Sunday Gathering – Recovering Your Cutting Edge – Jonathan Dunning
This week we take a break from our series on prayer, as Jonathan Dunning speaks.
In this sermon by Jonathan Dunning, he discusses the theme of losing one's "cutting edge" and how to recover it. The sermon is based on the story of an axe head that floated, found in 2 Kings 6:1-7. Dunning begins by sharing his personal experience of transition in his ministry and the uncertainty that can come with it. He then emphasizes the idea that accidents and unexpected circumstances can lead to a loss of one's effectiveness, similar to a runner getting a stitch during a race. Dunning explains that sometimes people find themselves in situations where they feel like victims of circumstances, and their focus shifts from the work they were called to do to their personal circumstances.
He highlights the importance of sharing one's struggles with trusted individuals who can offer guidance and support. Just as the man in the story went to Elisha to share his loss, Dunning encourages his listeners to share their pain and seek wisdom from those who can help.
Dunning also reminds the audience that God is the ultimate restorer and can repair what seems irretrievable. Just as the lost axe head floated in the water, God can bring restoration and renewal to individuals who have lost their sense of purpose or calling.
The sermon concludes with a message of hope, urging listeners not to allow past mishaps or accidents to keep them from fulfilling God's calling in their lives. Instead, they are encouraged to recover their "cutting edge" and actively participate in God's plan and purpose.
Throughout the sermon, various Bible verses are mentioned, including 2 Kings 6:1-7 and Philippians 3, emphasizing the importance of seeking God's restoration and guidance in difficult times.
and sharp and active, it's just that we sometimes aren't, and that's going to be the subject
I'm going to be talking about today. Interesting, because I had no idea what to do today.
It's quite different for me, because for all my adult life, from the age of 19, I've
been in local church leadership of some sort or another. So for the first time in these
last few months, I've had no problems with who I am, and awful lot of problems with what
I am. What am I supposed to be doing? I'm going to other churches, I'm speaking, I'm meeting
with leaders, I'm doing what I can to help, I'm doing all these things. But actually that sense
of transition into from one place in your life to another place in your life can be quite an
uncertain time. I've got great confidence in God. I don't really, you know, it's not that I don't
trust him for what's going to happen in the future. But where you've gone out with confidence to
some of these churches, he's sensing what God's saying to you, and you know, sometimes you can be
fairly directional and fairly challenging. It's very hard to do that in a church you've
led for 30 years, which you've now passed over to somebody else. Because really it's not my
responsibility anymore, cheer up. Nothing to do with me, what's happening here. And therefore,
I've really stood up, what do you say? There's not bland and neutral and safe, but yet he's
not directional and sharp and cutting. But actually the leaders are thinking, flipping out,
I'm not going to ask him again, you know. It's quite a challenge. So stuff has been going on in my life
and he's going on. I'm not there yet. But I think stuff is going on in a lot of people's lives.
And actually I've taken some encouragement from the prophetic words that we've just heard,
because actually the idea of getting a stitch or falling on a race is what I'm going to talk
about today. This is a passage I've preached on lots of times. I don't think I've ever preached it
here. If you've heard it before, forgive me, it's completely been rewritten for you. But I want
to talk about an axe head that floated and you'll find the passage in two kings, chapter six,
verses one to seven. How do you deal with those times when something's gone wrong, an accident?
You feel a victim of something that was nothing to do with you, but just it happens.
And you lose your cutting edge. So we read in two kings six, the company of the prophets said to
Elisha, look the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Well that sounds relevant
anyway for today. Let's go to the Jordan where each of us can get a pole and let us build a
place there for us to live. And Elisha said go. Then one of them said, well you please come with
it with your servants. Elisha said, I will. And he went with them. They went to the Jordan and
began to cut down trees. And as one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axe head fell into
the water. Oh my lord, he cried out. It was borrowed. I don't think he was swearing. I think he
was talking to Elisha by the way, you know. It's a small L in the versions of the Bible I've got.
The man of God, that's Elisha asked, where did it come off? Where did it fall? And when he showed
him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it through it there and made the iron float.
Lift it out, he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it. So first verse four verses are
really exciting. It's about a vision becoming a reality. There's something really good happening
around here. There's a company of prophets and they're having to do something because they're
growing. These are people who are following God, seeking God, wanting God's word to be proclaimed
in the society, having a passion for God, but their premises was just too little for them.
