and let the flickering images and sounds pass through, decreasing my mental acuity in the process. Read books! Listen to good music. Spend some time in conversation about something other than the weather. Learn something new, just for the joy of knowledge. If you do watch TV, be aware of what you’re watching and how much. Just like the physical diet, there’s a time to enjoy some dessert, but not too much, and not all the time!
Social skills are not automatically gained, are they? Some are more blessed than others with natural abilities to ‘connect’ with people around themselves. But all of us can learn to build relationships, if we realize the importance of them. In a strange paradox, we are the most ‘connected’ society on earth in all of recorded history! We are wired with email, carry cell phones everywhere, and enjoy unbelievable communication technology, yet most of us don’t know even our next door neighbors. We live in little cocoons, inside our homes, with media as our company. But, if we not constantly tending to the connections to people around us, especially those key people whose gifts complement ours, we quickly diminish our effectiveness for God.
All this isn’t a new revelation or rocket science, is it? It’s really common sense.
So as you read this in the middle of this Summer when it’s more easy to lose the edge, my prayer is that God will stir you up.
Spend a few moments setting some goals. Commit them to paper. Make them specific. Share them with somebody, maybe even posting your list on the frig for your family, so they can help you stay on task.
Pray that God, the Holy Spirit, will give you insight, too. Ask Him to restore the edge so you won’t just be working hard, but also working effectively.
“Live wisely . . ., and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and effective …” (Colossians 4:5-6, NLT)
Jerry D. Scott, Pastor
Washington Assembly of God