How to Stay S.H.A.R.P. in Ministry
Have you ever tried to cut a tomato with a dull knife? It is a disaster! The effort it takes to slice through the skin of the tomato is frustrating, and if your knife finally breaks through, seeds tend to squirt out in all kinds of directions. The simple truth is that a dull knife is just not an effective tool to get the job done. However, with a sharp knife, the task can be accomplished with ease and effectiveness.
Unfortunately, I fear many believers are in danger of becoming dull and ineffective tools for our Savior. The Bible actually speaks about a kind of spiritual dullness (see Matt 13:15 or Lam 3:65). Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards warned that spiritual dullness takes hold “when the realities of God and His gospel grow so dim, and unbelief and worldly affections so strong, that the heart of the church wanders to the lusts and rivalries of a secularized mind.”
Our desire should be to stay an effective and sharp tool in our Father’s hand. As we hear stories of fellow believers who have fallen into sin, our hearts should break. We should pray for their restoration. We should also examine our own lives to see where we may be in danger in our own walks. I have found the simple acrostic “S.H.A.R.P.” to be a helpful gut check to see if there are ways I am allowing dullness to creep into my life:
S – Spiritual Disciplines
H – Holiness
A – Accountability
R – Rest
P – Perspective
Bible study, prayer, sharing your faith, worship, serving, stewardship—these are all disciplines that help build your spiritual muscle, strengthening and maturing you in your walk. Growth takes effort. Paul knew this and encouraged Timothy to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). When I am doing a “gut check” of my walk, I start here with spiritual disciplines. Am I taking time to allow God to speak to me through His Word? Am I sharing my faith with others? Am I being a good steward of my time and resources? If I find myself saying “no” to any of these questions, then I have identified areas where I may have allowed dullness to invade.
As Jonathan Edwards warned, dullness can invade when we crave the world more than God, when our sin seems more appealing than our sanctification. God tell us, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:13-15). When I consider God’s call to holiness, I look for areas in my life where I may be embracing or downplaying my own sin. God’s desire is for me to be holy (set apart) like Him and reject sin.
Do you have people who you have given access to your life, who you have invited to keep you accountable and call you on your sin? People that know you, I mean really know you? Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We were not meant to be lone rangers in our Christian walks—we need each other to keep sharp and avoid dullness. A warning sign of dullness can be when we seclude ourselves from others and hide sins, habits, and activities. Ecclesiastes 4:10 says that it is “woe” for us when we fall and have no one to pick us up. Welcoming accountability can keep you sharp.
Our church culture today often equates busyness with godliness, but burn out in ministry can occur when we ignore God’s own example and command for us to rest (Gen 2:2 and Ex 20:8-11). If we burn the candle at both ends, running on fumes, we endanger ourselves. Staying sharp and effective in our walks requires time for physical and spiritual rest. Learning to set boundaries and say “no” to even good opportunities has been difficult for me, but I have found myself even more effective (and nicer to be around) when I discipline myself to rest.
Finally, when I am doing a gut check for dullness, I ask myself if I am keeping God’s perspective on my circumstances. When I focus on myself instead of God, I can get bitter over illness, discontent over unmet expectations, and downright angry over tragedy. James 1:2-4 has been helpful for me to remember: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Instead of saying “why me?” when trials occur, I have learned to ask, “God, what do you want to teach me or do in me through this?”
As we practice spiritual disciplines, pursue holiness and flee sin, welcome accountability in our lives, take time for rest, and keep God’s perspective on our circumstances, we allow God to run us over the whetstone of spiritual maturity, sharpening us in our faith. Then, we can become even more effective tools in the hands of our Heavenly Father.
 Mark Shaw, 10 Great Ideas from Church History: A Decision-Maker’s Guide to Shaping Your Church (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 1997), 116.