They were seeking God, hearing God, getting messages from God and obviously attracting other
people to come and join what they were doing. They'd been meeting with Elisha, I guess he was the
the man of God that they really looked to, almost like an oversighter, you know, in this ministry
for input and for direction. But they ran out of room. The place where we meet with you, Elisha,
is too small for us. So they set off on a building project, sounds familiar, doesn't it? We need
something bigger. A home for their ministry and they planned to go to Jordan, they had a clear
sense of vision of where are we going to go and each of them was going to get a pole. Now I don't
know what getting a pole has to do with building. It's certainly not going in the small ads and
finding an Eastern European builder who can come and help you to do the job. But essentially it's
I don't really understand what these poles were doing. It's by the by. Anyway, they set off.
They felt they needed some accountability so they asked Elisha to come along with her and he
said he would go and they began to work, felling the trees to provide the timber for their houses,
clearing the land to build this place on the edge of the Jordan. And I imagine you know there was
great enthusiasm, hope, faith as they embarked on a mission project. I think we've all been there,
perhaps in our history, perhaps now, where something we're involved with in God has given us great
enthusiasm. We bought into it, hooked line and sinker. We feel this is it. We feel this is what
God's calling us to. We're enthusiastic to the point where we're throwing our all in and we're
willing to go, you know, go with God, I think is a phrase we used to use. But who knows that?
Doing something for God with the call of God upon your life, with that sense of faith in what
you're doing doesn't guarantee a problem or trouble-free life or everything goes smoothly or
everything goes according to plan. Everything goes as you'd like it to. So this one to four sets up
this scene of faith, hope, expectancy, something going to be built. We're doing something for God
and we're doing something with God. And then on verse five, we meet this man who's on a mission
who becomes a man with a problem. Basically, he loses his cutting edge. He loses his cutting edge.
He falls over in the race. He gets a stitch. He hits the wall. It's the phrase that I think
perhaps is another one that Ian would use in a race where you just get to that point where,
you know, this is just tough. Something happened. It was an accident borrowed to do the work
and the axe head had obviously come and stop. And you can imagine his horror as he's chopping
away and he suddenly sees, it's almost like a cartoon, you know, pirouetting through the sky,
this axe head that's fallen off the edge of his handle and goes plop into a muddy,
murky river because the Jordan was not clear, beautiful waters. You can read about this in the
guy who gets baptized from Ethiopia. He says, God, look, if you ask me to get baptized in these
beautiful clear streams, I might have done that, but this muddy, mucky place, the Jordan,
all silted up. You must be joking. So it's not as if you can look down through the crystal blue
waters of an azure stream. I think, oh, low, behold, I see the axe head. How marvelous.
It seemed like it was lost for good. Now, look, perhaps the man had been a bit careless.
Perhaps he hadn't really, it realized it was getting loose, he'd done nothing about it. It's
foolish thing to do. Perhaps he hadn't noticed something that he'd not even noticed was happening.
He was so busy chopping down the tree that he hadn't realized that the axe head was coming loose.
I don't know, but what we do know is for him, it was an unexpected calamity. It was one of those
things that happens in life that you just don't want to happen that I've often said to the
Lees of this church, it's like you're walking along, everything's going fine, and you hit a
plate glass window, something you didn't expect to be in your way, suddenly hits you, it works
you up, it gives you a terrible shock. I know, I wasn't expecting that. This guy was not expecting
what happened. Now, a friend of mine once called this, he said the guy was a victim of circumstance.
I don't know whether we could say he's to blame or not, but I know one thing, it ruined his day,
it ruined his week and it could have ruined his life. Hear me, these unintended, uninvited,
unplanned moments that we all get in life where the wheels come off for some reason or something
terrible happens that we hadn't expected in churches. How many times have you been in the church,
perhaps you've been in a different church where something has happened, everything seems to be
going great, and suddenly the axe head falls off. And what you were trying to do for God suddenly
wasn't, you were able to do it again, it was like you're tripped up, something you hadn't even
expected to happen, you know, your shoelaces come and done, you know, you fall off your shoelaces,
but something happens in your life that was unintended and wanted and unplanned.
