Are You Getting Sharpened Regularly?

Are You Getting Sharpened Regularly?

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.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

 
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.

Mutually Beneficial

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?

As iron sharpens iron

Forgiveness: A Must-Have for Leaders

forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard to give at times, yet it’s one part of human interaction that we all need. All of us forget things, fail at tasks, make mistakes, and outright sin all the time. What happens when we do? We need forgiveness. We crave it.

So why is it so hard to offer forgiveness when it’s our turn to give it?

Leadership Demands Forgiveness

Leaders are only leaders because there are people following them. That’s a no-brainer statement, but think about it. A leader isn’t a leader simply because they’re smart, or talented, or rich, or popular. No, they’re leaders because of people. It may have been one of the attributes listed above that drew people into their orbit in the first place, but it’s leadership qualities that make people continue to follow.

In the same way, I think most of us understand that someone’s not a leader simply because they’re the boss. You can be in charge and have no followers. Leaders must be someone people want to follow, and one of the crucial characteristics of good leadership is forgiveness.

Because the people you lead make mistakes, they’ll need your forgiveness. Want to breed loyalty in your followers? Forgive them regularly and magnificently. 

I think there are at least two levels of forgiveness. The lower level of forgiveness is to forgive someone for failure. It doesn’t matter what the failure was or why it happened. We all fail, and we fail more often when we’re pushing ourselves to achieve greater things.

“If you’re not failing at something, somewhere, you’re not growing.”
Chris LoCurto—podcast October 13, 2014

A higher level of forgiveness is to forgive someone who’s hurt you. That’s hard, and from your perspective it often doesn’t matter if it was purposeful or not. You only feel the hurt resonating into the deepness of your soul. I’m sure if we searched our own hearts we’d find times when we remember hurting someone—whether intentionally or unintentionally.

How much grace did you want when you screwed up? How much do you want understanding and mercy in the future when you hurt someone again? How often do you wish you had second chances?

The people who wrong you want your mercy and grace in the same measure. Followers who have been forgiven of their failures are loyal because they know you’re got their backs.

What Goes Around…

On a human level, we need to offer forgiveness as much as the other person needs to receive it. Hurt received leaves a mark, but so does an unforgiving spirit. Holding a grudge is like picking at a wound so that it never heals—it festers and gets ugly, threatening to spread its pain elsewhere.

When you’re unwilling to let go of the hurt you’ve been caused you can’t move on in life. Forgiveness is an essential facet of personal growth, and choosing to withhold forgiveness stunts your growth as a person.

If you’re unable to forgive, you’ve still got some growing up to do.

On a spiritual level, the Bible has some mind-blowing and profound ideas about forgiveness—ideas that run counter to much of modern culture’s understanding. Here are some select verses to consider:

  • “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” ~Ephesians 4:32
  • “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” ~Luke 6:27
  • “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” ~Colossians 3:13
  • “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” ~Mark 11:25.
  • “Then Peter came up and said to him [Jesus], ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” ~Matthew 18:21-22

Then perhaps the seminal statement about forgiveness is at the tail end of The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus uses the phrase, “…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Many people forget that He goes on after the classic end of the prayer to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

That’s pretty harsh. If we were to stop and consider the ways we’ve withheld forgiveness from others in our lives and then consider that forgiveness is withheld from us in the same measure, how would that change the way we treat others?

We tend to forget that lack of action on our part can be just as evil as actively doing something wrong. Withholding forgiveness from another person is the same as wishing evil on them. On a spiritual level, a lack of forgiveness is immeasurably damaging.

Forgive and Forget?

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget, nor does it mean you make allowances for abuse, laziness, lying, or any other negative character traits. Sure, if someone takes advantage of your forgiveness you may need to stage an intervention or take some other sort of action. Ultimately, the people you lead need the mercy and grace you have to offer them so that they can become fully grown and mature.

While we may not be able to just forget, we must be careful about keeping a running tab of failures in order to bring them up later. Yes, if you’re a boss or manager you should keep track of people’s progress. A good manager does everything they can to help their team succeed, and that includes holding their team members accountable.

What’s not okay is throwing out phrases like, “you always do this,” or “I remember the last time…” Now you’re on shaky ground. What you’re saying may be true, and it may be hard to trust someone due to past wrongs, but dredging them up into the present shows at least partial unforgiveness on your part.

Deal with the wrongs that have been done to you in the here and now and them leave them in the past.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,  it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-6 NIV

I challenge you to offer forgiveness to everyone who needs it—in equal or greater measure to what you’d want to receive yourself. Offer kindness, even to people you perceive as adversarial. When others do you wrong, don’t retaliate or live with an “eye for an eye” attitude. Don’t take delight in their failures. Winning because an adversary fails isn’t really winning.

Showing you support them when they fail by helping them get back on their feet reveals your true character.

Reject the Status Quo and Become Status Mutatio

Reject the Status Quo

I think we all understand what status quo means—the existing state of affairs. Within the status quo nothing changes until the level of discomfort becomes great enough to force change. By that point it’s usually too late for the change to do any real, long-lasting good—and it’s certainly too late for that change to be guided in the most rational, beneficial way possible. Forced changes are not only more painful, but they’re also often a part of a rapid downward spiral.

“Status quo is, you know, Latin for ‘The mess we’re in.'”
~Ronald Reagan

Mutatio is Latin for change. Shifting your outlook from maintaining the status quo to becoming status mutatio means that you become an agent of change. Becoming status mutatio means you’re always on the lookout for a better way of doing things—for opportunities to grow.

