Back in my college days, it was a standard practice for each floor in the men’s dorms to pick a verse from the Bible and make it their theme verse for the academic year. One year my floor picked Proverbs 27:17.
I’m sure this verse gets picked quite often in communal situations because it’s an easily-recognizable truth. I’ve written before about how we are greatly influenced by our friends and those we hang around often—how we literally become like them, reflecting their character, thinking, and choices in our own lives over time.
That’s the key and most crucial truth I think this ancient proverb is trying to teach us. Too often these words are interpreted to mean that we have a responsibility to sharpen and shape those around us by the way we think, act, and live. Though that’s true, I think there’s a deeper level to consider, namely the fact that we have a responsibility to put ourselves in the place where we can best be sharpened by others.
Knocking Off the Rough Edges
Though it pains us to admit it at times, we can all use some improvement. That means we have to be willing to be sharpened and shaped—a painful process where our rough edges are filed off. This sharpening can be as simple as learning new skills or gaining new perspectives, or as hard as being told that we’re wrong or that we’ve wronged someone else.
To use another metaphor, being sharpened is akin to the pruning process. Growth as a person involves change, but it also involves cutting away what doesn’t belong. I learned a few years ago about the process of dead-heading the rose bush in front of our home. In order for that bush to thrive—to grow and produce more roses—I must chop off the blooms that have withered.
The lesson is that even something that was once beautiful and desirable has to be cut away and discarded. Otherwise, growth is inhibited. That means staying connected—even for introverts like me—and allow others to reshape us.
In the same way, part of the sharpening process removes metal from what was once the finest edge. Through use that metal has become dull, burred, and knocked out of shape. The only hope for a once-sharp blade to become sharp again is to have part of itself removed.
We are the rose bush. We are the blade. What is no longer beautiful, desirable, or sharp must be removed and discarded from our lives.
Cutting to the Heart
This sharpening process, when applied to our lives, hones us into a fine edge capable of cutting through the issues of life and become more effective in all that we do. This is true whether we’re talking about our spiritual life as we learn to become more effective followers of Christ and servants of others, or in our family and work relationships.
The key is that this sharpening takes time as well as takes place over time. Being sharpened is NEVER a one time process, nor is it one that should be undertaken intermittently.
Honing and sharpening are practices that must take place regularly. Yes, just as with keeping a fine edge on a knife, there’s a difference between honing and sharpening. Honing is what you do regularly to keep your edge as long as possible while sharpening must be done when the edge you have is no longer getting the job done.
The great thing about constant honing is that it keeps you from needing that painful and time-consuming sharpening as often. Keeping ourselves surrounded by the right kinds of people in the right environments keeps us sharp and useful.
Not an Axe to Grind
Finally, we’ve got to keep in mind this idea that sharpening should be something we receive more than give. Leaders have a proclivity to enter into relationships or join groups and become a driving influencer there. But unless specifically called to leadership or mentorship in those situations it’s probably inappropriate to act in such a manner.
Remember, leadership positions aren’t created for your benefit but rather for the benefit of everyone else. It doesn’t matter whether you’re leading a group or participating in a group, it’s not a place for you to bring your axe to grind, it’s a place for you to be ground down and sharpened.
The really cool thing about getting involved with a group of people and becoming vulnerable enough to be sharpened is that you will naturally sharpen those around you in return. Think back to our Proverb that says “iron sharpens iron.” This is mutual sharpening. Neither piece of iron comes away unchanged
So, allow others to speak into your life and sharpen you, but be wary and choose the right people. We need friends, family, and colleagues who will tell us when we’re getting dull. We need to constantly and consistently place ourselves on the whet stone for sharpening through friendship, fellowship, worship, discipline, study, service, and surrender.
Who are the people sharpening you today?