And suddenly it feels like your world falls apart. Everything you'd hope for, everything you'd
dreamed for, everything you'd worked for, everything you put your effort into. Suddenly, you're watching
everyone else, you know, chopping away and having a great time and getting on with the work,
but you're lost in a crowd where you know it no longer able to do what you've felt
called to do because you've lost your cutting edge. It was made worse, of course, because he said
it was a borrowed axe. Now, I'll tell you, because I've looked at these, because I'd chop words,
you know, I am one of these people who doesn't buy logs, I go to the park, I get the old logs,
saw them up at home by hand, you know, there's no carbon footprint to me, ladies and gentlemen,
but I still burn logs. And I have a large axe, you know, I do, I know how much these things cost,
but in comparison to the cost of iron in these days, which was a very precious metal,
this was a big loss, and he's crying out in despair, his anguish couldn't be contained,
he's gone, oh my lord, it was borrowed. I mean, would we stood there or sat there, you know,
it's head like this thinking, what am I going to do about this? I could no longer fulfil my calling,
the purpose I'm there for, I could no longer contribute to, I'll participate in,
and everything I'd set out to achieve suddenly is no longer possible for me, or because of
something small, something that I hadn't purposely done, something that had happened to me,
that really I became the victim of in some ways, I wonder if you've ever felt like this,
because I have, and the thing is, you focus, I'll tell you a story in a minute, you focus is no longer
on the work, it's like the old poster isn't it about, you know, when you're actually necking crocodiles
or alligators, it's hard to remember that the purpose that you're there for is to drain the swamp,
you know, and I think, I think the thing is, it's just really hard because the focus suddenly
is not on the work, but it's on your own personal circumstances and what's happening in your own
life and what's happening to you, true story, we have a main drain that runs around the side of our
house, it serves, it's the series drain, how night do you like it, it serves about five or six
of the houses around us, and a few years ago, it used to get, well, it regularly used to get blocked,
you know, and of course, the time you knew it was blocked was when, we'll leave you to that,
but it's basically the garden began to show signs of it being blocked, shall we say.
Now, me and my neighbour had a cunning plan, you know, Baldric, eat your heart out,
and the cunning plan was, well, I know, I know a man, he says, I know a man, and I didn't know
this person at the time, I got to doing through this, he's got draining rods, will borrow the
draining rods, Phil. So, off I went, not on this house, looking about as really excited about this,
I didn't know him as any of them, but I was sent around, can we borrow your draining rods, we've
got a bit of a problem, and we borrowed the draining rods, and he set out fantastic, you know,
we're screwing them together and sticking them down this drain all of it, kept stirring them together
and set sticking around the drain hole, and then we start, you know, doing what you do with
these things, heath hole, but you're pushing and shoving and trying to, trying to clear this
bend drain, and at one point, it didn't seem to be working somehow, and we brought the rods back,
but we didn't bring all the rods back. In fact, the top two were completely missing and now stuck
down the drain, and at this point, you know, the fact we had raw storage in our garden seems
far lesser problem than the fact I had borrowed the draining rods from a neighbour, and was about
to take them back without the ends. Would you like some cans for your peas next spring, you know,
basically? And he's left there, you know, sort of like, I'm knocking on the door again saying,
well, I brought some of them back, and you feel a mixture of embarrassment, humiliation,
bit of anxiety and fear because you're telling him what's happened,
but the work was no longer the focus, the blocked drain. It was this situation
where we'd literally lost the cutting edge down a drain.
You know, in ministry and in life, I'm probably not as together as some of the people here in this room,
but I have to say that the circumstances have been really challenging at times,
and they can make me feel a bit useless, and they can make me feel like giving up,
oh yeah, I've been there, and they can make me feel quite disqualified from doing the job I'm doing.
And actually, as a result of that, you no longer feel as invested in what's happening around you
as you once did. It might be that I've said something, I wish they'd never said that,
or I've done something, I wish they'd never done that. It was unintended, didn't mean to hurt
anyone, didn't mean to get it wrong, but something has obviously hurt somebody, and it could be
that words are things have happened to me that were totally unintended by other people,
but it feels a bit like hitting your face into a plate glass window you didn't know was there,
you feel, you just feel as though this situation, this circumstance, that was really none of my
making has really affected me, and how I feel about myself, and how I feel about what I'm supposed
to be doing, and how I feel about getting involved. And you can watch other people being really active
and getting on with the vision and getting on with the ministering, getting on with the purpose
of building, but somehow you feel like now you're on the outside looking in, you don't feel quite
as if you belong because you're not actually as involved, you've lost your cutting edge,
your focus is now on an incident, and to quote that great theologian and philosopher of our age,
Bono, you've got to get yourself together, you've got stuck in a moment that you can't get out of,
you're stuck in a moment that you can't get out of it, it's replaying your mind,
and you might forget it for weeks, days and months, but something happens, and again it comes back
to you, and it's like a video tape that you're playing over and over again every so often,
if only hadn't done that, if only that hadn't happened, if only that person hadn't done that to me,
or said that to me, or this had happened in my life, I'd still be carrying on like I was,
but I'm now stuck in a moment that I can't get out of, I've lost my cutting edge,
it was borrowed, I want to tell you, your cutting edge was borrowed, never yours in the first place,
it's God's, the sharpness of ministry, the ability to do things, the ability to be what God has
called us to be is not a human skill, it is a God-given gift to us. Now I'm not talking about
preaching and singing and all this, I'm just talking about generally ministry, serving, doing
stuff, we do it in the power of the Spirit, don't we, this is the New Testament thing, we do it
for God and with God's help and by the enabling of God that we do all these things,
I want to say borrowed, well it's for our lifetime, you know, God gives us a gift.