Do You Want to Grow or Not?

I think if you ask most people if they want to grow, their answer would be, “Yes.” At the same time, I’m not sure most people grasp that growth, by its very action, necessitates change. Just like a plant must change from an inert seed into something beautiful and completely different, so too must human organisms and systems change if they are to truly experience growth.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about an individual, a church, a business, a political or non-profit organization—all things will experience change as they grow. As an individual learns new concepts, as a church adds to its numbers, or as a businesses and organizations reach new people and hire new employees, there is a natural tendency toward change. The only way to inhibit that change is by refusing those natural changes to take place.

What does this refusal look like? Individuals hear new ideas and concepts and reject them out of hand. Churches gain new members but don’t allow those people to have any influence on how things are done going forward. Businesses touch the lives of potential customers, but instead of learning how they can best meet the needs of a changing society, they insist that their products are wonderful as-is. Organizations hire new people, but never let new ideas from their employees percolate upwards, insisting instead that employees tow the line and stick to the handbook.

This is what stagnation looks like. This is what stifling imagination and creativity looks like. This stagnation ultimately leads to death.

If It Ain’t Broke, I Ain’t Budging!

Status quo is most often reflected in an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. These are the sort of people who, when confronted with the idea of change, balk because “we’ve always done it this way.”

How short-sighted is an attitude like this? You mean to say there’s NOTHING that could be improved upon? There’s NOTHING that might possibly be done better or more efficiently?

I think keeping the status quo is the default approach to life for most humans. Why?

Because the status quo is comfortable.

Keeping the status quo involves less perceived risk. To change—even when we know intellectually that successful change will bring about greater comfort or a better way of living—we are forced to step out of our comfort zones. We’re nestled safely in the familiar, even if we can see there’s a potential for something better.

Even if the consequences of failure are ultimately less painful than the consequences of staying the same, we’re still willing emotionally to stay put because our current level of pain is a familiar friend.

We tell ourselves, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” How sad that we can see success, goodness, and greatness on the horizon, but would rather make friends with well-known evil or mediocrity.

“The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Embracing Change for Good

Trust me, I get it. I understand because I’m no different. Becoming status mutatio is only gained through daily, willful intentionality. So how do we start?

Start by becoming open to both the idea of and need for change. Not change for change’s sake. Not change just because everyone else is doing it or to follow cultural fads.

No, embrace change as a part of growth. Embrace the change that comes as a natural by-product of attempting excellence. Embrace changes that come from looking for a better way.

When presented with opportunities for growth, an agent of change will stop and take time to consider the pros and cons of allowing that growth to happen. Being an agent of change does not mean shifting to an attitude that says, “all growth is good.” That’s foolishness. Cancer is a type of growth, and I think we’d all agree that cancer is not a good thing.

A wise agent of change considers the costs of change and determines if the potential end result is better than staying the same. An agent of change also asks “What’s the worst case scenario if we attempt this change versus the worst case scenario if we stay the same?” If, in the final analysis, they discover that not changing is the better way, at least they were open to the possibility of change, therefore they were open to the possibility of growth.

Change can be scary, but if we work as agents of change we can control and direct the growth.

Will we look completely different once the change has happened? Absolutely, but think back to that inert seed. Once it’s planted and begins to grow, it ultimately becomes able to reproduce itself exponentially and becomes more useful. Homes can be built from the wood of a tree. Pollen can be harvested and turned into honey. Life changing medicines can be created from plant by-products.

All because that tiny little seed was encouraged to change into something new.

World Changers Are Servants

World Changers

Once upon a time, I was a relatively well-known blogger in a particular niche, but never really found the large audience or success I wanted. I worked at writing posts, tweeting about them, sharing them all around social media, and participated in discussions on other blogs all in the hopes of building my tribe. But no matter what I did, my blog just never took off.

I remember one time complaining that I might as well quit tweeting stuff about my blog because the return-on-investment (meaning my time) was so low. My disappointment soared as I watched other blogs in my niche grow exponentially. Some of these bloggers found new and “better” jobs as a result. As usual, comparison became the thief of joy and I sunk deeper and deeper into verdant envy. I was stuck doing the same old job, wondering why no one was reading my awesome blog and giving me the recognition I truly deserved.

What a jerk.

I read a quote recently from Patrick Lencioni where he said, “Most people don’t really want to change the world, they only want to be known as the person who changed the world.”

Ouch…talk about getting it right between the eyes.

Back when my wife and I attended financial counselor training, I have a vivid memory of Dave Ramsey stating, “If you focus on helping people, you don’t have to worry about where the money is going to come from.” He was referencing the great success he and his organization have experienced over the last 20+ years of teaching his financial principles.

That’s why my sole focus on this blog has been to always think about how to serve someone with each post I write. It’s my prayer that people will stumble across these words and find something that will help them take the steps necessary to make their lives better.

Do I want my blog to get huge? Absolutely! But I hope to stay humble and always do everything from a position of service.

Do I hope to make money from all this? Honestly, yes, I do. I’m running ads, searching for paid speaking gigs, and creating products to sell. Why? Because it’s my hope to be able to earn enough money from this venture that I’ll be able to do it full time and give all my vocational time and attention to helping whoever I can.

Do I want to change the world? Yes, but I’m no longer all that concerned about being known as the one who initiated the change. This story is about the people whose lives are made better, not about me.

That’s my hope.

Thanks for reading.