Effectiveness in Ministry: Are You Losing Your Edge?
by Jill Briscoe
After Elijah went to heaven in a fiery chariot (what other way would you expect him to go?), Elisha began his ministry. His work for God resembles his teacher’s in so many ways. There is an incident in his life that teaches us about different aspects of prayer. It is found in 2 Kings 6:1-7, and it has many good applications for those of us serving in ministry.
Some of the young men living near the Jordan came to Elisha and said, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live” (2 Kings 6:1-2). This was a nice problem to have.
At first Elisha said, “Go,” to which one young man replied, “Won’t you please come with your servants?” (vv. 2-3). Elisha acquiesced, and so they all went down to the Jordan and, choosing a site, got to work.
One of the young men, using a borrowed ax, wielded it with a little too much enthusiasm, and the ax head fell off into the water. An ax head was a prized possession, and the young man was understandably upset. Apparently Elisha was working within earshot, and immediately the man cried out to him, “Oh, my lord,…it was borrowed!” (v. 5).
Elisha asked him, “Where did it fall?” (v. 6). After the young man had shown him the place the ax had fallen in the water, the prophet cut a stick and threw it in there. Then an amazing thing happened. The lost ax head floated to the top of the water, and Elisha told the young man to “lift it out.” The relieved servant of the Lord “reached out his hand and took it” (v. 7). Now this is a delightful little miracle that can give us some insight into why we lose effectiveness in our Christian lives.
First of all, we have the man in training. He, like the master Elisha, had burned whatever bridges needed to be burned to be in this school. His priorities were in order. There was nothing wrong with his heart. It mustn’t have been easy to cut down the huge trees that would be needed to build a large building. No chain saws in those days! So here we have youth married to obvious enthusiasm and total commitment, carrying out the work of the Lord, when all of a sudden he loses his cutting edge! Right in the middle of serving, too.
This can happen to us as well. We can have our Christian life in good order and suddenly become aware that something is missing. Prayer is boring, the Bible bland, and worship stale. Worse, even though we go through the motions and witness to unbelievers they don’t seem to listen to us. We have lost our effectiveness.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to alert us to this. He is the one who will tell us loud and clear when we’ve lost that edge. Witnessing can be likened to cutting down trees in the forest. If we lose our cutting edge and just go on hitting the trees with the handle, we will only hurt the trees. So what does this ax head speak of in my life with Christ?
It speaks of sensitivity to the Spirit’s prompting through prayer. What does this mean? Well, it is the Spirit’s work to point out when sin enters our lives. As we are on our knees, God, through His Spirit, will make us aware of a recent conversation or a careless remark that hurt someone’s feelings. He alerts us to the fact that our ax head has plopped into the water, making us aware that we have suddenly become ineffective.
For example, I am speaking at a meeting that has been going quite well. People seem to like what I am saying, and some are actually wiping tears away as I talk. It feels good to be getting this response. This must be joy, I say to myself. Not true. Somewhere I have crossed the line between truly enjoying what God has gifted me to do and pride in my part of doing it.
The Holy Spirit recognizes this immediately and knows the ax head has just flown off the ax handle! The people in the audience know it, because they cease to receive anything from me. Eventually I become aware that something is wrong and that somewhere along the line I lost it. I am not talking about losing the Spirit; you can’t once you are born again. I’m talking about that flow of the Spirit through us when there is no known, unconfessed sin in our lives.
G. Campbell Morgan, a great Bible teacher, said on one occasion that in the middle of a tried-and-true sermon he was preaching he distinctly heard the “still small voice” whisper in his ear: “Preach on, great preacher, without me!” He had begun to rely on his sermon and not on the Lord, and he lost his effectiveness. The Holy Spirit wants us to pick up our usefulness again. Let me address the part that prayer plays in this.
Are You Hearing the Holy Spirit?
An attitude of prayer keeps us in the Holy Spirit’s orbit. Open your inner ears to the One who is holy and whose business it is to convict us of sin in all its shapes and forms. Consider the possibility that you are out of line. It could be pride or some other thing that rears its ugly head. As soon as you stop depending on the Lord and start depending on yourself, you will notice a subtle, but dramatic difference. Call out to your Teacher as the young man cried out to Elisha.
Where Did You Lose Your Effectiveness?
What happened to the man in the story when he admitted losing the ax head? Elisha immediately asked him a question. “Where did it fall? Show me the place.” God will always ask us where we lost our sharpness. He will want us to be very specific, just as Elisha was with the young man.The River of Relationships
I was trying to help a young woman who had lost her peace. “Where exactly did you lose it?” I asked.
“I think it was last year,” she said.
“I didn’t ask you when, but where,” I pursued.
“I don’t want to get into the details,” she told me. “I just want God to use me again.”
“Show me the place,” I insisted. Then she told me.
“I had a good ministry with high school students until I moved in with my boyfriend,” she admitted.
“That will do it,” I responded gently. “No wonder you lost your cutting edge.”
As soon as she showed me the place, I could help her.The Lake of Laziness
Habits have a habit of slipping. Disciplines get onerous. We feel that we’ve done our bit and it’s someone else’s turn, and we complain about it. Or we just succumb to laziness.
At one point in my life, I started to rely on a few good sermons when I was asked to speak. But I noticed people didn’t respond as they used to, and everything got somewhat stale. I cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed me “the place.” Once I got around to asking Him, we got it sorted out.The Bay of Busyness
We cannot be effective on our feet unless we have first been effective on our knees. There is such a staggering amount of work to be done. But we should think about people more than we think about tasks. Jesus always had time for people, no matter what tasks demanded His attention. Life is necessarily busy, but we must put people before tasks. And we must doggedly spend time with our Father before our busy day is through. Otherwise, we will lose our edge, and even our time spent with people will not be as effective.The Waters of Worry
The place where I most readily lose my ax is in the Waters of Worry. I am learning to pray as soon as I catch myself beginning to get anxious. This works better than anything and gives God a chance to head off the anxiety as soon as it starts. If we don’t shape our worries into prayers, our worries will shape us and we will have nothing to say to a world that is asking for help. The Bible says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
How Can You Get Sharp Again?
As soon as the man who had lost the ax head admitted the fact to Elisha and pointed out the exact spot he lost it, Elisha did a strange thing. He threw a stick in the water. He applied a piece of wood to the problem. There is another lesson here.Confess Anything That Grieves the Spirit
As we confess our sin to God, He will apply the benefits of Christ’s death on our behalf. He will apply the wood, that is, the cross on which Christ gave His life for us. Because Christ died for whatever it is I am confessing, He can forgive and cleanse me on an ongoing basis. What happened when Elisha heard the young man’s confession? He applied the wood, and the miracle happened. The iron floated. Through Elisha, God brought the cutting edge back within reach. When the Lord sees our contrite hearts, He will bring the edge back, but we must put out our hand and take it.
Prayer is the power source that can keep us thriving in the midst of any situation. When we surrender to the Holy Spirit in all areas of our lives we won’t need to worry about losing our cutting edge. He will keep us sharp for the things He calls us to do!
|A Prayer to Recover Our Cutting|
Excerpt from Prayer that Works by Jill Briscoe. Used with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois ©2000.