Let the Word Speak!

Choose What You Do

Step Three: Choose what you do

Ecclesiastes 9:10a (NIV):
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 (NIV):
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

One of the themes of Ecclesiastes is the frustration Solomon faced when he tried to over-complicate life. Repeatedly, he recognizes the folly of achieving happiness through human means like wealth, wisdom, and pleasure, and comes back to the basics.

Ecclesiastes also identifies the “why” for what we do. The goal of our activities ultimately is to find enjoyment in God, to “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

3.A) Sharpen your axe

This is one of the key habits of Covey’s book, also expressed well by Abraham Lincoln:

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Too often, when we are ready to “start” a project, we either assume our tools are prepared, or we don’t want to take the time to prepare. We often go hacking at a three for six hours with a dull axe, instead of sharpening the axe first.

What kind of tools should we consider?

People and relationships
Specific knowledge
Physical tools
Our bodies
One big challenge most of us face is physical exhaustion. We don’t get enough sleep, as we shave a few more minutes off our bedtime to get more done. We stay worn out because our bodies aren’t in good physical condition; we fail to “sharpen our axe” when we let our bodies go.
Social and political environments
Spiritual strength
Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

3.B) Self-sharpening tools

More often than we think, what we do also can sharpen us. As you size up a task, look for what you can learn from it, what skills you can develop from it, or how you can grow from the experience—take a “long look” as well at focusing on the task at hand.

Part of this topic comes back to the earlier topic of reducing emotional fatigue. There are some tasks we do that energize us, and we can recognize those and repeat those to sharpen us for later efforts. If you have an extroverted personality, you usually gain emotional energy by being with other people, so structure your tasks to involve others. If you are energized by solving puzzles, look for approaches to tasks that give you isolation to flex your problem-solving skills.

This can be a terrific replacement for television! When you unwind, consider alternatives to watching television. What hobby or pastime could you do to take your mind away from your stress and give you a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment? Write in a journal. Teach yourself to play guitar. No one ever has to read what you write or hear you play, because that’s not the purpose and value of the pastime—you are your only audience.

3.C) Know yourself

This topic is so important that it will be the focus for October 17, “Discovering Our Giftedness.”

We need to understand what talents we have, and develop and use those talents. We need to understand what talents we don’t have, and find ways to supplement in those areas with other persons or by changing our approach.

Another key reason to know yourself is that we can’t give what we don’t have. If we try to give people time we don’t have, we can’t make good on our promises. If we try to give people emotional or spiritual support, and our own emotional and spiritual reserves are spent, we are a disservice tothem and to ourselves.

3.D) Beware the trap of “Results”

The last 40 years of business tactics and practices have made a huge emphasis of “results.” Managers are taught “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Stock market analysts often repeat the mantra, “what have you done for me lately?” In the spirit of dealing fairly with employees, we seek objective measurements of productivity and success on which to base raises and promotions.

In matters of spiritual life, consider Isaiah 55:8-9 (NRSV):

”For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways,” says the LORD .
”For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The antithesis of focusing on God can be focusing on results, for we want to determine and measure results, rather than allowing God to set the goals.

Consider two quotations from Mother Teresa that speak to this topic:

We can do no great thing—only small things with great love.

God doesn’t require us to succeed; He only requires that you try.

Therefore, handle your “defeats” and “failures” with the same enthusiasm that you handle your “victories” and “successes,” because you cannot imagine what God will do with your efforts!

Consider a story about this subject in Acts 8:26-29 (NRSV):

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.”

In other words, Philip was called to go witness, not where the crowds were, but to a deserted roadway in the wilderness. This choice guaranteed poor numeric “results,” since there were far more people where Philip had been. We can’t even say that this one convert went back to Ethiopia and started a great revival; we simply don’t know. Philip’s job was not to set the goals or measure the results, but to follow where God led.

Power of prayer: acting in faith

As you work on what you do, pray about it.

  • Pray that God will lead you to find and develop your talents.
  • Pray that God will give you the courage to act in faith when God calls you to do something which you feel you are not equipped to do.
  • Pray for sensitivity to sense God’s call, and strength of faith to answer that call.


Scriptures designated by “NIV” are from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.

NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of International Bible Society. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of International Bible Society.

Scriptures designated by “NSRV” are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2014 Jonathan Morris
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