The thing is, because of things that happen in our life, we end up feeling and acting like victims,
rather than forgiving me being twee, victors. Rather than being an overcome, we're overcome by an
incident that has happened in our lives, but we only really can be overcomers if we've got something
to overcome. Now, so to you two, an unforeseen situation, you may have lost your cutting edge,
and I think there's people in this room, because I think we've had the prophetic words, and this
was a message that I didn't know I was speaking until yesterday, none of the people in this room
you were speaking on. So, you know, let's just take this as maybe being God speaking to some of you.
Can we be that bold? Can we be that daring to think that God might be speaking to some people
in here who feel that some things happened in their life, where they might not have necessarily,
it's not their deliberate fault, but something has happened to them that has taken them out of
again, that has basically meant that, you know, they're still there, they're still present in the
action, they're still present in the building, but they're no longer able to function because
they've lost their cutting edge. But your spirit sank, like that axehead, as a result of what's
happened to you. But the thing is, it's just not the end of the story, it just isn't, it never is
for any of us, and we heard a bit of that in the prophetic word today as well, it's not the end of
the race, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon, you know, there's places in that time, in that run,
or that walkway, you just feel like giving up, but essentially you keep going, you get back in the
race, you pick yourself up, what is the road to recovery? Now we can either surrender to the
circumstance of life, allow them to impose, you know, what's happened to you on you and say,
that's it, allowing, if you like, our history to determine our future using that, that tweet phrase
that we often use, or we can come to God in our shame, in our pain, in our frustration,
in just the sorrow and sadness of it all, and allow him to work in those circumstances, what was
the process for this man? Firstly, he shared what had happened with someone else,
I just don't pretend to be okay when you're not, you don't need to, because we've been there,
most of us in this room, if not all of us in this room have been there, if you can't say you've
been to a place of pain, where you felt like, giving up, where you felt like, the situation you're
in, I've been forced through, it's just too much for you, and you're not necessarily there now,
most people were still getting on with the building while this was happening in this guy's life,
but you've been there, and I've been there, stuck in that moment that you can't get out of,
the profit was open with Elisha, and he'd help with this, he's saying, I don't know what he
expected Elisha to do, I don't think he went there saying, if I go to Elisha, Elisha will wave
a bit of stick over the water, and suddenly an axe head will appear, you know, like a scholar
coming out of the lake, you know, I don't think he meant, I don't think he thought that was going to
happen, we just needed Shay's pain, his loss, his anguish, about what had happened in his life
with somebody else, and he did that with Elisha, but Elisha knew something that he didn't know,
which is, you might think this is the end, you might think this is what was happened, we've heard
this today in the prophetic words, so here this again, you might think what happened to you means
that you no longer are qualified to work for God, or get involved in the project, or be part of
the ministry, or part of the vision, but God says you are allowing the moments when the axe heads
fell off in your life to determine your future, God determines your future. So Elisha says this
into the end, he says, where did it fall off? What was the issue? What happened? Where did it happen?
Where did the wheels come off? And Elisha goes back with this guy to this place of loss and
embarrassment and humiliation, and this is the bit that's inferred in the story, but it's pretty
obvious that Elisha of his own ability could not make axe-ion floats. Some people have said, oh,
the stick was a cross that he put on the wall, we like to spiritualize these things, don't you know,
and this is a sign of the cross, the redemption of God. Well, you know, there is redemption in this,
so there's a truth in that, but I don't know what the bit of stick had to do with the whole thing,
and I'm not going to read too much into this, so there's a danger that sometimes we do that with
scripture. All we know is that the guy went back to the place it went wrong and said, right,
that's the place, it wasn't played pooh sticks, chucked a stick in, and oh, you've paid, have you?
