by Whaid Rose

Practical insights and encouragement on how to stay spiritually sharp

A widely circulated guide on what to do if attacked by an anaconda includes instructions such as Do not run, Lie flat on the ground, Do not panic, Be perfectly still, and so on.

Then after detailed directions on how to tactfully slit the snake’s throat as it tries to swallow you, it concludes with these final instructions: Make sure you have your knife; Make sure your knife is sharp!¹

More than mere good advice for anaconda victims, this is also instructive in its application to spiritual leadership. For, in the course of ministry and service, our cutting edge invariably becomes dull and must be sharpened from time to time.

Our Battle Axe and Weapons of War

This is the point of the following counsel from Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century “Prince of Preachers,” in his book, Lectures to My Students:

We are in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order. It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organize societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself, for books, and agencies, and systems are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, my inner life, are my battle axe and weapons of war.²

His use of “battle axe and weapons of war” leads me to believe that Spurgeon has in mind the Old Testament account in which a leader literally loses his cutting edge.

It’s found in 2 Kings 6:1-7. As the Prophet Elisha gives himself to mentoring relationships, there’s a time of ministry growth and expansion, so much so that one of the “sons of the prophets” suggests that they build a larger facility.

The Axe Head in the Water

Then in verse 5 as one of them was cutting down a tree to make timber, his axe head fell into the water. He was greatly troubled and cried out for Elisha saying, “Alas, Master! For it was borrowed.”

In response Elisha causes the axe head to swim to the waters’ surface (verses 6-7), and it is at this point that this story’s application is easily lost in the minutia surrounding this miracle.

Application of this account is best drawn, not from the suspension of the law of gravity, but from the servant’s deep concern over the loss of the borrowed axe head.

The Importance of Our Cutting Edge

While I recognize the potential for reading more into a Bible passage than is intended, to me, the application being made in this case is fitting.

It reminds us of the importance of our cutting edge. And it should be noted that axe heads don’t just fall off; they first become loose, which Elisha’s servant apparently didn’t notice.

But he is to be commended for promptly and plainly acknowledging his situation. Often too embarrassed to fess up to our own lack of sharpness, we stay in motion, busily wielding a stick lacking its greatest usefulness.

Our Sharpness is Lost over Time

The reality is that our sharpness is lost over time. It happens unawares, and we tend to subconsciously adjust to the dullness, making it our new normal.

Thus, this sad commentary on the life of Samson, “So he awoke from his sleep, and said, ‘I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him” (Judges 16:2).

Elisha’s question to his servant in verse 6, “Where did you drop it,” and his instruction in verse 7, “Pick it up yourself,” are therefore instructive. We have a part to play in restoring our cutting edge.

Keep a Sharp Cutting Edge

In Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” habit #7 is Sharpen the Saw, the habit that makes all the others possible. It speaks to those who’re too busy sawing to stop and sharpen the saw.

“It’s about preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you. “It’s renewing the four dimensions of your nature—physical, spiritual, mental and social/emotional.”³

So let us resolve from now on to consistently keep a sharp cutting edge. And what better time for this new start than at the start of a new year. As James Sherman wrote, “Though you cannot go back and start again, my friend, you can start from now, and make a brand new end.”4


¹ How to Survive an Anaconda Attack, widely circulated in the internet, historically said to be included in the US Peace Corp Manual.

² Quote taken from “Lectures to My Students,” by Charles Spurgeon, pp. 7-8.

³ Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York, Simon & Shuster, 1989), 288.

4 This quote has been credited to Zig Ziglar and others, but the earliest citation credits James R. Sherman, Ph. D., who includes this statement in his 1982 book, “Rejection.”