Sharpen Your Ax

by Ken McIntosh - February 15, 2022

One of the greatest keys to success in life is preparation. What does the Bible say about preparing for your career in your younger years?

Two men, Bill and Joe, came home from working all day in the forest. Both men were tired, but Bill was more tired than Joe. The two men had similar strength and ability, but Joe had more energy left.

The two men worked felling trees for the sawmill. They each used an ax, but Joe felled more trees than Bill. Why?

The difference was that before going into the forest, Joe sharpened his ax. He prepared for the work ahead. The sharpened ax made Joe faster and more efficient.

Wise King Solomon wrote about this concept: “If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success” (Ecclesiastes 10:10).

What can we learn from this?

The lesson of the sharp ax

The lesson is the wisdom of preparing early for your life’s work. Those who succeed in life prepare by gaining the knowledge and credentials they need to be successful.

If possible, they should do this before acquiring heavy financial commitments and family obligations, such as a mortgage, spouse or child.

Instead of just seeking any job you can get, it is wise to prepare for your desired long-term career while you’re young. Preparing and becoming qualified for the occupation and career ahead means you are proverbially sharpening your ax.

As Solomon wrote, this is wisdom—and it will bring success.   

First things first

Solomon also wrote a proverb about this principle: “Prepare your outside work, make it fit for yourself in the field; and afterward build your house” (Proverbs 24:27).

Solomon used the analogy of a farmer starting a new farm. The farmer’s first priority needs to be preparing his field. He needs to cut away the brush, remove tree stumps, haul away rocks, plow his furrows and scatter his seed. 

If possible, he also needs to build a barn. It is important to get all this in order before he starts his household. Then the crop can grow and mature while he builds his house later. Preparing the field, like sharpening an ax, teaches us to prepare for how we will support our household before we build it.

Preparation choices

Both of these verses also tell us that people, especially young people, should prepare for their future occupation before working full-time and spending their earnings on all the things they want.

This preparation could be entering and completing an apprenticeship in a desired area. It could be attending a trade school that will qualify the person to work in the occupation he or she chooses, such as electrician, barber or mechanic. Or it could mean attending college so he or she can pursue a profession, such as accountant, teacher or engineer.

Preparation is not easy

Young people preparing for the future will probably find that their desired profession or trade requires years of education, or years as an apprentice, before they will acquire all the knowledge, skills and credentials needed to succeed in that field. These years of education or training may be costly. However, they can lead to a higher-paying and more rewarding occupation later.

Often, those who neglect preparation earn much less and are forced to work much harder than those who put in the time and effort for it.

Withstand temptation

Young people can find it tempting to get just any job they can find immediately after high school and start getting paid right away. Such a job might allow a person to get the car he or she wants, or a lot of clothes, or a nice apartment.

But it will likely not be as beneficial in the long term.

Commitment is required

It is important for the person pursuing the education or training needed for his or her chosen occupation to put in the time and effort to complete the prerequisites.

“Complete” is an important word. It’s of limited value to complete only part of an apprenticeship or a degree program. Just as we wouldn’t sharpen only half of our ax, we also wouldn’t stop working in our field before plowing the furrows and planting the seed. 

The person who quits a plumbing apprenticeship will not become a licensed plumber. The person who drops out of college partway through will not receive a degree. Before we start our training or education, we need to understand and accept the commitment that it requires.

It is important to pursue our life’s work in a field we desire and have an aptitude for. This may mean getting years of instruction or schooling. However, doing so will almost certainly pay off and improve the quality of our lives. 

Let’s always do our work with a sharp ax!

To learn more about keys for success in life, read "How to Be Successful".

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