So far, absolutely. And this base, the thing that seemed irretrievable and lost forever
started to float, because there's a truth that we should all know, and we've all known from our
histories, I think, in the past. God, men's broken things. He restores our soul. He is the divine
repair shop. You might go in with your, you know, your bustled old thing, you know, and think,
well, there's no up for this, but I'll bring it here and, and surely, Jay and these mates will
suddenly make something glorious out of this, but I've had it in a cupboard now for 20 years,
because I thought that was it. And some of you had stuffed stuff for 10 years, 20 years,
in cupboards, because you never thought that that could be fixed. And, you know, here we go.
What seemed irretrievable started to float. God can deal with the buried things in our lives.
And I would suggest this, but for many of us, we have a number of access buried in the mud all
over the place, that happen in different churches, different circumstances, different situations.
And, you know, we've just left them there. And it affects our cutting edge. It affects our
sharpness. It affects our ability to do what God has asked us to do. The final thing,
share it with somebody who's a trusted, you know, person who you look to almost in that sense.
Not just anyone, but share it with somebody who could actually have some wisdom in this situation.
You know, allow them to bring hope into a situation that you think is lost.
Bring God into this situation. I mean, I don't know how quickly this thing was coming up. I don't
know if it came up pop like that, like a, you know, like a plastic duck, you know, he did the surface.
I was a slow burn, you know, who knows? Don't know how long they had to wait.
But the final thing is really important. You've got to take back what was lost.
Elijah said to the man, you take it out of the water. You get hold of it. Lift it out is the
words he used. And the man we read reached out his hand and took it. And I was reminded of
Philippians three. And Paul's been talking about how he wants to know Christ. With all the
challenges that brings to our lives, how he wants to know him in his life. And says in verses 12
to 14, not that I've already obtained this, I've already been made perfect. But I press on to take
hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. Sometimes you have to take hold of it.
God's not wanting it just to stay on the water forever. Everyone say how marvelous.
And he didn't want it just to be put in a cabinet with his man dining up for edge. You never
believe this. I lost this borrowed axe head and hey, presto, you know, I went to the man of God
and suddenly God did a remarkable miracle for me and look, there it is. Why did he have to take
it out? Why did he have to retrieve it and take it? Because this story is not a story of how God
can make iron float. It's a story of not the how but the why. The why was so the man could get back
in the game. So he could fasten the axe head that he took back out the water onto his axe handle
and get back to do what God had called him to do. The recovery was and the restoration was in
order to enable them to get back in the game and do what God has asked them to do. Now I don't care
what's happened to you in other churches. And I just want to promise you this, some things will
happen to you in this church that you might not like as well because we're all human and we make
mistakes. So let's cheer up and be totally honest about this. Nobody's perfect. But do not allow
what has happened in the past to hold you back from doing what you feel God is asking you to do now.
You can spend ages on the sidelines watching everyone else get on with the ministry and the vision
and the work and what God is calling this place to do and feel that well one once I really
chopped down loads of trees. You should have saved me chopping down trees. I was chopping down trees
like this all over the place, making space to God doing wonderful things. But now
those days are passed, those days are over. In taking back that axe head, the guy could no longer
claim to be a victim of circumstance. He could no longer say I'm stuck in a moment that I can't
get out of or even sing it if he knew the song. He was no longer allowing what happened in the past
to determine what would happen in the future. He now had a story not just to tell of loss
but of restoration. We don't hear anything else about this guy in the scripture or even about this
building project. All we know is the story in the end was very different than it could have been
because he shared his loss, his pain. He faced the problem. He allowed God to minister into that
place of pain and loss. And then he took hold of that for which Christ had taken hold of him.
God doesn't want any of us to drop out because of our history, because of what has happened in the
past. We may think it's the end but it's not the end until God says, as Gerald Cox used to say,
time gentleman please, it's God's choice, not your choice in that sense. But one thing certain,
God does not want you to remain in a place of loss. He doesn't want you to become a spectator
just because of what has happened to you. He wants you to participate in his glorious plan
and purpose. The answer to the question as to why or the axe head floated was so that he
get his cutting edge back and get back to do what God had called him to do. God wants broken people
repaired. Back in the game, he is the restorer of our soul. Please don't allow mishaps, accidents
and what have you to prevent you from being all that God is calling you to be in his coming days.
Amen. God bless you.